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Jumping the shark: Study finds Hollywood images still fuel fears

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More than 40 years after it sent chills of fear through cinema goers and swimmers scurrying from the water, the 1975 blockbuster Jaws and the monster shark movies it spawned have been found to still be responsible for our overwhelming fear of sharks.

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In a world first study, University of South Australia researchers found shark movies, including the latest offering by Australian filmmaker Martin Wilson called Great White that hits movie theatres today, were among the greatest obstacles to shark conservation.

The researchers found more than 96 per cent of shark films, from Jaws to The Meg and Sharknado, overtly portrayed sharks as a threat to humans.

Report author Dr Briana Le Busque said the depictions of sharks unfairly influenced how people saw sharks and harmed conservation efforts.

“Most of what people know about sharks is obtained through movies, or the news, where sharks are typically presented as something to be deeply feared,” Le Busque said.

“Since Jaws, we’ve seen a proliferation of monster shark movies, all of which overtly present sharks as terrifying creatures with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. This is just not true.”

Global shark populations were in rapid decline, with many species at risk of extinction, she said.

“Exacerbating a fear of sharks that’s disproportionate to their actual threat damages conservation efforts, often influencing people to support potentially harmful mitigation strategies.

“There’s no doubt that the legacy of Jaws persists, but we must be mindful of how films portray sharks to capture movie-goers. This is an important step to debunk shark myths and build shark conservation.”

The research comes as latest figures show there have been 334 sharks captured in Queensland waters under the state’s shark control program this year.

Of these, 35 sharks have been caught by the shark control program off Queensland beaches since the start of June.

These include two great whites and 19 tiger sharks.

One of the great whites, between 2-3 metres long, was caught at Coolangatta, close to where Gold Coast surfer Nick Slater was taken by a great white shark at Greenmount Beach in September last year. The fatal attack on Slater was the state’s first death in almost 60 years off a beach protected by the shark control program.

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