Background: The level of media and public interest in sharks reached an all-time high in 2001. Termed the "Summer of the Shark" by one national magazine, shark attacks were intensely covered by the press until the terrorist attack of September 11. The prevailing perception was that 2001 was a banner year for shark attacks. By contrast, International Shark Attack File (ISAF) data indicates that the attack numbers in the United States and Florida were almost identical to those of the previous year (which did not draw particularly high media attention) and the international total was 11% lower than that of 2000. More importantly, the number of serious attacks, as measured by fatality rate, was less than half that over the last decade.
Sharks and their relatives, the skates and rays, are in serious worldwide decline as a result of over-fishing and habitat destruction, with some species facing endangered or threatened species status. Shark populations found in United States coastal waters have similarly declined over the past twenty-five years, mirroring international trends.
Recently shark attacks increasingly have been inter-linked with fishery management and conservation initiatives by some members of the media and interest groups. For example, one circulated notion suggests that the United States' East Coast fishery regulations enacted in 1993 have resulted in the blossoming of shark populations, leading to more attacks. The ISAF notes that the number of shark attacks has been rising throughout the past century, mirroring the rapidly growing human population and increased interest in aquatic recreation, and that recent rises in attacks additionally reflected greater efficiency in ISAF recording. Although East Coast shark populations probably are in the early stages of recovery as a result of federal and state management measures, it is biologically impossible for these populations to have returned to their pre-fishing levels of the early 1980's after only eight years of management.
Such misunderstanding of the basic biological attributes and scope of fishery management of sharks strongly indicates a need for the development and distribution of better science-based educational materials to inform the public about the realities of sharks. The effective dissemination of interpretive scientific information is especially important in highly charged matters involving shark attacks, shark fishery regulations, and conservation of diminishing stocks of these highly migratory species. There also is a need to distribute information that demonstrates the relative safety of recreating in coastal waters, and simple precautions that individuals can take to further minimize the incidental shark bites that do occur.
Shark Conference: The conference was held June 12-14, 2002 in Tampa, Florida. Speakers and panelists were leading national scientists, governmental agency representatives, coastal zone managers, and outreach personnel experienced with sharks. The program began on June 12 with a welcoming evening reception at the Florida Aquarium. The reception centered around the aquarium's new exhibit Sharks! From Fear to Fascination. The first day of the conference (June 13) focused on science-based presentations that addressed fishery management, conservation, attack, interactive shark feeding dives, beach safety protocol, commercial and recreational fishery issues, and regional beach management views from California, Hawaii and Florida. A press conference was also held, which allowed the media to query speakers more freely than time allowed during the question and answer period following individual presentations.
The second day of the conference (June 14) focused on outreach activities, strategies and development of future educational materials and programs. Panel groups addressed fishery management, conservation, beach safety, and media relations during the morning. The panel and participants also identified information and educational needs not being addressed, and discussed how these needs can be met. Panel moderators recorded comments reflecting the sentiments of the panel and participants. In the afternoon, moderators reported findings to the assembled conference group and the composite meeting findings were summarized.
- Sea Grant Extension Specialists and Agents
- Federal, State and Local Public Information and Outreach Specialists
- Coastal Community Leaders
- Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Professionals
- Interested Public
- Television, Radio and Print Media
Michael S. Spranger
Florida Sea Grant Program
University of Florida Extension/IFAS
P.O. Box 110405
Gainesville, FL 32611
Florida Museum of Natural History
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611
Florida Program for Shark Research,
Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida
Florida Sea Grant Program, University