Blue Shark

Sharks need a rebrand: Redefining the misunderstood

2 minute read

Hannah Rudd

Hannah Rudd

2 May 2023

Sharks have long captured the world's imaginations, whether through fear, fascination, or frenzy. Marine biologist and shark expert, Hannah Rudd, explains why they need a rebrand.

Last summer, off the coast of Cornwall, a snorkeller was reportedly bitten on the leg by a shark. This exceedingly rare event made waves across the UK media as the public tried to wrap their heads around the idea that an incident like this, more commonly associated with the far-flung shores, had taken place in our waters.

According to the International Shark Attack File, there have only been three unprovoked episodes in UK waters since 1847. There were only 11 shark-related fatalities worldwide in 2021. You are more likely to die from taking a selfie, driving your car, or falling out of bed than you are from a shark!

Blue sharks - the species involved in the incident - are a highly migratory shark species. Their elegant, torpedo-shaped bodies allow them to glide through the water with ease. While usually spending their time in the high seas, blue sharks migrate to UK waters in the summer months following the Gulf Stream.

The hunter becomes the hunted

Diver and Blue Shark

Credit: Hannah Rudd

Our seas are changing. Decades of over-exploitation, led by commercial overfishing and twinned with a climate crisis, are fuelling unprecedented change in our waters.

Climate change also presents other changes for sharks, as research suggests warmer seas trigger baby epaulette sharks to emerge from their eggcases earlier and weaker. Deoxygenation of the ocean may also push the species into more vulnerable areas where they're more likely to fall victim to fishing activity.

Shark species residing in the open ocean, like the blue shark, have dropped by 71% over the last half a century.

No, the shark in an updated JAWS could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim, for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors

Peter Benchley, author of the international hit Jaws

The idea of “shark-infested waters” is no more, and as sharks are the doctors of the ocean, keeping the marine ecosystems in balance, that’s a problem.

Changing the narrative

Shark fin

Credit: Hannah Rudd

When it comes to sharks, it's time for a narrative change. Research has shown that negative public perceptions toward sharks can harm conservation efforts, and that education on these animals can go a long way in reversing that. Society's hatred of sharks is a relatively recent phenomenon, fuelled by Hollywood blockbusters and sensationalised media reports. Much of this coverage does not reflect reality.

While sharks are apex predators that deserve a healthy dose of respect from us, they are not to be feared. When we enter their environment, we must never forget that we are in their domain, not ours. Even when the strictest protocols are adhered to, accidents happen, and that is the risk we as divers accept. The ocean is in their home, and we are visitors.

Sharks need a rebrand. It’s up to us to defy JAWS and rewrite their narrative.