By Craig Regan
The news that recorded shark attacks have hit a global 10-year high has me thinking that these much-maligned animals really need some good PR.
I’m not talking about the National Rugby League side that goes by the same name. They’re notionally the team I support, but while my base points the opposite direction from my apex I know, deep down, that they’ll never win a premiership.
Shark is a brand. It evokes images of the gnashing of razor-sharp, multi-rowed teeth, plumes of blood in the water and movies like “Jaws”, where the central character was almost more animated than Richard Dreyfuss.
Drop the word "shark" in a game of word association and you'll come up with "nature's finest killing machine".
Australian sharks have a particularly poor reputation overseas. They’re probably number-three or four on most tourists’ bucket lists of thing not to see when Down Under, just behind Mark Latham.
According to Live Science, of the 79 unprovoked attacks around the world, 32 occurred in US waters and only 14 off Australia. They’ve clearly outnumbered tourists on Australian beaches this summer – which admittedly wouldn’t be hard.
While there have only been a handful of recent Australian attacks, that probably stems from the strength of the Aussie dollar sending all but the incapacitated or the truly lounge-addicted overseas for their holidays, and the surf being deserted.
A serious point can be made here about the frequency and volume of an event featuring in the media being a driver of public perceptions of the level of risk that's way out of proportion with reality.
According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, the odds of being attacked by a shark in the US are roughly one in 11.5 million. Only two percent of attacks are fatal.
On the other hand, the chances of dying in a hunting accident (even without the involvement of Dick Cheney) are one-in-ten.
Which event would attract the most media space?
As an aside, 1500 Americans managed to injure themselves using a toilet bowl product in 1996 (I’m not making this up) while 2599 fell victim to a household deodoriser or air freshener.
PR always has an uphill battle in balancing public perceptions when working against ingrained perceptions, prejudices and emotion. That's what makes it interesting.
Phoot credit: MSNBC