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How full is your luggage? Background knowledge of zoo visitors regarding sharks

- Feb 27, 2016 -

For the general population, sharks have a reputation that does not really fit with their biological and ecological nature. Informal surveys often classify sharks as dangerous, aggressive and/or man-eaters. This apparent common knowledge seems difficult to detach from the conscience of many worldwide zoo visitors, even with the help of shark-focused educational programmes. As so, how can zoos and aquariums contribute to a change in this paradigm? Are the education and conservation strategies effective to the average zoo visitor? In this study, young visitors’ perceptions regarding sharks were assessed with the goal of identifying a valid Learning Progression, thus helping to update and develop different and more effective educational strategies and methodologies. The study took place at Zoomarine, an oceanographic park located in southern Portugal, with visitors aged between 8 and 16. A case study was conducted using a qualitative research approach (drawings and interviews) resulting in a Learning Progression Hypothesis. The proposed Learning Progression is composed of three knowledge levels for the participants’ biological perceptions regarding sharks. The results of this study showed a clear predominance of anthropomorphic and anthropocentric visions, as well as a utilitarian view of sharks and ecosystem, thus conditioning the visitors’ epistemological knowledge.

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