White shark

Terry Goss [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

We all know that a large part of what made Jaws so scary was that nerve-jangling John Williams soundtrack. And broadcasters like the Discovery Channel love to go overboard with the sinister shark soundtrack for events like the hugely popular Shark Week. But while ominous music may get us squarely in the mood for 90 minutes of shark-tastic mayhem, it turns out that sharks do not do so well out of the publicity. Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego found that the background music in shark documentaries affects viewers’ perceptions of sharks, and could even hinder conservation work to protect them.

“Given that nature documentaries are often regarded as objective and authoritative sources of information, it is critical that documentary filmmakers and viewers are aware of how the soundtrack can affect the interpretation of the educational content,” said Andrew Nosal, the lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

2,000 online participants shared their attitudes toward sharks after watching a 60-second video clip of sharks swimming. Nosal and his team compared the results of the participants who watched the clip set to ominous background music to those watching the same video clip set to uplifting background music, or silence. Participants who viewed the video with ominous background music rated sharks more negatively than those who viewed the clip with uplifting music or no music.

Sharks face very real threats to their population, from habitat destruction to shark finning. According to the ICUN Red List around a quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.

Seemingly the time has come to swap the Jaws theme for something more uplifting from the John Williams repertoire. I for one would definitely vote for the Jurassic Park theme music. 

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