World’s largest group of shark scientists calls on AP and Reuters to resist using the phrase “shark attacks”

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The American Elasmobranch Society is the world's oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world’s oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society, the world’s largest professional organization of shark and ray scientists, has issued a resolution calling on the Associated Press Stylebook and the Reuters Style Guide  to retire the phrase “shark attack” in favor of a more accurate (and less inflammatory) wording that is scaled to represent real risk and outcomes. The AP Stylebook and Reuters Style Guides are reference guides for journalists and editors which focus on, among other things, reducing the usage of inaccurate and outdated terminology. The latest AP Stylebook, for example, had more than 90 new or updated entries which include encouraging journalists and editors to a stop using terms like  “illegal immigrant“,  “ethnic cleansing” and “homophobia”.

“Shark scientists in the United States and around the world have great respect for the integrity and reporting of the Associated Press and Reuters. We hope they will act on this recommendation and update their style guides to ensure that the public gets the most accurate information in the reporting of these incidents,” said Lara Ferry, President of the American Elasmobranch Society, who sent a formal letter to the AP Stylebook and Reuters Style Guide.

Currently, although “shark attack” is associated with an image of a large shark and a human fatality, the phrase  is used by the media as a catch-all to describe any encounter between a human and a shark, even those that don’t result in any physical contact whatsoever. Fully 38% of reported “shark attacks” in New South Wales, Australia from 1970-2009 resulted in no injury whatsoever. This is misleading and facilitates a perception among the public that sharks are more dangerous than they really are, a perception which has negatively impacted shark conservation and management policy.

“The accuracy in media reporting of shark bites and different human-shark interactions is especially important during the kinds of tragic periods we have seen this summer. The public deserves the best information to make sure there is no confusion between very serious and fatal shark bites and minor incidents,” said Christopher Neff, a Ph.D. student at Sydney University.

In a recent paper,  Neff and Bob Hueter of Mote Marine Lab proposed a scaled labeling typology to describe human-shark interactions. This typology covers the full range of these interactions,  including:

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Tweets from the American Elasmobranch Society: President Ferry’s plenary “Elasmobranchs in Biological Research”

The American Elasmobranch Society is a non-profit professional society focusing on the scientific study and conservation of sharks, skates, and rays. AES members meet each year in a different North American city, and this meeting is the world’s largest annual gathering of shark scientists. AES recently met in Vancouver, British Columbia for the 2012 meeting, and for the first time the event was live-tweeted by meeting attendees, including myself. I’ve organized the best conference tweets by session using Storify. If anyone has any questions or comments about the research presented below, please feel free to share it in the comments section of this blog post.

Here are conference tweets from AES President Lara Ferry’s plenary talk, “Elasmobranchs in Biological Research”.

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