Sunday, August 29, 2010

Journalism: More Scare, Less Fact (2)

Less deadly than bees, dogs, and vending machines

A surfer was recently killed in the south-west of Australia after a shark attack. Led by the populist press, this has resulted in the usual scare stories, and manufactured "debate".

Mario Vassallo, a keen surfer who helps promote the professional surfing circuit when it comes to Western Australia for the Margaret River Pro event, has criticised "bloody greenie huggers" who wish to protect sharks, saying: "If they want them so much then they can swim out and hug them."


"They say there are not as many now and that they are tagging them to keep an eye on them. So much for keeping an eye on them," Vassallo said. "This is getting beyond a joke."

It is difficult to accurately determine how many sharks are killed each year due to humans but experts estimate it is around 38 million just for shark fins alone, while a marine biologist suggests the figure is around 73 million a year. He goes on to note

I have never confirmed that more people are killed every year by vending machines. This certainly could be true as on average 5-6 people per year in the entire world are killed by sharks. There are numerous things far more dangerous to people than sharks such as lighting, boating accidents, bee stings, dogs, hitting deer with your car, etc and the list goes on. We always have to respect sharks as large predators as we do bears and mountain lions but the truth is they are not out to eat humans.


Literally millions of people are in our oceans every day and are not attacked (...). The risk of shark attack is very low. Less than 100 per year globally.

Shark Safe Network puts the number of sharks killed per year at 100 million, while

To put things into perspective, your lifetime risk of drowning is 1 in 1,134 and from an air/space accident it's 1 in 5,051. The chance that you will be the unlucky victim of a fatal shark attack, however, is 1 in 3,748,067. There are actually more deaths on US beaches from people being smothered by collapsing sand holes than from shark bites!

Discovery News also reports

The New England Journal of Medicine reported that from 1990 to 2006, 16 people died by digging until the sand collapsed and smothered them. ISAF counted a dozen U.S. shark deaths in the same period. Clearly, you’d be safer in the water, with the sharks.

Taronga Conservation Society Australia provide some very good statistics, noting that

Worldwide estimates state that 30 to 100 people a year are attacked. Analysis of over 1,000 case histories world wide, from the International Shark Attack File suggests an average of 30% are fatal.

Australian figures show 25% have been fatal.

Clearly, Australian sharks are actually safer than those in the rest of the world. Deaths from bee stings are two to three times the rate of shark attack deaths, but EoR can't remember the last moral panic from the press concerning "Man killed by bee - Calls for bees to be exterminated". Over 28 times as many people are killed in the US by dogs compared to sharks.

Apart from shark fins, they are also killed for their meat, their oil (used in cosmetics) and cartilage (used in chondroitin products that promote the 'sharks don't get cancer' fallacy).

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