Blake Chapman

Sharks. The word alone has the potential to invoke fear and anxiety in a way that few other things can. They are also one of the most polarising and politicised species to roam our planet. Sharks, much like religion and politics, are a topic best avoided around the dinner table.

Yet this is precisely the subject that Marine Biologist, Blake Chapman, wades into in a new publication from CSIRO Publishing entitled Shark Attacks: Myths, Misunderstandings and Human Fear. Having completed her PhD degree in shark neuroscience, ecology and reproduction, and worked at a large public aquarium, she is remarkably qualified to analyse the ‘phenomenon’ of shark attacks.

The ultimate goal of the book is to dispel the myths surrounding sharks and educate and inform the public on the realities and rarities of shark attacks. However the fact remains that human lives are lost to sharks every year, while others experience debilitating injuries and mental trauma. To provide a better understanding of people affected by these tragic events, first-hand accounts of shark attack survivors and those who have been affected by shark attacks are woven throughout the book. These true stories describe the deep and polarising psychological impacts of shark attacks and are reflective of the wide-ranging views of the general public.

For many of us of a certain generation, our opinions on sharks were formed by the movie Jaws. A box-office hit upon its release in 1975, this piece of cinematic history is perhaps one of the most devastating to sharks in terms of stigma, fear and public perception. Sharks became “scary monsters” with a “vendetta” against humans. And it is not just Hollywood that perpetuates this myth. Shark attacks are major news events and media on sharks is often skewed towards the risk they pose to humans. It’s rarely reported that Australians are at far greater risk of drowning in our oceans, than being attacked by a shark.

Thankfully the ‘Jaws Generation’ also stimulated interest and research into these fascinating species, creating a better understanding of sharks overall. Indeed we humans owe a great deal to sharks – they have significantly advanced our lives in fields such as medicine, engineering, tourism and ecology.

“I don’t mind what opinions people come away with at the end of this book” explains Dr Chapman, “as long as they are based on fact not fiction, on science not emotion. There are many reasons why we need to conserve the sharks in our oceans. The dilemma of protecting human life at the expense of another animal will always be debated, but it is up to us to learn to coexist with sharks, and not the other way around.”

“Knowledge is and always will be power… This book is a wonderful example of the power that comes through knowledge. My experience is a testament to the fact that when we better understand our emotional responses to sharks and take personal responsibility for our choices, we not only help to lower the odds of shark attack even further but also gain a richer appreciation for the world we live in.” -
Paul de Gelder – Navy diver, shark attack survivor, author and motivational speaker From the Foreword of Shark Attacks: Myths, Misunderstandings and Human Fear


From Shark Attacks: Myths, Misunderstandings and Human Fear by Blake Chapman

• Dolphins in the water do not indicate the absence of sharks – dolphins and sharks sometimes feed together and some sharks feed on dolphins.

• It is acknowledged that shark bites are increasing in frequency globally; a trend that is due to a range of different factors. Arguably, the most relevant factor is the global increase in human recreational water usage. Yet shark attack fatalities have decreased dramatically over the last decade.

• Australia has the greatest amount of shark diversity, including around 180 species of sharks.

• The human fear of sharks is likely a remnant of our early ancestor’s interactions with predators. It is largely a subconscious response.

• Mosquitoes, humans, and dogs are responsible for more deaths than sharks.

• If you are attacked by a shark, do your best to remain calm, fight back and get out of the water. If you are a first responder to a shark bite victim, do whatever you can to stop the bleeding, contact emergency services, and ensure the victim gets medical attention.

About the Author:

Blake Chapman is an Adjunct Research Fellow at The University of Queensland, School of Biological Sciences. She grew up with a love for and fascination with the ocean, but her interest in sharks was piqued when an episode of Shark Week caught her attention. Blake completed postgraduate research on shark neuroscience, development and ecology and has worked in aquatic animal health and husbandry. She now focuses on science communication and her continuing goal is to help educate the public on sharks and shark attacks to better protect both sharks and the humans that choose to share their incredible environment.

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