Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Great White Farce

Apoligises in advance. For most of this post I am going to sound like a ten year old who has been told they're not going to Disneyland after all. This is because I had been led to believe that someone had seen a great white shark here in the UK. Now as you may have gathered from the first post on here, I am fascinated by sharks. So my reaction to the news that the surfers and swimmers of Cornwall might be eaten was not 'oh dear' but 'oh cool!'

I should have paid more attention to where the story came from. The Sun splashed the sighting all over its front page and breathlessly reported how 'shocked tourists told of their terror last night over the Great White shark sighting off Cornwall.' Now, supposed great white shark sightings in UK waters are nothing new. I remember seeing a report of one on Newsround and since I haven't watched newsround for the better part of a decade this sighting must have happened I while ago. Nor are these claims totally implausible. Great Whites are regularly spotted off the coast of Northern Spain and it would be quite possible for one to swim from there to the UK.

What made this story different is that there was video of the 'shark.' This makes it easy to tell whether this really was a Great White. Which is exactly what today's Guardian does. They showed the video to David Sims, who leads the only scientific study of large sharks in the UK. His conclusion was that the 'Great White' was in fact a dolphin and a harmless Basking shark. Dr Sims cuttingly remarks "The Sun seems to run this story every summer. Just because parliament has gone into recess does not make this a great white shark."

There is a serious issue which this story raises. It is yet another illustration of just, how bad the Sun's journalism is. There was nothing preventing someone at the Sun showing the video to Dr Sim or another shark expert. They apparently did not do so and as a result printed a story that was inaccurate. But this is not the first howler from the Sun and they are often far from harmless.

Thanks to the Sun, thousands of people now wrongly believe that there are Great White sharks off Britain's shores. Which makes me wonder, what else do they believe just because the Sun told them?


Roger said...

You're missing the important question here - who would win in a fight between a Great White and a Dolphin/Basking Shark team?

steelchaffinch said...

I am putting firm money on the dolphin/basking shark tag team :-)