Matthew Reddin

Hello America, From Australia: Researcher Proposes Renaming “Shark Attacks” As “Negative Encounters”

(Steven Spielberg on the set of Jaws; courtesy of Universal Pictures)

In his latest column, Matthew Reddin looks at Shark Week, shark attacks, and a bit of PR spin on behalf of sharks and their “bad reputation.” 


A pearl of wisdom from the much-loved and much-missed sitcom 30 Rock was dispensed by one of its stars, Tracy Morgan: “Live every week like it was Shark Week.”

I also read that your most recent former president described his ongoing fear of sharks to an adult film actress before the two engaged in what we’re meant to believe was upwards of 43 whole seconds of tepid-to-mediocre sex.

Not sure the Discovery Channel wants that imagery as part of their promotions, but hey, that’s Shark Week for you! Anyhow, it seems like that week came and went if the news is anything to go by.

In this part of the world, sharks are something that we’re constantly wary of: many of our beaches are patrolled by surf lifesavers on the ground, the skies patrolled by helicopters keeping their eyes peeled for sharks. It happens, sporadically, that a shark will attack someone in Australia, and debate is ongoing as to the seeming increase in the number of attacks.

Australia is widely known as a place where any number of things can kill you. Sharks, sure. But then there’s a wide variety of snakes, spiders, jellyfish, and ridiculous-looking birds. We tend to take it with a grain of salt; it’s part of our charm, that we can make do with a host of lethal natural wonders, while seemingly going without the host of man-made ones that seem to kill you folks with startling regularity.

Anyhow, back to sharks. In a display of journalistic understatement, Newsweek posted a piece this week with the delightfully subtle and nuanced headline, “Shark Attacks, Kills Drunk Man Urinating in Brazilian Sea” (this is one of those occasions where one is tempted to re-write the headline as “Shark Attacks in Brazil, Kills Man” and tweet Newsweek in a passive-aggressive manner, “Fixed it for you”). Turns out that this chap was just peeing in the water at Piedade Beach in Jaboãtao dos Guararapes when one of the water’s inhabitants took exception and extracted a mouthful of the man’s thigh and hand.

In defense of the shark and the Brazilian man, I’m sure given the right circumstances we can put ourselves squarely in either party’s camp.


I don’t know if you see it, but I definitely see a pattern emerging here. Drunk and/or stupid men doing something stupid near sharks and suffering the very serious consequences of it.


There’s another story, not dissimilar to the Brazilian one. As reported on Loudwire, “In a new special to promote the fourth Jackass film, Jackass Forever, guest star Sean ‘Poopies’ McInerney wakeboarded into a school of sharks, getting bit before he was pulled out of the water.”

Clearly a bad day at the office for this Poopies chap. “According to Steve-O, Poopies went into surgery to get two completely severed arteries and several tendons reattached. Thankfully, Poopies retained the use of his hand and the Jackass crew gave him extremely high praise. Jackass Forever is scheduled to hit theaters on Oct. 22.”

That’s quite the paragraph, right there. And I’m sure the piece’s author, Graham Hartmann, will one day look back fondly on it and be glad he spent all that time and money studying journalism. (I’m not a big proponent of the whole Jackass thing, and I can’t recall who, but someone once quite accurately described it as a show about a group of mentally ill young men who repeatedly try to kill themselves. Not exactly must-see TV, IMHO.)

I don’t know if you see it, but I definitely see a pattern emerging here. Drunk and/or stupid men doing something stupid near sharks and suffering the very serious consequences of it. The overriding point thus far seems to be: “Stay out of the water.” It’s something that Jerry Seinfeld has been saying about the ocean for years.

But back to us here in the Antipodes. Sky News has reported, “Australia renames shark attacks ‘negative encounters’ to dispel ‘man-eating monster’ perception.” Again, a bit of a misleading headline there, as it’s not as though the federal parliament passed a law that makes us now refer to shark attacks as “encounters,” it turns out that one dude, a shark researcher at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, wants to end the use of such terms like “attacks” to “help dispel inherent assumptions that sharks are ravenous, mindless man-eating monsters.”

I’m not sure sharks needed PR spin doctors, but here we are. It’s not something that’s been widely adopted, as the report states: “The Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said there had ‘been no formal direction in this space’ and in Victoria, fisheries describe the encounters on its Shark Smart advice only as ‘attacks’.”

Quite rightly so. I’m not one for rallying against political correctness or changing the dialogue around a marginalized community to preserve their sense of worth and place in society. But these are sharks we’re talking about. It’s why Jaws wasn’t a rom-com. A few years back, an Australian surfer was attacked by a shark while competing. There’s footage of him punching the thing in its face lest he be eaten in front of the assembled sports media. Go ahead and ask Mick Fanning about that “negative encounter,” I dare you.

I think, given how dangerous the ocean tends to be, let’s perhaps just try to exercise some measure of caution when frolicking in it. Call them “inter-species differences of opinion” if you like. And be less like Poopies.


Matthew Reddin

Matt Reddin has been writing nonsense about film, TV, books, music, and live theatre for a touch over 20 years. He’s gone from the halcyon days of street press in Perth, to regional dailies, national magazines, and major metropolitan newspapers. Now, in between bouts of sporadically yelling at clouds, he vents his creative spleen at

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