Even celebrities have phobias, including selachophobia which is a fear of sharks. While Josh Henderson may portray a confident villain on TV’s “Dallas”, Henderson recently discussed his fears to Anderson Cooper and reported a long-time phobia of sharks. Henderson—an American actor and celebrity—is well-known for his TV role as Austin McCann on “Desperate Housewives” and his current role as John Ross Ewing III on the television show “Dallas”. On a recent episode of Anderson Live, Henderson reported that he is quite afraid of sharks. He reported that this fear likely originated when he was younger and was swimming in a larger aquarium inside the Mall of America. Henderson reported that he did not know the tank contained sharks and was very scared when he saw sharks in the tank and has feared sharks ever since this incident.
Josh Henderson is not the only celebrity with a phobia of sharks. Other celebrities who reportedly have or had a fear of sharks include Vince Vaughn, Christina Ricci, and Brad Pitt.
What is Selachophobia?
Selachophobia is an intense fear or phobia of sharks. This term comes from the Greek words “selachos” (shark) and “phobos” (fear). A fear of sharks is also sometimes referred to as galeophobia and a more general fear of fish is called ichthyophobia.
Selachophobia is classified as an animal type specific phobia within the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). This phobia is characterized by an intense or unreasonable fear that is cued by the thoughts or actual presence of sharks. Exposure to a shark generally causes an immediate anxiety reaction (e.g., heart racing, feelings of dread, shortness of breath, sweating, hyperventilating), that may include panic attacks. In some cases, people may also have strong anxiety reactions to depictions of sharks (e.g., TV or movie about sharks), thoughts of sharks, and conversations involving discussion of sharks. People with selachophobia know that their fears are excessive, but will often go out of their way to avoid sharks, including avoiding taking cruises, swimming, diving, surfing, boating, or other water activities where there is a chance they might encounter a shark. Some people may also avoid aquariums, media that includes depictions of sharks, supermarkets that sell sharks for consumption, and even swimming in waters uninhabited by sharks because of their phobia of sharks. This avoidance, anxiety, and distress can lead to impairments in social, occupational, and/or academic functioning. Given that most people are rarely in a situation to encounter a live shark and sharks are easy to avoid for most people, a person may never experience any significant distress or difficulties with functioning. However, some people may live near an ocean, work at an aquarium or on a boat, or be in some other situation where a fear of sharks could impair their functioning and in these cases a person might receive a clinical diagnosis of a specific phobia.
Animal phobias, such as selachophobia, are often acquired in early childhood and are more common in women than men. The self-reported fears in animal type specific phobias are generally focused on feelings of disgust and revulsion and may also be focused on feeling the animal may cause harm or be dangerous. Feelings that sharks are dangerous may be especially salient among people with shark phobias. Some people may have experienced or witnessed a shark attack, had a frightening experience with a shark similar to Josh Henderson, or more commonly, seen news or fictional depictions about sharks attacks.
How likely are Shark Attacks?
Despite the number of people who fear sharks, the International Shark Attack File reports that the chances of dying from a shark attack in one’s lifetime is 1 in 3,748,067. In the U.S. they report that whereas 33 people died of dog attacks in 2010 only 2 people died from shark attacks. While there are hundreds of species of sharks, only a few have been widely documented to engage in unprovoked attacks on humans. Despite this data, the perception of sharks as dangerous animals has been popularized in the media by the amount of news publicity given to a relatively low number of unprovoked shark attacks (e.g., Jersey Shore shark attacks in 1916 and 2010 shark attack of Bethany Hamilton), and through popular fictional works about shark attacks, such as the popular Steven Spielberg Jaws film series.
Treatment of Selachophobia
Selachophobia can be treated with standard exposure-based anxiety treatments for phobias, including systematic desensitization and cognitive-behavioral therapy. It can also be treated using virtual reality treatment. If selachophobia is interfering with your life, consult a health professional to discuss possible treatment options.
For additional information about phobias and a fear of sharks:
Mayo Clinic article on phobias
Canadian National News article on shark phobia:
To view Anderson Live video with Josh Henderson on his fear of sharks: