Are sharks really the bloodthirsty killers they are sometimes made out to be in popular media?

While many people may base their ideas about sharks on movies like Jaws, data suggests that very few of them actually ever end up hurting humans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes on its website that over 300 species of sharks exist, however, only 12 species have ever been associated with attacks on humans. The organization also states that shark attacks on people typically occur when the animal is curious or confused.

The Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File report for 2022 revealed that a total of 108 human and shark interactions occurred that year worldwide. Of the 108 encounters, 57 were logged as unprovoked bites, and 32 were reported as provoked.

The United States currently leads globally in terms of unprovoked shark bites, having reported 41 of the 57 last year.

Gabriella Hancock, a psychologist studying people’s perceptions of animal ability, told Alabama News that the creatures have a “bad reputation,” noting that the overwhelming majority of sharks do not pose a great risk to humans.

“The odds of encountering one are super low, the odds of being injured by one or even lower, the odds of being killed by one are astronomically small,” said Hancock. “You’re more likely to be killed by lightning. You’re more likely to be killed by hornets, wasps, and bees. You’re more likely to be killed by your own dog.”

Hancock and other researchers published a study on June 8 in the Frontiers Journal examining how people’s specific notions about particular animals can serve as “predictors of conservation behaviors.” She and her colleagues surveyed 380 individuals on their beliefs about both sharks and stingrays.

The researchers concluded that conservation efforts for these creatures were directly related to perception in that the more a person thinks of the shark as an intelligent creature, the more likely the person is to support conservation efforts. The same relationship was found between conservation efforts for stingrays and the belief that they have emotional capabilities.

“Understanding how people perceive sharks is essential for us to provide good science-based information in ways that enable the public to better understand and appreciate the marine life they share the ocean with,” said marine biology professor Christopher Lowe, Alabama News reported.

Researchers hope that the new study will aid in increasing conservation efforts for these creatures while dispelling the stigmas associated with them.