February 4, 2023

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Videos of shark attacks are popular – some of Discovery’s “Shark Week” videos of sharks attacking cages or humans have attracted millions of views online. But positive videos of sharks could help change people’s attitudes in favor of the predators, according to a new study from North Carolina State University.

Published in animal protection, the findings of the new study indicate that more positive YouTube videos could be a useful tool for shark conservation. Ocean shark and ray populations have declined 71% since 1970, mainly due to overfishing, according to a recently published study in Nature.

“We need to find ways to protect these important species — they help regulate oceanic food webs and influence prey dynamics,” said the study’s lead author Justin Beall, a graduate student at NC State. “Popular depictions of sharks are that they are dangerous animals that seek opportunities to harm people. Think, for example, of the movie ‘Jaws’. We need to find ways to promote human tolerance for sharks, an important part of their conservation.”

Previous research has shown that online videos can help build support for wolves, another carnivorous animal. The NC State researchers wanted to see if YouTube could have the same impact on sharks.

“There are other species in decline due to illegal hunting, such as tigers and elephants, but the difference is that many people around the world support the conservation of tigers and elephants,” said study co-author Lincoln Larson, an associate professor of parks, recreation . and tourism management at NC State. “They’re charismatic, cute, and aren’t widely seen as major threats to humans. But sharks don’t have that same level of support. We wanted to explore ways to build tolerance for many maligned species like sharks.”

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To learn more about the influence of videos on people’s attitudes, acceptance and intentions to help conserve sharks, researchers surveyed 335 people before and after watching a series of videos on YouTube.

Participants watched either a series of “positive” videos showing sharks’ non-aggressive behavior or clips revealing scientific information about them. In comparison, the “negative” videos contain clips of shark bites or attacks.

Before and after watching the videos, researchers asked participants to respond to a series of questions to gauge their attitudes, acceptance and intentions toward sharks. The participants ranked their answers on a seven-point scale from strongly disagree (-3) to strongly agree (3).

After watching videos of sharks behaving violently, study participants had, on average, more negative attitudes toward sharks, less acceptance, and said they were more likely to resist shark conservation and rehabilitation efforts. Participants’ average attitude towards sharks dropped by 25% after watching negative videos, their acceptance decreased by 18% and their intentions decreased by 3%.

On the other hand, study participants who watched positive videos of sharks had, on average, more positive attitudes toward sharks, greater acceptance, and reported more intentions to help sharks. After watching positive videos, the participants’ average attitude score increased by 70%, their average acceptance score by 130% and their intentions to support shark conservation by 46%.

Researchers said the positive videos were more powerful than the negative videos because participants showed greater increases in mean attitudes, acceptance and intentions for conservation.

“Wildlife agencies and other organizations that communicate about wildlife should investigate YouTube for the conservation of multiple species, and especially for large, carnivorous species that often struggle to gain public support,” Beall said.

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The biggest challenge, the researchers said, is that despite the potential benefits of positive videos, many of the “negative” videos had more views.

“How do we get people to watch the right clips?” said co-author M. Nils Peterson, a professor in the NC State Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology program. “A lot of people like the entertainment value of ‘Shark Week,’ but not many people go to the beach and say, ‘I wish we could see more sharks.’ How do we harness people’s enthusiasm for shark conservation?”

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More information:
JM Beall et al, The influence of YouTube videos on the human tolerance of sharks, animal protection (2022). DOI: 10.1111/acv.12808

Provided by North Carolina State University

Quote: How ‘Shark Week’ Could Inspire Love for Ocean Predators (July 2022, July 21) retrieved July 21, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-shark-week-ocean-predators.html

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