Summer of the Shark
The Summer of the Shark refers to the coverage of shark attack
Shark attack
A shark attack is an attack on a human by a shark. Every year around 60 shark attacks are reported worldwide, although death is quite unusual. Despite the relative rarity of shark attacks, the fear of sharks is a common phenomenon, having been fueled by the occasional instances of serial attacks,...

s by American news media
Media of the United States
Media of the United States consist of several different types of communications media: television, radio, cinema, newspapers, magazines, and Internet-based Web sites. The U.S...

 in the summer of 2001. The sensationalist
Sensationalism is a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are over-hyped to increase viewership or readership numbers...

 coverage of shark attacks began in early July following the Fourth of July weekend shark attack on 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast, and continued almost unabated—despite no evidence for an actual increase in attacks—until the September 11 terrorist attacks shifted the media's attention away from beaches. The Summer of the Shark has since been remembered as an example of tabloid television
Tabloid television
Tabloid television, also known as Teletabloid, is a form of tabloid journalism. Tabloid television newscasts usually incorporate flashy graphics and sensationalized stories.Often, there is a heavy emphasis on crime, stories with good video, and celebrity news...

 perpetuating a story with no real merit beyond its ability to draw ratings.


The media's fixation with shark attacks began on July 6, when 8-year-old Mississippi boy Jessie Arbogast was bitten by a bull shark
Bull shark
The bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, also known as Zambezi shark or unofficially known as Zambi in Africa and Nicaragua shark in Nicaragua, is a shark common worldwide in warm, shallow waters along coasts and in rivers...

 while standing in shallow water at Santa Rosa Island
Santa Rosa Island, Florida
Santa Rosa Island[p] is a 40-mile barrier island located in the U.S. state of Florida, thirty miles east of the Alabama state border...

's Langdon Beach. The shark, which measured approximately 7 feet (2.1 m) in length, bit off Arbogast's arm in the attack; it was then caught and killed after being dragged by its tail onto shore by Arbogast's uncle, Vance Flosenzier. Although Arbogast was immediately pulled out the water by Flosenzier following the attack, the severe blood loss he suffered caused damage to his organs and brain, complicating his recovery. Arbogast's arm was later removed from the captured shark's mouth and surgically reattached.

Immediately after the near-fatal attack on Arbogast, another attack severed the leg of a New Yorker vacationing in The Bahamas
The Bahamas
The Bahamas , officially the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, is a nation consisting of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 islets . It is located in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba and Hispaniola , northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and southeast of the United States...

, while a third attack on a surfer occurred about a week later on July 15, six miles from the spot where Arbogast was bitten. In the following weeks, Abrogast's spectacular rescue and survival received extensive coverage in the 24-hour news cycle
24-hour news cycle
The 24-hour news cycle arrived with the advent of television channels dedicated to news, and brought about a much faster pace of news production with increased demand for stories that can be presented as news, as opposed to the day-by-day pace of the news cycle of printed daily newspapers...

, which was renewed (and then redoubled) with each subsequent report of a shark incident. The media fixation continuedstory with a cover story in the July 30th issue of Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...


In mid-August, many networks were showing footage captured by helicopters of hundreds of sharks coalescing off the southwest coast of Florida. Beach-goers were warned of the dangers of swimming, despite the fact that the swarm was likely part of an annual shark migration. The repeated broadcasts of the shark group has been criticized as blatant fear mongering
Fear mongering
Fear mongering is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end...

, leading to the unwarranted belief of a so-called shark "epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...


Two additional shark attacks, both fatal, occurred during the first 3 days of September — one in Virginia and one in North Carolina. By early September, there were calls to pass legislation to help "control the problem," and legislation prohibiting the feeding of sharks
Shark baiting
Shark baiting is a controversial "sport" where participants are lowered in a shark proof cage while tour guides bait the waters for sharks, leading to potentially aggressive behaviors by the shark population. The practice is used by thrill-seeking scuba divers and underwater photographers....

 was enacted in Florida on November 1, becoming a law on the January 1, 2002. The Summer of the Shark came to a quick end following the September 11 terrorist attacks, as the media had shifted attention to the destruction at the Pentagon, lower Manhattan and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Investigative journalist John Stossel
John Stossel
John F. Stossel is an American consumer reporter, investigative journalist, author and libertarian columnist. In October 2009 Stossel left his long time home on ABC News to join the Fox Business Channel and Fox News Channel, both owned and operated by News Corp...

 explains the media's shark fixation in his book Give Me a Break, stating:
Instead of putting risks in proportion, we [reporters] hype interesting ones. Tom Brokaw
Tom Brokaw
Thomas John "Tom" Brokaw is an American television journalist and author best known as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004. He is the author of The Greatest Generation and other books and the recipient of numerous awards and honors...

, Katie Couric
Katie Couric
Katherine Anne "Katie" Couric is an American journalist and author. She serves as Special Correspondent for ABC News, contributing to ABC World News, Nightline, 20/20, Good Morning America, This Week and primetime news specials...

, and countless others called 2001 the "summer of the shark." [...] In truth, there wasn't a remarkable surge in shark attacks in 2001. There were about as many in 1995 and 2000, but 1995 was the year of the O.J. Simpson trial, and 2000 was an election year
United States presidential election, 2000
The United States presidential election of 2000 was a contest between Republican candidate George W. Bush, then-governor of Texas and son of former president George H. W. Bush , and Democratic candidate Al Gore, then-Vice President....

. The summer of 2001 was a little dull, so reporters focused on sharks.


In terms of absolute minutes of television coverage on the three major broadcast networks—ABC
American Broadcasting Company
The American Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network. Created in 1943 from the former NBC Blue radio network, ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Company and is part of Disney-ABC Television Group. Its first broadcast on television was in 1948...

CBS Broadcasting Inc. is a major US commercial broadcasting television network, which started as a radio network. The name is derived from the initials of the network's former name, Columbia Broadcasting System. The network is sometimes referred to as the "Eye Network" in reference to the shape of...

, and NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

—shark attacks were 2001's third "most important" news story prior to September 11, behind the western United States forest fires, and the political scandal resulting from the Chandra Levy
Chandra Levy
Chandra Ann Levy was an American intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C., who disappeared in May 2001. She was presumed murdered after her skeletal remains were found in Rock Creek Park in May 2002...

 missing persons case. However, the comparatively higher shock value
Shock value
Shock value is the potential of an action , image, text, or other form of communication to provoke a reaction of disgust, shock, anger, fear, or similar negative emotions.-Shock value as humor:...

 of shark attacks left a lasting impression on the public. According to the International Shark Attack File
International Shark Attack File
The International Shark Attack File is a global database of shark attacks. It began as an attempt to catalogue shark attacks on servicemen during World War II. The Office of Naval Research funded it from 1958 until 1968. During that time a panel of shark experts developed a standard system for...

, there were 76 shark attacks that occurred in 2001, lower than the 85 attacks documented in 2000; furthermore, although 5 people were killed in attacks in 2001, this was less than the 12 deaths caused by shark attacks the previous year.

See also

  • Bear attack
  • Media circus
    Media circus
    Media circus is a colloquial metaphor, or idiom, describing a news event where the media coverage is perceived to be out of proportion to the event being covered, such as the number of reporters at the scene, the amount of news media published or broadcast, and the level of media hype...

  • Shark attack
    Shark attack
    A shark attack is an attack on a human by a shark. Every year around 60 shark attacks are reported worldwide, although death is quite unusual. Despite the relative rarity of shark attacks, the fear of sharks is a common phenomenon, having been fueled by the occasional instances of serial attacks,...

  • List of fatal, unprovoked shark attacks in the United States

External links

  • Summer of the Shark — Jul. 30, 2001, Time magazine cover story held up as an illustrative example of the Summer of the Shark media phenomenon.
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