We travel quite extensively, and when we meet new people we are almost always first asked: Where are you from? This question usually helps them make a quick assessment of who we are based on general cultural traits.

Until recently we always answered proudly that we are from Australia, but this response now commonly evokes a fearful reaction: ‘Aargh! Sharks!’ (As daily ocean swimmers we were never especially worried about sharks — until the recent media exposure.) Sometimes the people we meet also raise anxious questions about the deadly spiders, snakes and crocodiles that Australia has become infamous for.

Since Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin put Australia on the map with their dangerous animal wrestling antics, our country has become notorious for its ‘deadly predators’. Perhaps it is no surprise that such venomous and sometimes fierce animals have survived in our harsh environment, yet we find it ironic that people are so afraid of creatures they are unlikely ever to encounter.

It's true that sharks can be savage, but in reality you are more likely to be hit by lightning (the odds are one in 3000) or injured by a falling toilet seat (one in 10 000) than killed by a shark (one in 3.7 million). There are also more shark attacks off American beaches than in Australian waters. Australia has little experience of war or terrorism on its home soil and is ranked in the top 10 safest and most peaceful countries to live in, yet it is commonly perceived ...

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