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Shark Info 3 / 01   (09-15-2001)

Author

  Intro:

Accident analysis as a measure for active shark protection

Shark Info

  Main article:

Accident analysis as a measure for active shark protection

Dr. E. K. Ritter

  Article 1:

Is fear of sharks justified?

Nihal Özkara

  Article 2:

Annual Meeting of the American Elasmobranch Society (AES)

Jürg Brunnschweiler

  Article 3:

Meaningful usage or overexploitation?

Harald Gay

  Fact Sheet:

Mackerel Sharks

Dr. E. K. Ritter


Is fear of sharks justified?

By Nihal Özkara

Probably a clear percentage of more than 90% of all people could not deny having an unconscious fear of sharks, without knowing that there is no such thing as "the shark". In reality about 460 shark species exist, varying in size from 30 cm to more than 13 meters long.

It is unclear as to how this fear is manifested. Is it an archaic fear which finds its origins in our genes, or is it the result of learning processes which the media have drummed up into our consciousness? Most likely proponents of both theories can be found who themselves try to explain their fear by one or the other theory.

The scientist tries to explain why people are afraid of sharks based on available research. The behavioral scientist will try to prove that this fear was learned, creeping its way into people's minds through such films as "The White Shark". The behavioral geneticist advocates the theory that fear is determined genetically.

Over many years the media kept suggesting to people that sharks were highly dangerous animals who devour anything that crosses their path - including humans. Such completely unfounded statements were propagated at random, even without having taken the time to observe the behavior of these animals in more detail.

It is thus vital that clarification work be done in order to get the clear message across to people that sharks are not the wicked animals they have been portrayed to be for so many years. Sharks fulfill an important role in the ocean's ecosystem, eating weak and sick ocean creatures and thus helping to keep them in balance.

Performing more research in this area can help to define their behavior more precisely so that the old clichs of sharks being wicked beasts can be refuted step-by-step.

An important role is played by a method of helping people overcome their fear of sharks, especially those who have developed an anxiety psychosis. This can refer to people who have had a direct negative contact with sharks (e.g. scuba divers, fishermen), or persons who only suffer from an unexplained fear of sharks. In both cases therapy is recommended.

One of the most applied therapies is systematic desensitization. For this purpose a hierarchical list is made of all situations causing anxiety, beginning with the least and ending with the most fearful situation. The next step is to achieve a deep state of relaxation through applied relaxation techniques. Once in this state, the person undergoing treatment must recall several situations which trigger fear, beginning with the one that causes the least fear. He or she can imagine all kinds of scary situations but will not be afraid whilst in this completely relaxed frame of mind in which fear is inhibited. During several therapy sessions the person learns to cope with the situations imagined without fear and can finally come to terms with, or digest his or her anxieties.

Another method applied to cure disturbances related to fear is the "flooding therapy" in which the person is confronted with the source of his fear in its complete intensity. This form of therapy can be effective when all other methods have failed. Selection of the most effective therapy methods for people depends, among other things, on the personality structure of the person involved and is determined through discussions and personality tests at the beginning of each therapy session to ensure that the appropriate therapy is applied.

No one is ever left alone with their fear. For some time now, Dr. Erich Ritter's team (Green Marine) has been offering therapies/seminars, i.e. courses, which apply the above-mentioned therapy forms. Their methods have been very successful in helping numerous people overcome their fear of sharks.

Probably the most successful way of ridding people of their general fear of sharks is a comprehensive educational campaign based on the latest research findings which explain shark behavior.

The fact that many shark species must currently be considered endangered and have already been put under protection by several countries, including the U.S., South Africa and Australia, should be food for thought. It is high time to do something if these animals are not to disappear from the face of the earth. Nature has given them their function and we should not destroy nature's balance by meddling in her affairs because of our ignorance.


* Nihal Özkara, is a qualified psychologist at the Psychiatric and Psychotherapeutic Clinic for Children and Young Adults at the J.W. Goethe University, Frankfurt (Germany).

May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info / Nihal Özkara



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