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“Get out of the water!” Monster shark movies massacre shark conservation

University of South Australia Media Release

Undeniably the shark movie to end all shark movies, the 1975 blockbuster, Jaws, not only smashed box office expectations, but forever changed the way we felt about going into the water – and how we think about sharks.

Now, more than 40 years (and 100+ shark movies) on, people’s fear of sharks persists, with researchers at the University of South Australia concerned about the negative impact that shark movies are having on conservation efforts of this often-endangered animal.

In a world-first study, conservation psychology researchers, UniSA’s Dr Briana Le Busque and Associate Professor Carla Litchfield have evaluated how sharks are portrayed in movies, finding that 96 per cent of shark films are overtly portraying sharks as a threat to humans.

Dr Le Busque says sensationalised depictions of sharks in popular media can unfairly influence how people perceive sharks and harm conservation efforts.

“Most of what people know about sharks is obtained through movies, or the news, where sharks are typically presented as something to be deeply feared,” Dr Le Busque says.

“Since Jaws, we’ve seen a proliferation of monster shark movies – Open Water, The Meg, 47 Metres Down, Sharknado – all of which overtly present sharks as terrifying creatures with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. This is just not true.

“Sharks are at much greater risk of harm from humans, than humans from sharks, with global shark populations in rapid decline, and many species at risk of extinction.

“Exacerbating a fear of sharks that’s disproportionate to their actual threat, damages conservation efforts, often influencing people to support potentially harmful mitigation strategies.

“There’s no doubt that the legacy of Jaws persists, but we must be mindful of how films portray sharks to capture movie-goers. This is an important step to debunk shark myths and build shark conservation.”


Shark Week is 12-18 July 2021

Shark Awareness Day is 14 July 2021


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  1. Michael Anderson

    You’ll get a distinctly negative reaction to this from sailors & airmen, especially in WW2, who fought the Japanese in the Pacific, whose ships were sunk & planes were shot down.

  2. Roswell

    Shortly after moving to SA, and not long after the release of the Jaws movie, a monster white pointer was spotted a couple of miles off the beachside suburb of Glenelg.

    This shark was estimated to be about a metre longer than the shark from Jaws, and was dubbed “Big Fred.”

    Everyone with a boat then went on the hunt for Big Fred and the number of sharks killed in this ruthless hunt is immeasurable.

    Big Fred was eventually hunted and slain, and the indiscriminate killing of other sharks came to a halt.

    Big Fred turned out to be a female, btw, and was renamed “Big Freda.”

  3. Bill

    On the other fin, why not do research from the perspective of sharks? How many sharks have had a negative interaction with a human or politician or media wonk? As a species, we regularly raid the deep sea pantry of sharks resulting in a change in their hunting range. Then, thanks to a pretty ordinary intelligence, we blame them for incursions of the beaches. I believe sharks are more intelligent than LNP & those who vote LNP. If only sharks were running the vaccine rollout. Oh, that’s right they are.

  4. Canguro

    Heart-warming to see the well-renumerated academics of UniSA putting their collaborative mental acumen to the task of achieving.. absolutely nothing of significance of value in terms of assisting the planet’s rapidly depleting shark populations have a sceric of a sliver of an iota of a chance at surviving into the longer term.

    I suppose the question of turning their efforts towards the more significant causes of shark depletion as opposed to doing some statistical analyses of fantasy-based movies was a bit too much to ask of the poor petals… stepping out of the comfort of the ivory towers and into the real world being akin to the blinding assault on the visual senses of a long-trapped underground miner being brought to the surface.

    The insatiable demand in some Asian countries for shark-fin soup and the necessary overturning of the cultural beliefs that drive the demand might have been a good starting point. As might also have been an internationally cooperative rules-based pullback on the voracious depradation of ocean fishing fleets which are estimated to overfish by a three- or fourfold capacity for stock regeneration. As also might have been a clear-eyed assessment of the impacts on the marine food-chain from bottom to top of global and oceanic warming.

    But no, let’s look at Jaws and a hundred other shark movies and immerse our intellectual energies in the illusionist gestalt, and go home each evening thinking we’ve done something eventful and important.

    Sad, really, how impotent we’ve become, in the face of urgencies.

  5. Michael Taylor

    Canguro, that’s like me saying my honours thesis (at UniSA) into racism in Australia just prior to Federation was a waste of time coz we all know there was racism 120 years ago and there’s still racism now so studying all this old stuff is pointless coz it’s going to do nothing to stop the racist problems in 2021.

  6. Carl Marks

    More worried about the two legged sharks schooling Sydney and Canberra.

    Far more savage a bite than any herd of tiger sharks combined.

  7. BB

    Aye CM
    It’s not the sharks in the sea that are the real danger…
    It’s all the sharks on the land, especially RW ones!

  8. Roswell

    So true, BB. Govt policies (or inaction) have resulted in the deaths of more Australians (RoboDebt, vaccine rollout failure, doing nothing about climate change) than sharks would kill in a million years).

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