Most of the time when humans are near sharks, though, nothing happens. People are often oblivious.
“If you’ve been in the ocean there was probably a shark near you, and it probably knew you were there even if you didn’t know it was there,” said David Shiffman, a marine biologist and the author of the book “Why Sharks Matter.” Dr. Macdonald and a team recently discovered a great hammerhead nursery off the coast of Miami, for instance — the first one found on the Atlantic coast of the United States.
The shift away from the word “attack” has drawn some criticism, including from the founder of the Bite Club, a support group for survivors. On Friday, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that if the new terms were adopted, “when a great white chews your leg off it’s a ‘negative interaction.’”
But Dr. Shiffman said the new terms were “not about P.C. culture run amok.”
“This is about being accurate without being inflammatory,” he said. “Inflammatory coverage makes people afraid of sharks, and might potentially mean less support for their conservation and potentially support for their extermination.”
Thanks to the movie “Jaws” and popular culture like it, sharks got “the bad end of the P.R. stick,” said Jasmin Graham, the president of Minorities in Shark Scientists and a marine biologist at the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Fla. “Everyone has this collective negative reaction to them,” she said, “and that’s rooted in the media we consume.”
Chris Lowe, a professor and the director of the Shark Lab at California State University in Long Beach, compared the public’s perception of sharks to the popular 19th-century image of whales as “demonic animals” that “kill people.”
By the 1970s, when whales were hunted nearly to extinction, the public’s view had shifted radically. People could see footage of whales being harpooned, and the message spread that whales were mammals that nursed their young and communicated vocally through clicks, chirps and songs.
It amounted to “the best rebranding ever,” Dr. Lowe said.
“We have tons of footage of sharks and people together and people aren’t being bitten,” he said. “So why should we be afraid?”