SARASOTA, Fla. - When you hear the words "shark attack," scenes from the movie Jaws often come to mind. But the word "attack" is misleading according to those who study sharks.
"When we talk about shark attack, it evokes in everyone's mind this fear in everyone's mind of being eaten by a super predator," said Dr. Robert Hueter, the leader of Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Shark Research in Sarasota.
Dr. Hueter said it is a label placed on these fish two centuries ago when scientists had limited understanding of their behavior. "That's not what's happening in well over 90% of these cases," he said.
That is why Mote Marine Laboratory's shark research leader took part in a new study with Christopher Neff of the University of Sydney, Australia which was published this week, to help better educate the public on a shark's behavior.
"We understand better how to respond," Dr. Hueter said. "We understand that maybe we have to change perhaps our behavior and watch out for certain species of sharks."
In fact, the large great whites often seen in the movies are actually few and far between. Of the 500 shark species, most grow to less than 3 feet long.
"Treating them as if they're criminals, treating as if they are man-eaters is counterproductive to ocean conservation," Hueter said.
Hueter adds it comes from the term "shark attack" being misleading, grouping fatal bites with ones the result in little to no injury. "When we equate that with a massive bite from a 15 foot shark, that's not right," Hueter said.
He adds this is why the study suggests to group shark incidents into four categories: sightings, encounters, bites, and fatal bites, so levels of risk can be more accurately recorded.
"Most of the sharks we have in Florida here are actually small," Hueter said. "And none of them are true man eaters."
You can read the full study online HERE.