Monday, March 16, 2009

Media Myths and the Proliferation of Fear

It is unfortunate that in this day and age, the majority of the population gain their opinions from what is packaged up and presented to them with absolutely no objectivity. Opinions are formed from what is fed to them via major media outlets. Sadly these outlets are businesses; their motivation is sensationalism to raise ratings and earn more in advertising dollars. How many times have you seen, or read, a report on something that you are truly experienced in; something where you've seen first hand, or experienced, or are on the 'inside'? In those situations, how many times have you been left horrified by the mistakes, errors and downright misinformation that is presented to supplant an opinion on the subject in the audience?

Recently a national media outlet aired a segment on shark diving, featuring a charter boat that I had been on last November. From the very start of the segment I knew where it was going, and I had to fight my way through the whole thing; absolutely disgusted by the spin that they chose to try and portray. I have no desire to name the outlet, nor post a link to the story; as it, like so many other stories, only serves to vilify sharks; to cast them in a vicious light and to paint everyone that interacts with them to be thrill seeking adrenaline junkies.

Instead, let me express a little of my experience. Yes; I am doing just what these media outlets are doing... telling a story in a way that intends to cause the audience to form an opinion. However my motivations have nothing to do with money, or fame, or advertising. My motivations are only to provide a contrary opinion to the common misconceptions that are constantly being reinforced. A small scream of disgust likely to fall on deaf ears in a overwhelming ocean of misinformation.

The fact of the matter is, as I embarked on my trip a number of months ago, I too had preconceived notions about what I was going to experience. I was nervous about being in the water with sharks because I was brainwashed by the misinformation that prevails. Even with the experiences I've already had from diving the shipwrecks in the waters off North Carolina, wrecks that are frequently populated by dozens of Sand Tiger sharks, I had managed to compartmentalize those. I convinced myself that Sand Tigers were an exception, they are just lazy lumbering creatures of no danger or concern. Not like other types of sharks, oh no... they are different, they are animals that should be feared.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Sharks aren't to be feared; it's the fear that causes the hatred and vilification which grows to action in the way of downright genocide. They are truly magnificent creatures that deserve our respect, our care, and an understanding that they are a key element in a delicate ecosystem that is being systematically destroyed by the true apex predator on earth... US.

Over a period of 5 days, I spent more than 24 hours underwater with no less than a dozen sharks at any given moment, every single one of them significantly larger than I. It only took a few minutes before I was able to gaze at them with an open mind. To watch them move, feed, and interact with one another was eye opening. I watched remoras hanging on for a ride, only to break off long enough to grab their own scrap of food. I watched schools of fish use the sharks for shelter. These fish weren't frightened of the shark, they were frightened of me. They used the sharks for protection from the humans, in hopes that the intimidating size of their graceful friend would keep them safe.

My experiences opened my eyes and mind dramatically. I was blessed with the opportunity to form my own opinion, one based on experiences rather than force fed to me as I 'witness' the world from the confines of my couch.

The fact of the matter is that survival instincts are common among animals. Without survival instincts, a species would long be extinct. You are much safer fearing the unknown and be incorrect, then feeling safe and being incorrect. Will sharks defend themselves when threatened? Sure. So will we. Will sharks systematically eradicate every human they see? Absolutely not, but look at a human's reaction to seeing a mosquito. Will sharks exit their natural environment in order to seek vengeance for the death of one of their own? Obviously not, but I'll give you one guess as to what species on this earth does this time and time and time again, regardless of what caused the initial event.

Painting sharks out to be man-eating, or those interacting with them to be thrill seeking; does absolutely nothing but perpetrate the fear that is already present.

Special thanks should go to David Ulloa, who filmed and edited the following video, and to Amanda Cotton for the images included at the end of the video, and their attempts to raise awareness through the experiences that we've had first hand. If you want to see sharks being sharks; as opposed to sharks being used as theatrical props, this video, and those like it, are what you should be keeping in mind when you form your opinions.



  1. Jeff - you need to write more often - great you mind if I add to our blog?

  2. By all means. It seems I have chronic writers block until something really gets me upset. Considering that the roar of applause from that damn show this morning is deafening the few voices of dissent; you are more than welcome to use my words anywhere they may help.

  3. Very nice written indeed.
    Thanks for telling your story.


  4. The video is stunningly beautiful. And it effectively conveys its message. I think of music when I think of the movement of the ocean and the creatures that live in it. I see this here and I see gentle living and sharing, not the fear and viciousness that the ignorant media portrays.

    I studied journalism. The number one rule in journalism is to report the facts of story without opinion. A story presented with opinion is not journalism. It is propaganda. It's time for journalists to be true journalists again.