For anybody who says “the media” is overhyping Mick Fanning’s encounter with a shark at the J-Bay Open, Google seems to think otherwise. For a short window of time, the 3-time world champ’s frightful bout actually made his name more heavily searched than the President of the United States, and not by a small margin, according to Google’s analytics around the event.
Google Trends compares the popularity of certain searched terms and names are rated on a scale of points. Before the 2015 J-Bay final heat against Julian Wilson, Fanning’s point total was one compared to President Obama’s 14. By the time news of the attack hit, Fanning’s point total had skyrocketed to 77 with the leader of the free world still in the same range at 16 points. Around that same time, tweets of the event were nearing 450 tweets per minute, and in the two days after the first round KO a total of 250 thousand tweets had been thumbed out. With the shock of the story coming down through Tuesday, Mick’s points had dropped to just 17, still significantly higher than his meager blip on the radar before he knuckled up with that shark. What does this all mean? A lot, actually.
It’s been said on this site and throughout several others over the week that this event may represent the peak of surfing’s fame. While we can argue over and over about whether or not the word attack irresponsibly sensationalizes the story or if media groups need to just move on, the world’s most popular search engine is telling us in clear english: People want to read about this. But the fascination with Fanning as the most badass human in neoprene doesn’t paint the entire picture. While Mick’s name and face are now the internet meme equivalent of a Chuck Norris round house kick, it’s more to do with the public’s fascination with sharks than it is the Aussie that punks them. The thirst for details about his story haven’t just led people to dig up the name of the surfer involved, rather it’s bringing out the world’s own shark hysteria in searches as well. In 2005, weekly Google searches for “sharks” as a topic had reached an all time high when two separate shark attacks hit the Florida gulf just three days apart. A 14-year old girl died and a 16-year old boy lost his leg. This week global searches for “shark attack” are at their highest by more than double Google’s point total. Last I checked, 24 hour news networks and websites weren’t typing in google searches for their audience.