South Africa Great White Shark Attack – A Tale of Two Media Outlets

Here’s a fine example of an objective report on a recent suspected great white shark attack off the coast of South Africa compared to a less-than-objective “report” from another media source.

What I’ll refer to as the “objective” news story can be found at the In summary, the story reports that Paul Buckley, a surfer, was bitten by what was believed to be a great white shark off of South Africa’s south coast. According to the story, Buckley “grabbed hold of the shark’s tail and it let go of his thigh and swam out to sea.” Buckley then paddled ashore and later received stitches for the bite wound.

For the “sensationalized” story, we need look no further than The Sun with its headline of “Surfer attacked by 3m killer shark.” To The Sun’s credit, their story does offer more details than the story, such as the shark being an estimated 3.5m (11.5′), and Buckley receiving 150 stitches to close his wound. However, (as if the headline alone isn’t enough) the story also describes how “brave Paul managed to seize the killer’s tail,” and how he “grabbed the beast’s tail to stop it from killing him.” The word “kill” seems to be a recurring theme in the report.

Both stories clearly state that the shark bit Mr. Buckley once and then swam away, but The Sun attempts to reinforce that the shark was intent on killing Buckley. From the description of the attack, it sounded more like an exploratory bite. The Sun also reported that Mr. Buckley was on his surfboard when “the shark attacked tearing a chunk out of his leg.” That statement seems to be bit of “creative” reporting, as the Cape Times quotes Mr. Buckley as saying, “if it had taken out a chunk, it could have been much worse.”

The Sun’s report does seem to have the edge on the story when it comes to Mr. Buckley grabbing the shark’s tail while he was being bitten, as is reported in the Bloomberg article. If the shark was 3.5m, then Mr. Buckley would not have been able to grab its tail, while the shark was biting his leg. The Sun quotes Buckley as saying, “”I thought if I held it by the tail, its mouth could not reach me again.” A few other reports also imply that Mr. Buckley grabbed the shark’s tail while he was being bitten, but that aspect of the story seems like it was likely misinterpreted, based on the anatomy of a 3.5m white shark.

A follow-up story about a teen who assisted Buckley when he reached the shore can be found at The Weekend Post Online. Thankfully, Mr. Buckley’s injuries were not serious and he has been discharged from the hospital.

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