Stingrays in the Media... how wording matters!
One of the interesting (and weird) things about there not being many people studying stingrays, especially in a small country like New Zealand, is that when something happens and the media want someone to talk to, I get contacted!
This is pretty surreal!
First was this one:
Where some New Zealand eagle rays (Myliobatis tenuicaudatus) had washed up on a city beach in Auckland and people were wondering why.
Next was this one:
I was contacted by NewsHub to answer some questions about stingrays in New Zealand - they'd had some well received shark articles recently and as it's summer down here there have been a few painful (but definitely not fatal) stingray encounters recently so an article seemed like a good idea.
However, when the article was published I was left with a bit of a bad taste, they'd used the words "fatal stingray attack" and the standard media sensationalism often seen in articles about shark attacks. A certain crocodile hunter's untimely demise was mentioned. In general the rays weren't really portrayed in a positive light.
How the wording of media and government releases affects the public viewpoint of sharks is well documented:
How to describe shark attacks - Science alert
Stop calling them shark 'attacks' - Christopher Neff
So I was pretty frustrated that this was now happening with rays!
To add insult to injury, in an article about rays in New Zealand, none of the photos were of New Zealand species. So I complained. I didn't really want to be the 'expert' in an article like that. My email response to the journalist was long, and ranty, and by the end of it I didn't really expect to ever hear from him again! But hear from him I did, and I was pleasantly surprised, the wording was changed, an apology was made and hopefully he'll think twice about how the wording affects the viewpoint of the public towards an animal in future!
So the moral of the story is that we just need to keep educating the media on this, for those of you in my position - don't be afraid to correct a journalist! For those of you reading articles using dubious wording - contact the source! Let's keep going on this.