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Negative media reports about sharks may hinder efforts to protect these animals, researchers report. According to an analysis in Conservation Biology, US and Australian news articles are much more likely to highlight shark attacks than shark conservation issues.

Fishing, pollution, climate change, and people’s thirst for shark-fin soup are putting shark species at risk. But these mighty predators “suffer from a negative public image,” the study authors write. Since media coverage can affect people’s attitudes about conservation policy, the researchers wanted to find out how sharks were portrayed in news articles.

The team searched for shark-related articles in US and Australian newspapers published between 2000 and 2009, then chose 300 at random to analyze. Fifty-two percent of the stories were about shark attacks, while only 11 percent were about shark conservation, the researchers found.

Sharks were portrayed negatively in 59 percent of articles — for instance, because the animals had injured or killed humans or prompted beaches to close. Only about 19 percent focused on positive topics such as aquarium exhibits of sharks. The study suggests that “most news coverage in both Australia and the United States continues to emphasize risks from sharks rather than the reverse,” the team concludes. Roberta Kwok | 1 November 2012

Source: Muter, B.A. et al. 2012. Australian and U.S. news media portrayal of sharks and their conservation. Conservation Biology doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01952.x.

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