Tagged misrepresentation

Shelly Clarke commentary on scientific integrity of shark fin trade

SeaWeb.org is featuring a commentary on the scientific integrity of the global shark fin trade by fisheries science researcher Shelly Clarke. Statistics from Clarke’s research on the shark fin trade are often cited when it comes to the estimated number of shark killed each year for commercial markets.

Clarke points out that her best estimate in 2000 was that 38 million sharks per year were being traded worldwide through fin markets, but that the range could be anywhere from 26 million to 73 million. She also points out that many conservation organizations cite that commercial fishing operations kill millions of sharks each year but rarely is her best estimate of 38 million used. Rather, the figures of 73 million (her top-end estimate) or 100 million are used instead.

The 100 million statistic was initially published in a 1997 Time magazine article. The article titled “Under Attack” stated that “30 to 100 million” sharks were harvested each year for their meat, fins, jaws, hides, and internal organs. However, Clarke says she can find “no scientific basis” for the figure.

Clarke goes on to say that her own figures are often misquoted as representing the number of sharks “killed for their fins” or “finned alive.” She notes that no one actually knows how many sharks are killed for their fins or are finned alive and dumped back into the ocean, because the data simply is not available.

When bringing up the question of why the actual number is important, Clarke offers that misuse or “selective and slanted” use of information devalues the impartial work done by researchers to obtain the data. She also warns that misrepresentation and exaggeration of facts can undermine and discredit otherwise worthwhile shark conservation efforts. Additionally, Clarke points out the accurate catch numbers are needed in order to properly manage long-term shark population sustainability.

Clarke finishes her commentary with some guidelines to being a better “science consumer.”

To read Clarke’s commentary in its entirety, head on over to SeaWeb.org.

Yet another Great White Shark hoax – video

UPDATED: Since some viewers asked for evidence to support this is a hoax, I am adding this update.

If you view the video in Chrome, you can watch it in slow motion by clicking the settings and selecting 0.25 playback speed. You can clearly see the edit transitions indicate the shark shots are not from the same footage.

Additionally, in the beginning of the video as the surfer circles the camera man, we get a near full 360-degree view of the sky, and it is cloudless. The reflection of the sun on the surfers head also indicates the sun is fairly high in the sky (not to mention the fact that the sun is never visible in the early footage). The footage of the bloody water has instances of the camera popping out of the water and showing a cloudy sky with a low sun. From similar angles earlier in the video the sun is never visible.

At about 15 seconds in when the shark appears a hang-bait being pulled to the left of the frame can also be viewed, which would indicate that the shark footage was shot during a baited dive. Also, at this point, you can see that the black lines at the top and bottom of the frame that are seen in the original kite-surfing footage are not present in the footage of the shark. There are some semi-transparent bands at the top and bottom of the frame, during the shark footage, which completely disappear when the video then transitions to the supposed victim.


There are actually some fairly impressive kite boarding videos on YouTube. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. According to the title and the video information, the video above purports to show a great white shark attack a kite surfer, when in reality it’s just a garbled mix of surface and underwater shots with a couple of snippets of white shark footage spliced in. Throw in some really bad acting and “blood” in the water, and you’ve got your supposed shark attack video. To the video creator’s credit, the transitions into and out of the white shark footage are fairly smooth.

Misleading shark news headline of the week

CBS12, this is not an award for outstanding journalism.

Another media outlet has their own great white shark related report regarding yesterday’s tragic attack off of Stuart, Florida. This one is has an even more misrepresentative headline than the Palm Beach Post “report” from earlier today. CBS12.com features a story with the headline, Expert: Great White Shark could have been behind fatal attack. The report features statements from Gary Gross, a biology professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, who is quoted as saying, “Great whites in our area are very uncommon. They are mostly in deep waters where it’s colder. There has never been an attack here by a white shark.” In fact, the only other mention of white sharks by Professor Gross in the report deals with large sharks mistaking a kite surfer for a turtle, in which Gross is quoted as saying such a scenario is a “white shark situation.” However, Gross goes on to speculate that the attacking shark was “likely a bull shark.” (Currently, there is also no evidence to support or oppose the theory that the sharks involved in the attack were bull sharks.)

CBS12 really seems to be stretching things here. The headline suggests that Gross has indicated that he believes a white shark could be behind yesterday’s attack. However, the statements from Gross within the article suggest that he does not think that great white sharks were involved. Perhaps, a more representative headline would have read, Expert: Highly unlikely great white shark involved in attack. Of course, that might not draw nearly as much attention. It seems that media outlets have realized that great white sharks seem to draw more attention than other shark species, and the mass number of stories running with the great white shark theory (which isn’t backed up by any evidence in this particular case) just goes to show that sometimes the number of viewers/readers a story draws can overshadow truly objective reporting.

At the end of the day experts weighing in on the species involved or not involved is still nothing more than speculation, until some more details and evidence regarding the attack is available.

Jumping the gun? Misleading “reporting” of identification of shark involved in fatal attack in Florida

Juvenile great white sharks (Carcharodon Carcharias), though rare, can be found off the coast of Florida during the winter months, along with several other shark species.

The Palm Beach Post has a cleverly crafted article with a headline “possibly” identifying the species involved in yesterday’s fatal shark attack of a Stuart, Florida kite boarder. The headline, Expert: Young great white sharks possibly involved in fatal Stuart attack, is followed up with the statement credited to Grant Gilmore noting that “young great white sharks — the fish of Jaws notoriety — are among suspects in Wednesday’s fatal attack off Stuart’s coast.” However, if you read far enough into the article, it states that Gilmore would NOT guess which species was involved, since the only available information about the attack was early news reports.

The article goes on to discuss yesterday’s shark attack and mentions three other species common to the area that are cited as being “known to attack humans” but notes that these three species (bull sharks, tiger sharks, and great hammerhead sharks) prefer warmer waters and tend to leave the area in the winter.

Despite the tendency for these species to leave the area in the winter, tiger shark sightings were reported just last week at Riviera Beach, approximately 35 miles north of yesterday’s attack. In addition, a shark which at least one news source identified as a great hammerhead, was also caught on Riviera Beach last week. That same report indicates that bull sharks are common in the area this time of year.

While there is nothing dishonest, per se, about the story’s headline identifying a “possible” suspected species, the nudging of the reader towards the idea that great white sharks (“of Jaws notoriety,” no less) were behind the attack is fairly prominent, despite no evidence being available at the time of the report to indicate the species. So, while the article is not necessarily dishonest, I find it a bit misleading at best. Other news agencies are eating up the Palm Beach Post article and running their own similar stories, including the LA Times article,
Young great white sharks may have killed Stuart surfer, expert says

While it may turn out that great white sharks were, in fact, involved in this tragic attack, running headlines based on a few statements suggesting a possibility that great white sharks were the culprits is simply irresponsible reporting. Given the limited information that was available when the statements were made, speculation by news agencies falls outside of the realm of objective reporting, and is irresponsible journalism, at best, especially considering the fact that the expert who was questioned on the subject specifically stated that there was not enough information to even guess the species.

Misleading Shark Headline of the Week

Congrats NY Daily News!
Congrats NY Daily News!
And the winner is…The New York Daily News for the headline, Australian man fends off Great White with oar, gets two shark teeth as souvenir. The headline accompanied the story mentioned here yesterday about a white shark grabbing an oar from the hands of volunteer lifeguard, Greg Ross, while he was in a surf boat off of Hawks Nest Beach. According to Ross’ own account, he did not in any way use the oar to "fend off" the shark, rather Ross had a hold of the oar when the shark grabbed a hold of it and pulled it from his hands before he even saw the shark. The article also claims that the shark was “so intent on devouring the oar” that it left two teeth embedded in it. While the shark did, in fact, leave two teeth behind, it was also “so intent on devouring the oar” that it lost interest in it and left the oar in the water for Ross and his crew to recover.

The claim that Ross “fended off” the shark with the oar is about as accurate as saying that a pickpocket victim fended off his assailant with a wallet.

The NY Daily News also earns extra special points for using the “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” reference in a hard news story.