Beach warning signs are easily ignored by swimmers as shark bites increase
But Sears recognizes that sometimes even the most abrupt signs aren’t enough to convince people to stay out of the water during times of high shark activity.
To bolster the public safety campaign on South Africa’s beaches, the Shark Spotter program uses a system of colored flags to warn people when there is a high likelihood of sharks (red flag) and when there is. a great white shark confirmed in the swimming area (white flag). (Find out why shark bites are more common in the Atlantic.)
Yet a 2017 study found that swimmers, surfers and paddlers did not get out of the water until shark watchers wave a white flag, sound the alarm and actively clean the swimming area.
However, no one came out of the water when the red warning flag was raised. âWe provide the information and people don’t take it in,â says Waries.
Build a story
Communicating risk to the public is especially difficult due to conflicting messages, such as the notions that no matter how low the risk of an encounter is, you should still be extra careful, Waries says.
One solution could be to streamline shark warning messages by creating a story with a main character, plot, conflict, and resolution, a more engaging approach that has some scientific backing.
For example, the US Forest Service Smokey Bear cartoon character has successfully inspired people to prevent forest fires since 1944. The Ad Council and the US Forest Service credit the Smokey Bear Campaign for the 62% reduction in man-made fires in the United States, as determined by the area accidentally burned before and after the launch of the campaign.
âAs a child, I grew up reading Ranger Rick, and there was a whole campaign around Wood owlWho encouraged children to enjoy the outdoors responsibly, recalls Brian Carlstrom, Superintendent of Cape Cod National Waterfront. “These are things that definitely stay with me.”
Carlstrom says municipalities or government agencies should create an endearing cartoon of a great white shark to raise awareness of safe swimming practices. âThe kids identify with that,â he says.
Sharks have received a publicity boost in recent years, as emerging research takes the tale from a mindless killer to an animal that can form friendships and live to 200 years. (Check out the most fascinating shark discoveries of the past decade.)
To increase public understanding of shark behavior, shark researchers at a recent conference suggested replacing the term âshark attacksâ with âshark bitesâ, or more broadly, âshark encountersâ. “. the Sydney Morning Herald reported. For example, up to a third of shark fights do not cause injury, such as when a person steps on a small shark living at the bottom, according to the newspaper.
In Cape Cod, the Atlantic Shark Center, a museum run by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, has seen an increase of around 3,000 visitors each year since it opened in 2016 (with the exception of 2020, due to the decline in tourism during the pandemic), has declared Marianne Long, director of education at the conservancy.
âThe number one question we get when people come to us is, what beach should I go to to see a shark? Adds Long.
In Cape Town, fewer great whites have been seen near popular swimming beaches in recent years, possibly due to killer whales preying on white sharks, a recently discovered phenomenon. âWe were really surprised that people are really asking why,â says Waries.
Building on that curiosity for sharks by engaging people with a narrative, experts say, may be just what we need both to communicate risk and to safely share our oceans with these awe-inspiring animals.