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The Jaws Effect: How movie narratives are used to influence policy responses to shark bites in Western Australia

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This article examines the way political actors use film narratives to influence policymaking following shark bites. To analyse these relationships I propose the concept of the Jaws Effect, where film-based historical analogies are used as a political device to frame real-life events in ways that make the events governable and prejudice certain policy options. Three elements of the Jaws Effect are reviewed including the intentionality of the shark, perception that these events are fatal and the belief that ‘the shark’ must be killed. These elements are applied to a case study of policy responses to shark bite episodes in Western Australia in 2000, 2003, 2011 and 2014. The reasons why this political device may not always work are also suggested.
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The Jaws Effect: How movie narratives
are used to influence policy responses
to shark bites in Western Australia
Christopher Neffa
a University of Sydney
Published online: 06 Dec 2014.
To cite this article: Christopher Neff (2014): The Jaws Effect: How movie narratives are used
to influence policy responses to shark bites in Western Australia, Australian Journal of Political
Science, DOI: 10.1080/10361146.2014.989385
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10361146.2014.989385
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The Jaws Effect: How movie narratives are used
to inuence policy responses to shark bites in
Western Australia
CHRISTOPHER NEFF
University of Sydney
This article examines the way political actors use lm narratives to inuence
policymaking following shark bites. To analyse these relationships I propose
the concept of the Jaws Effect, where lm-based historical analogies are used
as a political device to frame real-life events in ways that make the events
governable and prejudice certain policy options. Three elements of the Jaws
Effect are reviewed including the intentionality of the shark, perception that
these events are fatal and the belief that the sharkmust be killed. These
elements are applied to a case study of policy responses to shark bite episodes
in Western Australia in 2000, 2003, 2011 and 2014. The reasons why this
political device may not always work are also suggested.
Keywords: emotion; lm; Jaws Effect; public policy; shark bite; Western Australia
Introduction
This article examines the impact of ctional lm narratives on the policy process fol-
lowing shark bites. Previous literature has looked at the inuence of actors and celeb-
rities on policy (Marsh et al. 2010;tHart and Tindall 2009) as well as the way movie
themes and imagery inuence policy discourse. Gamson and Modigliani (1989: 21)
examined the impact of the 1979 lm The China Syndrome on the development of
nuclear power in the US, noting its most important achievement was to provide a
concrete, vivid image of how a disastrous nuclear accident could happen.In
addition, both Schulte (2008) and Hollinger and Lanza-Kaduce (1988) examined
the role the lm WarGames in the development of computer crime legislation in
the US Schulte notes:
WarGames engaged a teenaged technologydiscourse, which cast both internet
technology itself and its users as rebellious teenagers in need of parental control.
This discourse enabled policymakers to equate government regulation of the
Christopher Neff is a lecturer in public policy at the Department of Government and International
Relations, University of Sydney. Special thanks to Megan Draheim and Francine Madden from the
HumanWildlife Conict Collaboration for their support and feedback on previous drafts of this article.
Australian Journal of Political Science, 2014
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10361146.2014.989385
© 2014 Australian Political Studies Association
Downloaded by [University of Sydney], [Christopher Neff] at 15:46 07 December 2014
internet with parental guidance rather than with suppression of democracy and
innovation. (2008:1)
In this case, I examine the leading role of the 1975 lm Jaws on the political con-
struction of certain themes and discourses in shark bite policymaking in Western
Australia (WA). Following shark bites, there are often pressures placed on govern-
ments to act (Neff 2012; Neff and Yang 2013). These highly emotional issues
present unique and complex public policy questions. There are circumstances
when one event may result in little or no response, yet the same event occurring
(or appearing to occur) a second or third time results in a dramatic escalation of
policy responses. Often, these situations move from normalconditions to crisis
events on the basis of their frequency or severity (Rochefort and Cobb 1994).
Even then, the factors that inuence policy responses are not assured. Nohrstedt
(2008: 258) identies a lingering gap in the literature when he notes that there is
an insufcient framework for determining, why some crises result in major policy
changes while others do not. I argue that familiar lm narratives can serve as the
basis for political discourse when they appear to mirror well-known stories, blame
marginalised target populations and provide quick political solutions.
In Australia, the questions around policy responses to shark bites are particularly
important because three states maintain shark control programs. These include the use
of shark nets in New South Wales since 1937, the deployment of nets and drum lines
in Queensland beginning in 1962, and the recent $22 million investment in shark
mitigation strategies in WA. Drum lines are a shing method that involves
connecting a large baited hook to a buoy approximately one kilometre off a beach
(WA 2014: 6). Moreover, of the 63 reported shark bite fatalities around the world
between 2004 and 2013, 15 (24 per cent) took place in Australia. Shark bites are
one of the most globally dispersed humanwildlife conicts. Since 1580, there
have been a reported 2569 shark bite incidents off six of the seven continents
(ISAF 2013). The US, Australia and South Africa lead the world in total incidents
(Neff 2012). Public policies to controlsharks near beaches can affect shark conser-
vation by killing protected shark species.
The public is aware of shark bites and their interest has led to a cottage industry of
entertainment and media to reinforce attention to these events. In motion pictures and
on television, the portrayal of sharks is big business. For instance, a leading lm
website lists Jaws (1975) as the seventh highest grossing lm of all time (adjusted
for ination), at more than $1 billion (Box Ofce Mojo 2014). Meanwhile, the Dis-
covery ChannelsShark Week has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in ad
revenue(Tapper 2013). In fact, no other animal, on land or in the water, generates
the entertainment income that shark species do. From the book and motion picture
Jaws, which manufactured a public panic, to the more than 25 television seasons
of Shark Week, which keep the fears and fascination alive, the humanshark relation-
ship presents a well-known story predicated on a primal battle for survival between
human and shark.
This article is divided into four sections. First, I highlight the way frequent dreaded
events are given meaning in political discourse through historical analogies. Second,
I propose consideration of the Jaws Effect (Neff and Hueter 2013), where ctional
narratives of shark behaviour from lm are used as historical analogies to frame
real-life situations. The Jaws Effect functions as a blame-casting device that
informs causal stories. Third, I review how these ctional narratives are used as
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anchoring points following real-life events through a case study of WA. I demonstrate
how the Jaws Effect can be seen as a political instrument in policymaking that
reinforces three themes: that sharks are intentionally hunting people, that shark
bites are fatal events and that killing individual sharks will solve the problem.
Here, the rogueshark theory (Coppleson 1958) from the book and movie Jaws
(Benchley 1974) is used to legitimise several repeated policy responses. Last, I
review why the Jaws Effect may not be successful in every policy environment. In
all, this analysis demonstrates the way governments may rely on ctional narratives
to develop public policy in emotional situations as a means of advancing political
interests. Elaborating on the role of movie myths as political device helps show
how political actors negotiate these sensitive periods to inuence political processes
and to contest evidence-based science.
Frequent dreaded events and historical analogies
Clusters of highly emotional events are often the focus of policy responses across a
number of issue domains. Multiple house res, school shootings, king hits, highway
deaths, construction worker accidents, hurricanes, shark bites or truck crashes within
a certain area or timeframe may become policy issues. A key way that these issues
rise or fall on the agenda is how frequently they occur, or appear to occur, and
whether they are framed as random events or alarming problem conditions (Neff
2013). I suggest that the real or perceived frequency of certain affect-laden events
and their dreaded outcomes are prioritised with lower thresholds for their occurrence
in order to facilitate political control. Rochefort and Cobb (1994: 20) note that the
frequency of perceived problems can help shape problem denitions. The frequency
and prevalence of a hazardous or unjust situation are a potent trigger to it being con-
sidered a social problem(Rochefort and Cobb 1994). Similarly, Kingdon (1995)
highlights the importance of frequency indicatorsthat report increases of problems
in society.
The use of problem denitions and causal stories are central to dening the terms
of the political debate (Stone 1997), because the politics of causal stories determines
when blaming someone is appropriate. A certain frequency of certain fearful issues or
events can create expectations for action and induce the opening of policy windows if
they are perceived as intentional. Stone (1989) notes that two frames dominate the
blame-making process: accidents and intentional actions. Political power resides in
these two categories of circumstance, because events either are perceived as accidents
that are blameless and ungovernable, or intentional and requiring justice (Stone
1989). Each domain is subject to dispute and can be advocated for by political
actors to avoid blame and accountability or to assign intent, which helps make
events governable and blameable. Therefore, governments may use familiar histori-
cal analogies to ascribe intent to certain events as a way to lower the threshold for
policy action and advance solutions, especially in the face of an increased frequency
from ungovernable dreaded events.
tHart denes historical analogies as instances when a person or group draws upon
parts of their personal and/or collective memories, and/or parts of historyto deal
with current situations and problems(2010: 106). Brändström, Bynander and
tHart have used historical analogies to review policy by looking at the role of
historyin contemporary governance(2004: 191). Nohrstedt has also noted the
important role of analogies in decision-making, stating: analogies, routines and
THE JAWS EFFECT 3
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other heuristics as a means of reaching solutions to complex problems should not be
omitted(2008: 273). Missing from policy analysis literature, however, is a review of
the way frequent events can be explained using movie mythology. I address this gap
by examining the way ctional lm narratives are used to explain the frequency of
shark bites by attributing blame to an individual shark in the governance of shark-
bite policymaking. The selection of certain analogies is a key political tool because
they allocate culpability to certain targets and prejudice policy responses based on
feelings towards that species (Schneider and Ingram 1993). Importantly, the identi-
cation of human feelings and blame towards animal species is distinct from giving the
species themselves human attributes. Stone (1989: 283) notes that in the social
world, we understand events to be the result of will [sic], usually human but
perhaps animal. In addition, Czech, Krausman and Borkhataria (1998) use Schneider
and Ingrams(1993) social construction model to analyse how political power and
laws are allocated to organisations that work in favour of certain animals.
The Jaws Effect
The Jaws Effect is the way in which political actors use ctional representations in
lm (Neff and Hueter 2013) as the basis for explaining real-life events. This analy-
sis relies on an understanding of the way historical analogies inuence the public
and can be used as a narrative that denes the debate and allocates blame. tHart
(2010: 107) notes that there are four elements that contribute to their effectiveness:
the real or perceived recency of events; the degree to which political actors have
personal experiences of the events; whether the event in question has produced
widespread psychological impact; and whether the analogy serves the purposes of
the actor.
The lm Jaws ts this description in each of the four elements. The emotional
nature and vivid images enables people to create a mental shortcut (Tversky and Kah-
neman 1973), where the frequency and recency of ctional stimuli in movies make
them seem like real-life events. Cantor notes the realness of the lm experience:
If we experience intense fear while watching Jaws, our implicit fear reactions
became conditioned to the image of the sharks, to the notion of swimming, to
the musical score most likely a combination of the stimuli in the movie. Later,
one of these stimuli or even thoughts of these stimuli trigger these unconscious
reactions, even after our conscious minds have gotten past the problem. (2004: 301)
The socio-psychological saturation of the lm as both a summer blockbuster and
societal meme is widespread. As a result, politicians can connect words and
images from this ctional narrative to real-life events making one analogous to the
other and bringing along with it the same emotional triggers to symbols and
words. This effect preferences understandings of certain situations and the way to
respond to them.
Importantly, many modern representations of sharks mirror elements from Jaws
and cue this analogy in ways that suggest humans are on the menu. Three Holly-
wood storylines from Jaws underpin the lasting strength of the Jaws Effect: the
attribution of intentionality to the shark; the perception that humanshark inter-
actions lead to fatal outcomes; and the belief that the shark must be killed to
end the threat.
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Jaws
Media portrayals of sharks in movies have a crucial impact on public perceptions of
shark behaviour. To be clear, negative perceptions of sharks pre-date lms. Accord-
ing to Arnold (2005), the concept of the shark-monsterdates back to Olmec icono-
graphy (1500 BCE400 BCE). At issue in this analysis is the way in which ctional
conceptions have implications for public perceptions and policy responses. This
analysis focuses on the central role of Jaws in 1975. In his review of the lm
Jaws, movie critic Roger Ebert (1975) states that the story:
involves a series of attacks on swimmers by a great white shark, the response of the
threatened resort island to its loss of tourist business, and, nally, the epic attempt
by three men to track the shark and kill it.
The elements of Jaws that made it so effective included haunting music, an advertis-
ing effort designed to prime public fears (Gottlieb 1975:9394), and a powerful
causal story (Stone 1989) of a serial killer shark. The rst piece of this ctional nar-
rative was the motives of the shark.
The attribution of intentionality to the shark
Jaws framed its story with a giant white shark wilfully hunting humans. The features
of the intentionality and territoriality of one shark, which has developed a taste for
humans, are noted in the lm script (Benchley and Gottlieb 1975):
Chief Brody: Now this shark that, that swims alone
Hooper: A rogue.
Chief Brody: Rogue, yeah, now this guy, he he keeps swimming around in a place
where the feeding is good until the food supply is gone, right?
Hooper: Its called Territoriality. Thats the theory A theory I happen to agree
with.
The concept of a rogueshark has its roots in Australia. Australian surgeon and
shark-bite researcher Victor Coppleson suggested the behaviour of rogue sharks in
the 1950s. The theory maintained that humanshark encounters occurring in the
same area annually are the work of a single shark a rogue shark which maintains
even for years a beat along a limited stretch of shore(Coppleson 1958: 45). The
rogue shark theory nds a vivid vehicle in Jaws. In this portrayal of the shark as
an intentional enemy, the outcome is severe and requires intervention.
The perception that humanshark interactions lead to fatal outcomes
A cluster of fatal shark bites occur in the lm Jaws over a short period and reinforce
the narrative that a shark bite is a fatal event. In the lm, a girl is killed in the opening
sequence, followed by a boy playing on a raft in the water at a beach, followed by a
sherman, a person rowing a boat and nally the shark hunter Quint. In each case, the
murderous and fatal nature of the events creates an essentialist element to the nature
of humanshark interactions. Even in a boat, a shark bite may be fatal. Moreover,
after the release of Jaws, the use of sharks in the media to portray life and death situ-
ations became more common.
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The belief that the shark must be killed to end the threat
In Jaws, the only solution is to kill the shark. It is explained that a rogue shark will
continue to hunt for prey (humans) in an area unless the food supply stops or it is
killed. Peschak notes that Jaws was a seminal turning point in the way the public
perceived sharks(2006: 160). Indeed:
[a]lmost overnight the white shark went from being considered at most an
obscure ocean dweller that few had ever heard of to a man-eating monster with a
lust for wanton killing, and a creature that was best eradicated from our planet
forever. (Peschak 2006: 160)
This entertainment narrative overwhelmed and displaced alternative scientic nar-
ratives about shark behaviour that discount the theory. The ction from Jaws perpe-
tuated stereotypes about sharks as villains that made false historical analogies
politically valuable. A case study review of WA responses following shark bites
examines the use of the Jaws Effect on the policy process.
Case study: WA
The selection of shark bites as an issue, and WA as the case, helps inform broader
policy questions. First, the discourse and responses to shark bites illustrate a lingering
question of why events can trigger different responses or no response at all. Shark
bites are also telling because they can represent salient and emotional moments
that place pressures on governments to act (Neff 2012; Neff and Yang 2013). This
approach is consistent with Lodge and Hoods(2002) research on dog-bite policy-
making, Achen and Bartels (2004) analysis of electoral voting and natural disasters
and the broader literature on risk (Sunstein and Zeckhauser 2011), as well as crisis
management (McConnell and Stark 2002).
WA presents a unique case study for two reasons. First, it has experienced more
fatal shark bites, in a smaller amount of time, than have ever been reported in Aus-
tralian history. Table 1 compiles a list of recorded fatal shark bites in Australia since
2000, based on media reports, such as Australian Geographic (AG staff 2014). The
table also includes the location and presumed species involved. WA has experienced
13 fatalities, with eight occurring since 2010 (see Table 1). As a result, policy
responses and public feedback to these events have made it a contemporary political
issue. In particular, two episodes (2000 and 2011), when three fatal shark bites
occurred in close succession and close proximity (including two in South Australia
(SA)), are noted as the triggers for the WA policy responses. Secondly, WA presents
a unique case given the number of policy responses that have been initiated, including
scientic research, aerial patrols, a trial of baited drum lines and an imminent threat
policy (WA 2014). This last policy stands out in particular because measures to catch
and kill individual sharks have been a key feature of WA responses since 2000. The
states investment of $22 million in shark-bite mitigation efforts (WA 2014) offers an
important opportunity for policy analysis. As a result, public statements and policy
documents are the main evidence in this research, given its focus on comparing
lm narratives and policy discourse.
I suggest that politicians used movie myths to support their policies in order to use
intent-based narratives that are well known and blame sharks in order to lower
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thresholds for policy action and favour quick policy solutions. This construction of
sharks matches and relies on its connection to ctional narratives from Jaws.At
issue in these cases is the way that sharks are constructed as a certain type of familiar
problem (including intentionality and fatal outcomes) that necessitates a certain type
of familiar solution (shark hunts and culling). I suggest that this can be seen in four
shark-bite episodes in WA, in 2000, 2003, 2011 and 2014.
Policy considerations in 2000
During the Australian spring and summer of 2000, three fatal shark-bite incidents
occurred within three months. The rst two occurred in SA, where two surfers
were killed within two days of each other. One swimmer was killed in WA two
months later. On 24 September, Cameron Bayes was bitten by a white shark and
died while surng on his honeymoon in SA. On 25 September, 17-year-old surfer
Jevan Wright died following a white shark bite at Blackfellows Point near the
town of Elliston (Coroners Inquest 2001). There were calls from the public to
hunt and kill the white shark(s) involved following these incidents and a widespread
belief that they were the work of one rogue shark. The SA government maintained
that federal laws protecting white sharks should be obeyed, but others disagreed.
For example, SA shark hunter Andre Georgescu stated If not there is every indi-
cation they will kill again(Hasan 2000) and former shark hunter Vic Hislop
Table 1. Fatal shark bites in Australia 200014
Date Location Presumed species
2000: 24 Sep Cactus Beach (SA) Great White
2000: 25 Sep Black Point (SA) Great White
2000: 06 Nov Cottlesloe (WA) Great White
2002: 30 Apr Smoky Bay (SA) Great White
2002: 16 Dec Miami Lake (QLD) Bull shark
2003: 08 Feb Burleigh Lake (QLD) Bull shark
2004: 10 Jul Gracetown (WA) Great White
2004: 11 Dec Opal Reef (QLD) Bull shark
2004: 16 Dec Adelaide (SA) Great White
2005: 19 Mar Abolhos Islands (WA) Great White
2005: 24 Aug Glenelg Beach (SA) Great White
2006: 07 Jan North Stradbroke Isle (QLD) Bull shark
2008: 08 Apr Ballina (NSW) Bull shark
2008: 27 Dec Port Kennedy (WA) Great White
2010: 17 Aug Gracetown (WA) Great White
2011: 17 Feb Cofn Bay (SA) Tiger Shark
2011: 04 Sep Bunker Bay (WA) Great White
2011: 10 Oct Cottlesloe (WA) Great White
2011: 22 Oct Rottnest Island (WA) Great White
2012: 31 Mar Port Geographer Marina (WA) Great White
2012: 14 Jul Wedge Island (WA) Great White
2013: 23 Nov Gracetown (WA) Great White
2013: 29 Nov Campbells Beach (NSW) Tiger shark
2014: 08 Feb Yorke Peninsula (SA) Great White
2014: 30 Apr Thatra (NSW) Great White
2014: 09 Sep Byron Bay (NSW) Great White
Source: AG (2014).
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called for ending laws protecting sharks, suggesting that these protections would
inevitably lead to more bites (Macfarlane 2000).
Two months later, on 6 November, a white shark bit two swimmers as they
returned from an early morning swim in waist-deep water. The bites occurred at Cot-
tesloe beach, the most popular in WA (Tourism Australia 2014). One of the swim-
mers, Ken Crew, died on the beach from blood loss in view of beachgoers. These
events created national concern, community fear and intense media scrutiny.
People drew parallels to Jaws almost immediately. One of Crews rescuers was
reported as stating, It was like the movie Jaws(cited in Smith 2000). The Australian
newspaper reported the same witness as saying, it was Jaws in real action, and I
dont say that lightly. This was the most savage, powerful, killing lunge Ive ever
seen, not that Ive seen a lot of sharks(cited in Australian 2000). Another witness
noted, I always thought the lm Jaws was exaggerated, but not after what I saw
today(cited in Dowdney 2002). Elliot (2000) reported for The Independent stated,
A bit like Amityville [sic]inJaws, the beach was immediately closed.Poultney
(2000) reported for the HeraldSun after the incident noting, Not since 1975,
when the blockbuster Jaws was released, have the monsters of the deep been so
feared.Indeed, the lm is noted here as actively inuencing the mindset of those
dealing with this tragedy.
After the incident at Cottesloe beach, there were immediate calls for hunting and
killing the shark. WA Fisheries Minister Monty House issued a special order after the
event to have the shark found and killed, stating, [t]he communitys safety is para-
mount. I know everyone wont agree with the decision, but its a decision weve
made(cited in Martin and Brook 2000). WA Premier Richard Court stated that
the shark must be killed, saying If that shark is going to endanger public safety; if
it [the same shark] comes back near the beaches, in this case I believe we have a
responsibility to put public safety rst(cited in Keenan 2000). However, public reac-
tion to the weeklong, ultimately unsuccessful, hunt for the shark was not unanimous
in support of killing the shark. Newspaper reports from The Australian wrote that the
death of Mr Crew and the shark hunt has sparked almost unprecedented reaction on
local talkback radio, with two-thirds of callers against destroying the white pointer
(Keenan 2000). The CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientic and Industrial Research
Organisation) shark biologist John Stevens noted that humans are not normal prey
items for sharks, saying, if they did, I can assure you we would be having rather
more attacks than we do(cited in Brook 2000). These messages, however, did not
resonate with policymakers and attention remained on the entrenched rogue shark
frame.
There was so much attention drawn to these incidents in WA and the idea that one
shark was responsible, that Jaws author Peter Benchley commented on the stories and
public concern. He wrote an open letter to Australians in The Guardian newspaper:
While I cannot pretend to comprehend the grief felt by Ken Crews friends and
family, and would not conceive of diminishing the horror of the attack, I plead
with the people of Australia who live with, understand and, in general, respect
sharks more than any other nation on earth to refrain from slaughtering this mag-
nicent ocean predator in the hope of achieving some catharsis, some eeting sat-
isfaction, from wreaking vengeance on one of natures most exquisite creations.
(Benchley 2000:G22)
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Benchley (2000) added, This was not a rogue shark, tantalised by the taste of human
esh and bound now to kill and kill again. Such creatures do not exist, despite what
you might have derived from Jaws.
Yet the special orderissued in WA became a formal policy and was adopted
into the Shark Response Plan, detailed in the Shark Hazard Report Western Austra-
lia of 2001: The Response Plan provides that in the event of a shark attacking, or
attempting to attack, a person, sheries ofcers would, upon verication of the
identity of the animal, immediately attempt to kill the shark(EA 2002). This
policy was an exemption from current protections extended to vulnerable sharks,
such as grey nurse and white sharks, and therefore only applied to its state
waters (three nautical miles from shore). The order comes from the Minister for
Fisheries which authorises Western Australian Police and Department of Fisheries
ofcers, in the event of an attack, or attempted attack, to immediately kill the shark
responsible for the attack(EA 2002).
Policy considerations in 2003
In a second illustration of the Jaws Effect,these themes emerged again in WA in
2003. In this episode, the issue of what to do about sharks was raised following a
shark encounter that resulted in no injury. It referenced the fatal shark bite on Ken
Crew and addressed sharks as a menace to the WA community. Then Opposition
Leader, Colin Barnett, suggested that the white shark in the 2000 incident should
have been killed, and that a recent shark seen near Cottesloe beach was the same
shark that fatally bit Ken Crew. He noted:
[t]here is no doubt in the view of most people who use the beach, in particular surf
club members, that it is most likely the same shark returning to that place. I believe
that shark will return again and that it poses a threat to people using the beach.
(Cited in Hansard, Western Australian State Parliament 2003)
He then discussed current policies for killing sharks near beaches with Mark
McGowan, speaking for the government and premier, who noted, [p]rotocols have
been put in place to ensure a much quicker chain of command to take steps to
destroy the shark. I agree that that particular shark should have been destroyed
(cited in Hansard, Western Australian State Parliament 2003).
Policy considerations in 2011
In 2011, a decade after the Ken Crew incident, WA would again experience tragic shark
fatalities, with three near Perth beaches over a two-month period (see Table 1). The
policy responses from the government following the shark bites once again used the
Jaws Effect.
Immediately following the third incident, the government issued its rst kill order
based on the policy established in 2000 after the Ken Crew tragedy. This order was
grounded in the assumption that one rogueshark may have been responsible for all
of the incidents. The state dispatched a Department of Fisheries boat to try to kill the
shark, but it was not successful. Fisheries Minister Norman Moore justied the shark
hunt, saying:
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I took the view that we have had two fatalities in roughly the same area that people
would expect us to take some action in the event that its been the same shark that
has been responsible for two people being killed. (Cited in Miller 2011, emphasis
added)
The premier, Colin Barnett, stated, I am very concerned that we have had three fatal-
ities in such a short period of time(cited in Vaughan 2011).
Policy considerations in 201314
In 2013 and 2014, the WA government announced additional measures, including a
change in policy that allowed for pre-emptively killing individual sharks that were
judged to pose an imminent threat(WA 2013a). The government asserted that
sharks in close proximity to people were by denition a threat because, even after
people were out of the water, that same individual shark might return later and
injure a bather. Here, the imminent threat is not based on the danger of a minor
shark bite but of a fatal event in which one shark is responsible, may return and
should be killed. This policy position embodies all three themes from Jaws. Scientists
within the government unsuccessfully contested the lm narrative of rogue shark be-
haviour. A freedom of information request from the Humane Society International,
released on 1 May 2014, included a document from the Department of Fisheries in
the Imminent threat policy review notes(WA 2013b), which stated that there are
a number of reasons to alter projected plans. It addressed the imminent threat
issue, stating:
The policy assumes that the actions are to prevent an imminent threat of attack. This
cannot be proven in any case. There is abundant evidence to prove that not all
sharks, even those known to be dangerous, are about to attack just because they
are in the immediate area/vicinity where people are present. This again makes
the policy subject to criticism. (WA 2013b: 10)
The document concludes: The removal of any link to imminentneeds to occur
(WA 2013b: 10). Nevertheless, the WA government advanced the imminent threat
policy.
In short, following a series of emotional events the WA government used a well-
known causal story to direct blame at an individual shark, which made the issue a gov-
ernable one for state authorities and directed the solution: killing the shark. Barnett
spoke out on this issue using a tough on sharksapproach, stating: Iamonthe
side of being a little more aggressive about taking sharks. There is some hesitancy
throughout the community I am not that hesitant(The Western Australian 2013).
In 2014, following several failed attempts to catch white sharks, the WA govern-
ment adopted a new policy using baited drum lines to target sharks in certain popular
localities. With Commonwealth approval, the program was trialled with the goal
being the capture of a signicant number of large sharks close to high use swimming
and surng areas [to] reduc[e] the risk of shark attacks(WA 2014: 7). In addition, the
government would continue attempts to catch and kill individual sharks that were
identied as an imminentthreat (WA 2014: 65).
In September 2014, Barnett illustrated the political value of the Jaws Effect frame
as a political device to lower policy thresholds for emotional issues and enable
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government action. Following a WA Environmental Protection Authority recommen-
dation against an extension of the drum line program (EPA 2014), effectively ending
the program, Barnett stated:
I think our focus will be now what do you do with perhaps a rogue shark that stays
in the area and is an imminent threat to beachgoers and I think that shark has to be
destroyed and moved, I dont think its acceptable. (Cited in Orr 2014)
Indeed, following a serious shark bite incident in Esperance, WA in October 2014, a
shark hunt under the imminent threat policy resulted in the killing of two protected
great white sharks (Perpitch 2014).
These examples in WA highlight how a ction-based policy may serve political
goals. Telling the story of a serial killing shark helped two different governments,
from two opposing parties, maintain control of the narrative and achieve their
policy outputs. It may also have provided an easier path because a more scientic-
based narrative meant telling the public that nothing can be done or that the govern-
ment did not know what was going on. Yet, the conditions under which the use of
these narratives may work are specic and depend on several factors.
Examining when the Jaws Effect does not work
A remaining question from this analysis is: when do movie themes not support policy
responses? I suggest that the Jaws Effect has been successful as a political tool
because it keeps these events centred on a humanshark conict as a way to maintain
control and exclude others, but this is not always possible. This can be seen in a
number of circumstances.
First, the Jaws Effect may not work if sharks were not a maligned group with a
negative social construction and a lack of a powerful political constituency (Neff
2012). In this case, punishing sharks was perceived as politically advantageous.
Second, movie myths may not work if the narrative projected a different picture of
the outcome. There is a discursive monopoly on shark attacklabelling that
appears to provide context and meaning. The discursive power of the phrase
shark attackpresents an image and outcome from lms that create the perception
of a fatal event. This phrase therefore presents a one-dimensional representation
that may offer a false narrative and imagery of real-life shark bite incidents (Neff
and Hueter 2013). In addition, the lack of a more robust contestation of this terminol-
ogy by scientists is also a key factor in the strength of the Jaws Effect. It may be less
common for politicians and the press to use alternatives to attackverbiage (Neff and
Hueter 2013), but the use of the same term by scientists and conservationists alike
sends a message that afrms a stereotypical and often false representative of real-
life events. Last, movie narratives about shark behaviour may not work if there is
a robust opposition from scientists, conservationists or the public. The use of
movie symbolism to portray sharks as rogue, serial killers advantages the government
and keeps out other stakeholders.
Conclusion
This article has examined the concept of the Jaws Effect and examined the way c-
tional narratives from a Hollywood movie can be used as political tools in
THE JAWS EFFECT 11
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policymaking. In the WA case study, policy discourse was more closely aligned to
movie mythology than evidence-based science. Indeed, ction was used to over-
whelm competing scientic evidence. Unpacking the politics of shark bites, or any
public policy issue, involves addressing the way words and images are used to
paint a picture for the public and inform policy choices. This research therefore
offers broader implications for policy analysis. The Jaws Effect is about more than
one movie or the issue of shark bites. In a globally connected world, a perception
of multiple, frequent or clustered emotional events is unlimited. Social media
increases perceptions of frequency and intentionality as problems are linked together.
The result is added distress on the public and more pressure on governments at all
levels to give meaning to events. The search for answers during these periods can
lead governments down many paths, including ctional lms. In all, this research
identies a worrying style of policymaking where widely known ction can be
used to navigate the attribution of blame and to prescribe policy responses.
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... The State Government listened to these concerns and is taking strong, practical steps to improve shark safety at our beautiful beaches and preserve our love affair with the ocean " [1]. There has been substantial debate in the media and academe about the Western Australian Government's decision in 2013, to expand existing shark hazard mitigation strategies with a baited drum line deployment program (see [2] [3] [4]). This program was announced by the Premier after the seventh fatal human–shark related incident in Western Australia between August 2010 and November 2013 [5]. ...
... Understanding the social framing of human–shark interaction can provide an insight into shark conservation and management policy development [4] [20]. Recent research has illustrated how the media responds to human–shark interactions [21], and the media's role in shaping public opinion of shark conservation and sharkrelated human fatalities [4] [15]. ...
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