Australia has begun to refer to shark attacks as “negative encounters” in order to change public perception of the creatures as “man-eating monsters.” Officials in the country are aiming to reshape the language around the “interactions” in hopes of people understanding sharks better given their endangered status, Sky News reports.
Many members of the public fear sharks. Because words like “attack” and “bite” are often used when referring to sharks, scientists feel the efforts to protect the species are being undermined. Leonardo Guida, a shark researcher at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the language change will “help dispel inherent assumptions that sharks are ravenous, mindless man-eating monsters.”
The change has already taken place in New South Wales. Officials have changed the way they describe encounters with sharks in which humans are injured. Moving forward, these encounters will be known as “incidents” or “interactions.” Meanwhile, Queensland’s SharkSmart website now informs the public how to reduce the risk “of a negative encounter with a shark.”
Switching up the wording has been in the works for a while. As Christopher Pepin-Neff from the University of Sydney said, encounters with sharks used to be known as “shark accidents” prior to the 1930s. Now, he believes the word change “has been coming for a while” given that nearly 1/3 of run-ins with sharks result in no injury at all.
The survival of shark species is seriously in danger. The WWF reports that shark populations are declining rapidly, with around 100 million being killed yearly, often for their fins. Climate change, pollution, and over-fishing may also be impacting their numbers, and something needs to be done to protect them.