Sharks Vs Terrorists

The risk of being attacked by a shark in Australia is tiny, as also the chance of being involved in a terrorist attack. Yet the media coverage during the summer has been anything but sensational. Is there a real increase in the risk of attack from terrorism or sharks or is the media coverage exaggerated?

On average, one person will die each year in Australia from a shark attack. That’s been the average since 1791 when records began. This is when Australia had a population of about 350,00 British immigrants. Since records began many factors have changed but the fatality rate hasn’t. For instance Australia is a now a country of 23 million, with a lot more water sport enthusiasts than the convicts coming off old Blighty. Although there’s a lot more of ‘us’ now, there is also a lot less of ‘them’. Scientists estimate 100 million sharks are killed each year worldwide pushing many species close to extinction.

In 2014 there were 4 fatal shark attacks and so far already one in 2015. So yes, in a short period there has been a higher than average amount of fatal attacks, but this isn’t unprecedented. Nor should it be alarming, a history of such a limited number of attacks it should merely be seen as unlucky deviation from the mean not a freakish increase of man eating sharks in the water.

It’s true this summer more beaches were closed for more days than before, due to shark sightings such as Bruce – the Great White seen cruising up and down the coast. Newcastle beaches were shut down for over a week, while signs at Manly were erected to alert people to recent shark sightings and avoid going in the water (though they were largely ignored by surfers and locals).

On the other side of the country, Western Australia is now the rising star of fatal shark attacks in the world. If you’re looking to get eaten by Jaws, this is where you should head. But, to even be in with a chance you first have to be in the ocean (which let’s be honest is the sharks natural habitat, not ours) and then you will still need to be very, very unlucky. Advice from my grandad about the risk of shark attacks was “I don’t swim in their bath tub if they don’t swim in mine!”.

But in a country of over 20 million, 1 death a year attributed to shark attacks isn’t a statistic you need to be worried about, you’d have better luck winning Powerball. More people die each year from other unlikely events such as car accidents; getting struck by lightning; kicked or trampled by horses and cows; and attacked by dogs and believe it or not, kangaroos.

So what about terrorism? Well although ISIS and even Al Qaeda are relatively new, terrorism isn’t. These are just new faces on a beast that is as old as human’s use of violence to affect politics. Since 1915 terrorist attacks have been recorded in Australia, whether carried out in the name of Croatian separatist groups; Armenian justice supporters; Neo Nazis or Anti-abortion.

In December 2014 Muslim sheikh, Man Haron Monis took siege on the Sydney Lindt Cafe, taking 17 people hostage under the banner of ISIS. Mon Haron Monis links with the terrorist group ISIS are weak at best and his actions seemed more motivation simply for attention than for the cause of ISIS.

It was a distressing, sad and unnecessary event that resulted in three deaths and the media used it to further the already tense public atmosphere surrounding terrorism. It came at a time when large police raids had been conducted against supposed terror threats and subsequent to the siege there were more conducted. The aim was to thwart planned attempts of public executions by people sympathetic to the cause of ISIS, but the only evidence that was found was a plastic sword.

The sensationalised media coverage did more damage to the already strained relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians than it for the protection of the Australian public.

The false increased hyper sensitivity made it easier for the Australian Government to pass new Anti-terrorism laws.

Similarly the increased reporting of shark attacks made it easier for the Western Australian Government to gain approval for a shark cull, as if the world wasn’t already conducting this at an alarming rate.

Luckily the Australian public responded with positive reflections of our social sense on both occasions.

The shark cull that was instituted early in 2014 along seven beaches was stopped after public outcry and further advice from the Environmental agency that cited a ‘high degree of scientific uncertainty’.

After the Lindt Café Siege, a twitter user started the hash tag – I’ll ride with you, to show support for people of Muslim belief that were now scared to ride public transport amid public backlash and misunderstanding. This was one person’s recognition and stance against how media-influenced backlash against Muslims was affecting real people.

Media in Australia is controlled largerly by two media magnates, James Packer of Fairfax Media and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. The influence two people have on broad scale media in Australia is huge and unfair. The fact that these media companies use sensationalism of such events as shark attacks and terrorism tolerate unfair representations of reality. What people read influences their views and hence can influence their perception of reality.

The reality of life is that we will all die, one day, somehow. How we die is hard to predict but I’m sure it would be of no benefit to calculate every risk in life down to a number. Life is risky business, but it’s a one where we have to learn to evaluate and live with risk. Better we live with and understand the realities than to let false views cause us to live in an anxious hypersensitive environment.

What do you think?

Our Correspondent
Cult Australia correspondent
Haydon - Canberra

Lived in Australia and Papua New Guinea as a child until completing university in Canberra, studying Environmental Management. Post university, structured Canberra life seemed to revolved around a linear series of expected successive events (university-job-girlfriend-dog-house-marriage-kids-retire-die) that I couldn't settle for. Traveling and ...

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