Saturday, 14 February 2009

Media shark frenzy

The Sydney Morning Herald went to town today (Sat, Feb 14) with a cliched 'it was a dark and stormy night' style lead to its page 1 story on the two shark attacks which occured on consecutive days last week:
'The sun was low, the surf was high and the sea at the southern end of Bondi Beach was teaming with baitfish about 8pm on Thursday night when a shark tore Glenn Orgia's left hand almost clean from his arm.' (By the way, when isn't 8pm at night?)

One of the headlines on a colourful page 7 follow-up story was: 'In the harbour or offshore, predators abound'. This was accompanied by a terrifying photo of a shark, which looks suspiciously like a Great White (correct me if I'm wrong), a species of shark which has not yet been implicated in either of the attacks.

OK, OK, I know the attacks were serious and therefore newsworthy. But the news makers love to whip the the whole thing up to the point where people are afraid to go into the water - no matter what the time of day.

The stories in The SMH (the croc being checked for human remains after the disappearance of a five-year-old boy in Far North Qld got a paragraph in the News Focus column) are milking the topic for all it's worth.

Below is a summary of the most useful information to come out of both the page 1 and page 7 stories:

1. There are more sharks around Sydney than usual after an upwelling of cool water pushed marine life to shore.
2. Fifty-one beaches in NSW are shark meshed.
3. People have been warned not to swim at dawn and dusk and not to swim alone.
4. Surfwatch claims that dolphins, turtles, seals and small sharks get caught in the nets and die.
5. Netting supporters say the nets stop sharks establishing territories on beaches.
6. Fishermen speculate that the banning of prawn trawling and bream trap use have contributed to the increase in shark numbers in Sydney Harbour.
7. The two shark attacks were the 'work' of two different sharks (but were they working together?).
8. A bull shark is probably responsible for the Sydney Harbour attack on a navy clearance diver, while a bronze whaler, bull or tiger shark could have attacked the surfer at Bondi.
9. Both attacks took place when baitfish were congragating off Sydney and in the harbour and both men were swimming alone.
10. Until this week there had not been a shark attack at Bondi since 1951.

Just for the record, the NSW road toll for 2008 was 395 deaths.

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