If “Sharknado” taught us anything, it’s that shark “attacks” come in a variety of forms.
But some researchers are questioning how we talk about them.
In general, the term shark “attack” is used by the media and the public to describe all kinds of human-shark interaction—even when there’s no harm or injury, according to Christopher Neff of the University of Sydney, Australia and Dr. Robert Hueter, leader of Mote Marine Laboratory’s Center for Shark Research, who released a study earlier this year.
They suggest a new classification for “human–shark incidents” to support more accurate reporting about shark interactions. The categories, according to the press release:
Shark sightings: Sightings of sharks in the water in proximity to people with no physical contact.
Shark encounters: No bite takes place and no humans are injured, but physical contact occurs with a person or an inanimate object holding a person, such as a surfboard or boat. A shark might also bump a swimmer and its rough skin might cause a minor abrasion.
Shark bites: Bites by small or large sharks that result in minor to moderate injuries.
Fatal shark bites: One or more bites causing fatal injuries. The authors caution against using the term “shark attack” unless the motivation and intent of the shark are clearly established by experts, which is rarely possible.