Shark Attacks Now Called "Negative Encounters," Bites are Called "Mouth Hugs"

Australia will stop calling shark attacks "shark attacks," changing instead to the gentler and less frightening term, "negative encounters."

As in, "I just saw on the news that a shark negative encountered a guy's head off."

According to Australia's Sidney Morning Herald (official motto: "It's afternoon where you are"), government agencies in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland are now using the term to describe times where sharks bite a large chunk out of a human.

Meanwhile, a small bite will only be referred to as an "incident" or "interaction."

As in, "A shark was involved in an interaction with my head."

In fact, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has already stopped using the word "attacks" in their annual reports.

Instead, they're called "enthusiastic mouth hugs."

Kitty! He came to say hi to us!
Also, sharks are now referred to as "vigorous sea kittens."

(That's "SEA kittens," by the way. Perverts.)

And when a group of sharks — called a "shiver" — engage in a "feeding frenzy," it's now called "zealous nibbling."

Scientists and government officials want to change the terminology used whenever a shark negative encounters someone because the old terms reinforce negative stereotypes about sharks.

Of course, it doesn't help when we see movies like Jaws, the Meg, Sharknado, and The Rainmaker, all of which portray sharks as mindless eating machines cruising the ocean and taking on big insurance companies in court.

To help with their new language changes, the DPI has been working with a support group for people who were negatively encountered by a shark called Bite Club.

And yes, they've heard that joke. That one, too. Yes, yes, just like the movie.

As the Sidney Morning Herald wrote, "The choice of words can be potent since public fears about beach safety can be inflamed by alarmist language by politicians and the media."

At which point The Washington Post broke down crying, even as the New York Times wore a haunted thousand-yard stare.

Australia's not going full-on euphemism, though. The Queensland government will still use the term "bites" for when a shark clamps down on your body with its razor teeth to see if you're food.

A spokesperson for the DPI even told the Morning Herald, "NSW DPI is respectful that each incident is best described by the individual involved."

I would think that each individual would describe their incident as, "AAAUUUGGGHHH!!! A F---ING SHARK ATTACKED ME!!"

But they're made of sterner stuff in Australia."Strewth! I have had an incident with a shark," they shout when their foot is in a shark's mouth. "I strongly disapprove of this negative encounter."

But this attempt at softening the language about "vigorous sea kitten incidents" isn't new. One researcher, Christopher Pepin-Neff, said that even before the 1930s, shark attacks were often reported as "shark accidents." It wasn't until the 1930s when a prominent surgeon began calling shark attacks "shark attacks," and so the term "shark attacks" was used to refer to all shark attacks.

This is also the time that shark nets were installed around Australian beaches. You know, because of all the shark attacks.

But they're not attacks! wail the shark researchers. What we think of as attacks are not really attacks in the sense that a shark is maliciously trying to bite someone. They're not trying to hurt us, they're only curious.

Nathan Hart, an associate professor at Macquarie University, said, "Sharks don't have hands so if they want to explore something, they mouth it."

They also do that when they don't know the words.

But, hey, that makes me feel so much better. Sharks aren't trying to eat me, they're just curious, and they just use their mouths to see what I am and if I'm edible.

You know, like when a human baby tries to put a toy in its mouth to see what it is and if they can eat it.

Or when a mother lion picks up a baby lion to carry it to safety before it chases down and eats a water buffalo. Just like the lion, the shark is just trying to carry you to safety. In its belly.

As a writer, I understand that language matters and that people twist language to reinforce emotional stereotypes on people and animals. So I understand the motivations of these shark scientists, whose parents wish they had become something safe, like bomb disposal techs.

As Dr. Leonardo Guida, Senior Sharks Campaigner with the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said, they just want to "dispel inherent assumptions that sharks are ravenous, mindless man-eating monsters."

Ah-ah, Dr. Guida. We live in a more inclusive world now.

Sharks are ravenous, mindless PEOPLE-eating monsters.

Except they're really not. According to the Australian shark scientists, they're really only vigorous sea kittens that just want to give enthusiastic mouth hugs to anyone and everyone, which, as I say that out loud, sounds way dirtier than it's supposed to.


Photo credit: MLBay (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

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