60 Minutes Shoddy Shark Attack Research

Photo of a shark on a South African tour courtesy of David Salvatori on Flickr.Are sharks suddenly evolving into man-eaters?!60 Minutes worries they are. Last night they updated a story on shark tourism, which they blame for sharks “becoming more dangerous.”

Their proof? When they did the story in 2005, there had been six attacks off South Africa in the previous two years, three fatal. Before that Bob Simon declares shark attacks “virtually unheard of here.” Really?

Look, I know the game. Reporters always have to justify a story with a news peg. But shark attacks deaths aren’t one of those nebulous trends like people wearing straw hats; we know exactly how many shark attacks and deaths there are because the Global Shark Attack File keeps track.

The file doesn’t show any big increase in South Africa or the world. The file shows that there was about one fatal shark attack per year in South Africa since the early 1980s. Since 60 Minutes reported on this supposed surge in shark attacks in 2005? There have been three confirmed deaths off South Africa (and two deaths where sharks might have been involved). In other words, shark deaths have been following the same pattern for three decades: about one death a year off South Africa. And worldwide it’s about five a year.

You know what would’ve been a smart update? How about the study out just last month that tours off Hawaii aren’t really effecting shark behavior?

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SHARK WEEK: Not Just for the Discovery Channel Anymore

SHARK WEEK, which had 29 million viewers last year, is becoming some kind of international holiday. It’s not just the Discovery Channel celebrating across the board with MythBusters‘ shark experiments and a reliving of Mike Rowe’s shark Dirty Jobs. But now everyone’s jumping on the SHARK WEEK bandwagon. Even the other networks.

Sharks EverywhereAre You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? (FOX) features a shark attack victim. Smithsonian Channel has a show on therapy for shark attack victims. The Early Show (CBS) is featuring a shark. My local PBS station had a show on a guy “with an unusual relationship with a shark.” Showtime has a shark movie.

Win a Dream Date with a Shark Researcher! The Shark Research Institute is auctioning off lunches with shark researchers around the globe, starting at $25–plus you pick up the tab for lunch. Chris “Air Jaws” Fallows is the hottie so far, but that’s probably because he’s throwing in a shark tour.

Dueling Petitions.Think Shark Week is too sensational and bloody? Sign this petition of concerned scientists, surfers and other shark lovers.Want more gore 24/7? Then this petition is for you.Want Spain to stop finning sharks? Sign here.

European Shark WeekJust as you would expect from Europe, their Shark Week (Oct. 10-18, 2009) is short on melodrama and long on serious conservation. The Shark Alliance is asking Spain to stop chopping fins off live sharks and throwing the fish back to the ocean to bleed to death.

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SHARK WEEK: What’s More Dangerous than a Shark?

What could be more scary than a shark? Well, even during SHARK WEEK, pretty much anything.

Sharks kill about five people a year worldwide. The Global Shark Attack File chronicles 4,374 attacks since 1845. (They range from that first report, out of Sri Lanka, “Shark bit him in half, carrying away the lower extremities” to the trivial July 24 incident in Spain where some guy cut his foot.)

Sharks are sexier but not deadlier than:

The water the shark is in is thousands of times more likely to kill you than the fish. In 2006 3,600 Americans drowned. Every year 260 toddlers drown in pools. Guns–just the accidental discharges–killed 642 in 2006, according to the CDC. 25 kids a year still suffocate in plastic bags, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says. Upholstered furniture takes out 460 Americans annually (because it catches on fire.) Extension cords kill 50 people a year in the United States (again, through fire.)


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Worldwide Whale Watch Week?

Humpback photo courtesy of Ruben Ayala, taken on Seven Seas Whale Watching based out of Gloucester, MA, in Sept., 2006. Great Britain just got through with another Whale Week, with sightings of an impressive eight species of cetaceans–dolphins and whales. Minke and humpback whales visited Scotland. Bottlenose dolphins ventured farther south than ever; common dolphins pushed north. The event, sponsored by BG Group, so far only extends to the British Isles, but it would be great to see it expanded worldwide.

Right about now is the peak season for seeing blue whales–the largest creature on earth, ever–in one of their largest concentrations, off Santa Barbara, right outside Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Cetacean Society is having its annual blue whale trip this Saturday. The southern California whale watching industry is geared more towards the spectacle of gray whales migrating up and down the coast in spring and winter. But Santa Barbara’s Condor Cruises has $98 4.5 hour trips to where the blue whales and calves like to feed. Up the coast in central California, Monterey Bay Whale Watch goes out all year.

The trouble with an international Whale Watch Week would be that the peak season is different on migration routes all over the world. Oregon’s Whale Watching Spoken Here has two big gray whale weeks a year: Christmas week and March 20-27. Still, summer is great time to see whales in lots of places. Cape Cod, the best whale watching spot on the East

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