Shifting newspaper headlines on what makes for a ginormous fish

Shifting baselines is the concept that each human generation thinks “normal” conditions are those when they were growing up, and therefore only takes into account declines during their lifetime, instead of over multiple generations. A new paper now examines newspaper headlines over time to see whether declining fish size is detectable in fish described as superlatively enormous (e.g. “giant”, “huge”, or “monster”), finding declines in reports of lengths. For the most charismatic species there was evidence that the sizes of fish described as enormous had declined (e.g. basking sharks, whale sharks, giant mantas), but for oceanic sharks and gamefish such as marlins and tunas, there was no decline. One notable finding is that the enormous fish described in headlines are on average only 56% of the maximum length of their respective species. The study suggests that the continued use of superlatives in newspaper headlines may contribute to an incorrect perception that large fish are still abundant in the oceans, even when they are not. The paper was led by Fiona Francis and Brett Howard, other authors from Simon Fraser University, and SAFS professor Trevor Branch.

Changes in relative length of fish described as superlatively large in newspaper headlines over time.
Changes in length and weight of all fish described in superlative terms in newspaper headlines.
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