History of Human Shark Attacks: Ancient People, Jaws and the Indianapolis

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Second oldest shark attack victim, in Japan, from Kyoto University

A roughly 6,000-year-old skeleton of a teenage boy missing a left leg, excavated in Peru in 1976, is now recognized as oldest known case of a human killed by a shark. Bruce Bower wrote in Science News: In 1976, bioarchaeologist Robert Benfer of the University of Missouri in Columbia and Harvard University anthropological archaeologist Jeffrey Quilter had participated in an excavation of a roughly 17-year-old boy’s skeleton that bore signs of a fatal shark encounter. The boy’s left leg was missing and his right hip and right forearm bones displayed deep bite marks characteristic of those made by sharks, the scientists say. “Successful shark bites usually involve tearing off a limb, often a leg, and ingesting it,” Benfer says. An unsuccessful attempt to ward off a shark presumably resulted in the boy’s arm injuries. [Source: Bruce Bower, Science News, July 30, 2021]

Radiocarbon dating indicated that the teen, whose remains were discovered at a Peruvian village site called Paloma, died around 6,000 years ago before being placed in a grave unlike any others in his community, says Benfer, who directed investigations at Paloma in 1976 and in three more field seasons that concluded in 1990. That could make the teen the oldest known shark attack victim.

Quilter went on to describe the youth’s shark-related injuries in two paragraphs in a 1989 book, Life and Death at Paloma. But the results were never published in an academic journal. Quilter and Benfer e-mailed the excerpt to the Jōmon researchers on July 26. “We were unaware of their claim until now, but are keen to speak to them about it in more detail,” says University of Oxford archaeologist J. Alyssa White, who led the Jōmon team.

Paloma lies in hills about 3.5 kilometers from Peru’s Pacific coast. Small groups intermittently lived there in round, reed huts between around 7,800 and 4,000 years ago. Paloma’s residents primarily fished, collected or dove for shellfish, and gathered edible plants.

A majority of the 201 human graves excavated at Paloma were dug beneath or just outside reed huts. But the young man with a missing leg was buried in a long, oval pit dug in an open area and left unfilled. Excavators found remains of a grid of canes that had been tied together and covered with several woven mats to form a cover or roof over the body. Items placed in the grave included a seashell, a large, flat rock and several ropes, one with elaborate knots and a tassel at one end.

Second Oldest Known Shark Attack Victim

In June 2021, researchers announced that had good evidence that severe injuries found on the remains of a man who lived in Japan roughly 3,000 years ago could have been caused by a shark attack according to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. Before the news of the Peru victim was announced he was recognized as the world's oldest shark attack victim. Fox News reported: “The man’s remains, which date back to Japan’s Jōmon era, were excavated from the Tsukumo archaeological site in Okayama in the last century. His body was noticeably missing a leg and hand and was riddled with deep serrated cuts. [Source: Cortney Moore, Fox News, June 30, 2021]

“Through close evaluation, radiocarbon dating and 3D modeling, researchers have theorized that the injuries likely came from a shark anytime between 1370 and 1010 B.C.E. "The victim has at least 790 perimortem traumatic lesions characteristic of a shark attack, including deep, incised bone gouges, punctures, cuts with overlapping striations and perimortem blunt force fractures," the study’s abstract states. "The distribution of wounds suggests the victim was probably alive at the time of attack rather than scavenged."

“Japan’s Seto Inland Sea is around 57.3 miles away from the Okayama Prefecture. The body of water is said to be linked to modern shark attacks, according to researchers.The study has narrowed down two shark species that could be responsible for the fatal attack on the Jōmon man. So far, they believe a great white shark or tiger shark are likely culprits.

Before researchers determined the Jōmon man could be the oldest shark victim on record, the world’s oldest known victim was thought to be a person who lived around A.D. 1000.“The joint study was conducted by researchers from the University of Oxford, University of Florida, Kyoto University, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Tokai University’s School of Marine Science and Technology, University of Tokyo and Tokyo Metropolitan University.

See Great White Sharks, Bull Sharks, Tiger Sharks and Grey Reef Sharks.

Websites and Resources: Shark Foundation shark.swiss ; International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks ; Tracking Sharks trackingsharks.com, which records all global shark attacks; Animal Diversity Web (ADW) animaldiversity.org; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noaa.gov; Fishbase fishbase.se ; Encyclopedia of Life eol.org ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal ocean.si.edu/ocean-life-ecosystems

Watson and the Shark

Watson and the Shark

“Watson and the Shark” is a 182.1-×-229.7 centimeter oil painting by the American painter John Singleton Copley, depicting the rescue of the English boy Brook Watson from a shark attack in Havana, Cuba. Copley, then living in London, painted three versions. The first, painted in 1778, hangs in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. [Source: Wikipedia]

The paintings are based on an attack that took place in Havana harbor in 1749. Brook Watson, then a 14-year-old cabin boy on the Royal Consort, lost his leg in the attack and was not rescued until the third attempt, which is the subject of the painting. Watson, having had a military career and become a successful merchant, commissioned the painting from Copley a quarter of century after the event. Watson went on to be chairman of Lloyd's of London, a Member of Parliament, and Lord Mayor of London.

The painting is romanticized: the gory detail of the injury is hidden beneath the waves, though there is a hint of blood in the water. The figure of Watson is based on the statue of the "Borghese Gladiator", by Agasias of Ephesus, in the Louvre. Other apparent influences are Renaissance art, and the ancient statue of Laocoön and his Sons, which Copley may have seen in Rome. Copley was probably also influenced by Benjamin West's The Death of General Wolfe, and the growing popularity of romantic painting.

The composition of the rescuers in the boat shows hints of Peter Paul Rubens's Jonah Thrown into the Sea, and both Rubens's Miraculous Draught of Fishes and Raphael's painting of the same name. The facial expressions show a marked resemblance to those in Charles Le Brun's Conférence de M. Le Brun sur l'expression générale et particulière, an influential work published in 1698; they portray a range of emotions, from fear to courage. Various elements of composition were changed as the painting progressed. Infrared analysis shows that the old boatswain was originally a young man, and preliminary sketches reveal that the black sailor at the rear of the boat, who also appears as the subject of Copley's Head of a Negro painted around the same time, was originally envisioned as a white man with long, flowing hair.

Copley had never visited Havana, and it is likely that he had never seen a shark, much less one attacking a person. He may have gleaned details of Havana harbor from prints and book illustrations: he includes the real landmark of Morro Castle in the background on the right. The shark is less convincing and includes anatomical features not found in sharks, such as lips, forward-facing eyes that resemble a tiger's more than a shark's and air blowing out from the animal's "nostrils".

Shark Attacks in World War II

Some of the most brutal shark attacks occurred during World War II when survivors of torpedoed ships and crashed airplanes were taken by shark — sometimes gobbled up in mass attacks. One Canadian plane that crashed in the sea was labeled unapproachable by a rescue team who arrived within an hour of the mishap because of "too many aggressive sharks."

"Shark Attacks" report from 1944

According to the U.S. National Archives: “Shark Attacks”, a 1944 survey conducted by the Coordinator of Research and Development, U.S. Navy, Emergency Rescue Equipment Section, explains that prior to December 14, 1942, the Navy considered sharks an insignificant danger to personnel. A survey of available records revealed “only two, or perhaps three, authentic instances of shark bite.” In addition, existing information suggested that sharks were wary of strange objects and would likely be driven away by loud commotions (e.g. explosions), which typically accompanied wartime events where men would be thrown into the sea. [Source: Megan Dwyre, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Military Records, July 21, 2015]

The wartime shark attack cases that constitute Part 1 of the survey seem to suggest otherwise. They recount, often in graphic detail, the harrowing experiences of a few soldiers who were attacked by sharks and lived to tell the tale. One such case was that of Lieutenant Arthur George Reading, who survived a plane crash over the South Pacific in May 1943, only to spend the next sixteen hours in the water fighting away sharks – first with binoculars, then with his hands and feet. While trying to attract the attention of planes flying overhead, the crash’s other survivor, Aviation Radioman 1st Class Everett Hardin Almond, felt something strike his foot – he had been bitten. Lt. Reading recounted that, soon after, “there were more than five sharks around and blood all around us.” Realizing the wound was severe, Almond heroically offered his life jacket to Reading, although Reading refused to accept it. Sadly, Almond suffered a number of subsequent attacks and was killed. Reading recalled that by sunset that evening he had given up hope. Fortunately, around midnight he spotted a Yard Patrol (YP) boat, which came to his rescue.

Don Plotz, a Navy sailor told Peter Benchley, the author of “Jaws”, in a letter in vivid detail about his experiences on a search and rescue mission in the Bahamas, where a hurricane had sunk the USS Warrington on Sept. 13, 1944. Of the original crew of 321, only 73 survived. “We picked up two survivors who had been in the water twenty-four hours, and fighting off sharks,” Plotz wrote. “Then we spent all day picking up the carcasses of those we could find, identifying them and burying. Sometime only rib cages … an arm or leg or a hip. Sharks were all around the ship.”

Because many shark attacks followed ship sinkings, it is impossible to determine the exact number of shark-related deaths during World War II. Reading’s story, and the other cases contained in the report, likely provide only a glimpse of the horrors inflicted by this unsuspected foe. The records cited above can be found in “Shark Attacks,” Coordinator of Research and Development, U.S. Navy, Emergency Rescue Equipment Section, 1944, Research Data: Shark Attacks (NAID 6946057), Subject Files, 10/30/1941-1954, Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force (Air Staff), Record Group 341.

Indianapolis Story

The 1945, at the end of World War II the destroyer the USS Indianapolis — which carried the Hiroshima atom bomb to where it was loaded onto the Enola Gay — was sunk in the Philippines Sea by a Japanese torpedo. The incident was recounted in a story told by Richard Shaw in the film “Jaws”. The ship sunk in 12 minutes. Of the 1,200 on aboard 880 went into the water. It was four days before help showed up. Survivors were harassed bitten and killed by hundreds of sharks. Only 317 people survived. Half the corpses pulled for the water had been eaten by sharks. However, most victims died of injuries incurred during the explosion, drowning, exposure of dehydration not shark attacks. Those that were eaten were likely already dead when the sharks began attacking them.

USS Indianapolis in 1939

The story was recalled in “Ocean of Fear”, a two-hour program shown for the first time on the Discovery Channel in 2007. In many cases sharks were least of their worries of survivors as they bobbed in the sea for days, without food and water. To keep their faces from blistering in the sun they dabbed split oil on themselves. They made makeshift visors to keep their corneas from burning and pleaded with desperate comrades not to drink the salt water. Some took their own lives after succumbing to delusions, madness and desperation.

On how the sinking and rescue unfolded, Natasha Geiling wrote in Smithsonian magazine: Shortly after midnight, a Japanese torpedo hit the Indianapolis in the starboard bow, blowing almost 65 feet of the ship’s bow out of the water and igniting a tank containing 3,500 gallons of aviation fuel into a pillar of fire shooting several hundred feet into the sky. Then another torpedo from the same submarine hit closer to midship, hitting fuel tanks and powder magazines and setting off a chain reaction of explosions that effectively ripped the Indianapolis in two. Still traveling at 17 knots, the Indianapolis began taking on massive amounts of water; the ship sank in just 12 minutes. Of the 1,196 men aboard, 900 made it into the water alive. Their ordeal—what is considered the worst shark attack in history—was just beginning. [Source: Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian magazine, August 8, 2013]

After 11:00 a.m. on their fourth day in the water, a Navy plane flying overhead spotted the Indianapolis survivors and radioed for help. Within hours, another seaplane, manned by Lieutenant Adrian Marks, returned to the scene and dropped rafts and survival supplies. When Marks saw men being attacked by sharks, he disobeyed orders and landed in the infested waters, and then began taxiing his plane to help the wounded and stragglers, who were at the greatest risk. A little after midnight, the USS Doyle arrived on the scene and helped to pull the last survivors from the water. Of the Indianapolis’ original 1,196-man crew, only 317 remained. Estimates of the number who died from shark attacks range from a few dozen to almost 150. It’s impossible to be sure. But either way, the ordeal of the Indianapolis survivors remains the worst maritime disaster in U.S. naval history.

Sources: Richard Bedser. Ocean of Fear: Worst Shark Attack Ever . Discovery Channel: United States, 2007; Cathleen Bester. “Oceanic Whitetip Shark,” On the Florida Museum of Natural History; Alex Last. “USS Indianapolis sinking: ‘You could see sharks circling’” on BBC News Magazine, July 28, 2013; Raymond B. Leach. The Tragic Fate of the USS Indianapolis. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000; Marc Nobleman. The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishers, 2006; “Oral History -The Sinking of USS Indianapolis,” On Naval Historical Center, September 1, 1999; “The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, 1945.” On Eyewitness to History, 2006; Doug Stanton. In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors. New York, NY: Macmillan, 2003; Jennifer Viegas. “Worst Shark Attack,” On Discovery Channel.

Sharks and Indianapolis Survivors

Natasha Geiling wrote in Smithsonian magazine: As the sun rose on July 30, the survivors bobbed in the water. Life rafts were scarce. The living searched for the dead floating in the water and appropriated their lifejackets for survivors who had none. Hoping to keep some semblance of order, survivors began forming groups—some small, some over 300—in the open water. Soon enough they would be staving off exposure, thirst—and sharks. [Source: Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian magazine, August 8, 2013]

from the documentary

The animals were drawn by the sound of the explosions, the sinking of the ship and the thrashing and blood in the water. Though many species of shark live in the open water, none is considered as aggressive as the oceanic whitetip. Reports from the Indianapolis survivors indicate that the sharks tended to attack live victims close to the surface, leading historians to believe that most of the shark-related causalities came from oceanic whitetips.

The first night, the sharks focused on the floating dead. But the survivors’ struggles in the water only attracted more and more sharks, which could feel their motions through a biological feature known as a lateral line: receptors along their bodies that pick up changes in pressure and movement from hundreds of yards away. As the sharks turned their attentions toward the living, especially the injured and the bleeding, sailors tried to quarantine themselves away from anyone with an open wound, and when someone died, they would push the body away, hoping to sacrifice the corpse in return for a reprieve from a shark’s jaw. Many survivors were paralyzed with fear, unable even to eat or drink from the meager rations they had salvaged from their ship. One group of survivors made the mistake of opening a can of Spam—but before they could taste it, the scent of the meat drew a swarm of sharks around them. They got rid of their meat rations rather than risk a second swarming.

The sharks fed for days, with no sign of rescue for the men. Navy intelligence had intercepted a message from the Japanese submarine that had torpedoed the Indianapolis describing how it had sunk an American battleship along the Indianapolis’ route, but the message was disregarded as a trick to lure American rescue boats into an ambush. In the meantime, the Indianapolis survivors learned that they had the best odds in a group, and ideally in the center of the group. The men on the margins or, worse, alone, were the most susceptible to the sharks.

As the days passed, many survivors succumbed to heat and thirst, or suffered hallucinations that compelled them to drink the seawater around them—a sentence of death by salt poisoning. Those who so slaked their thirst would slip into madness, foaming at the mouth as their tongues and lips swelled. They often became as great a threat to the survivors as the sharks circling below—many dragged their comrades underwater with them as they died.

Indianapolis Survivor Shark Stories

At the USS Indianapolis, the bodies of the dead and the injured were picked off first. Survivor Corporal Edgar Harrell told the Indianapolis Star in 2014: "That first morning, we had sharks." As men got separated they would be targeted," he explained. "You hear a blood-curdling scream. And then the body would go under, and then that life vest popped back up." [Source: Lydia Smith, Live Science, May 10, 2023]

real USS Indianapolis survivors

Nineteen-year-old seaman, Loel Dean Cox, was on duty on the bridge of the Indianapolis when it was sunk. In 2013, at the age of 87, ge told the BBC: "Whoom. Up in the air I went. There was water, debris, fire, everything just coming up and we were 81ft (25m) from the water line. It was a tremendous explosion. Then, about the time I got to my knees, another one hit. Whoom...I turned and looked back. The ship was headed straight down. You could see the men jumping from the stern, and you could see the four propellers still turning....Twelve minutes. Can you imagine a ship 610ft long, that's two football fields in length, sinking in 12 minutes? It just rolled over and went under....I never saw a life raft. I finally heard some moans and groans and yelling and swam over and got with a group of 30 men and that's where I stayed...We figured that if we could just hold out for a couple of days they'd pick us up." [Source: Alex Last, BBC World Service, July 29, 2013]

On the sharks, Cox said: "We were sunk at midnight, I saw one the first morning after daylight. They were big. Some of them I swear were 15ft long. They were continually there, mostly feeding off the dead bodies. Thank goodness, there were lots of dead people floating in the area." But soon they came for the living, too. "We were losing three or four each night and day.You were constantly in fear because you'd see 'em all the time. Every few minutes you'd see their fins — a dozen to two dozen fins in the water.

"They would come up and bump you. I was bumped a few times — you never know when they are going to attack you." Some of the men would pound the water, kick and yell when the sharks attacked. Most decided that sticking together in a group was their best defence. But with each attack, the clouds of blood in the water, the screaming, the splashing, more sharks would come. "In that clear water you could see the sharks circling. Then every now and then, like lightning, one would come straight up and take a sailor and take him straight down. One came up and took the sailor next to me. It was just somebody screaming, yelling or getting bit."

Harold Bray had just turned 18 when the Indianapolis was sunk. He told News 9 Australia: "I was on the midnight to 4am watch, sitting on a ledge of a 40mm gun turret. The first torpedo knocked me down about 10 feet (three metres) and I lost my shoes. I only had socks on... never learned anything at boot camp about surviving in the water. I grew up around water in upper Michigan so I knew how to swim and was comfortable in the water." After the USS Indianapolis sunk its engines coughed up oil that stuck to Mr Bray and many other crew. Some died after becoming engulfed in it. "An older more experienced sailor, Pappy Goff, took me under his wing and reminded me not to drink the salt water." [Source: Richard Wood, News 9, Australia, July 29, 2020

On the sharks News 9 reported:: Survivors recount the dead and wounded — seeping blood into the ocean — were the first to be taken by the predators. The aggressive oceanic white tip shark – native to the area – killed many. Mr Bray told the Times-Herald in 2014 how he looked down under the waves and would see dozens "just swarming around us". After devouring the dead and wounded, the predators began to attack living crewmen in the water over the three days. Historians believe fatalities from the animals range from a few dozen to 150 men – making it the worst shark attack in history.

Oceanic Whitetips; The Main Culprit in the Indianapolis Deaths

Oceanic Whitetip shark

Lydia Smith wrote in Live Science: According to survivor accounts, many victims were attacked near the surface of the water. This has since led to suggestions that oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) were the involved in the attacks because they are a surface-dwelling species. [Source: Lydia Smith, Live Science, May 10, 2023]

Although oceanic whitetips are at the top of the food chain, their meals can be few and far between, so they are often opportunistic feeders. According to the Florida Museum, the species is often the first to appear at the site of oceanic disasters, and was also a major cause of fatalities after the sinking of the RMS Nova Scotia in 1942. The species is known to be persistent, unpredictable and shows little fear, making it particularly dangerous to humans, the Florida Museum said.

The men were too scared to eat or move, for fear of being preyed upon. According to the report of a survivor, one of the sailors opened a can of Spam, the primary ration at the time, but was surrounded by sharks, resulting in a "feeding frenzy." "Feeding frenzies typically occur when there is a sudden abundance of food, such as when a large school of fish is trapped in a small area," Booyens said. "The scent of blood and the thrashing of prey can trigger a feeding frenzy, causing sharks to swarm and compete for the available food."

Many species of shark may engage in frenzied hunting, during which they can become very aggressive and attack each other as well as the prey. However, oceanic whitetips’ opportunistic feeding behavior — as well as their size and strength — made them particularly dangerous for the sailors. "Feeding frenzies can be dangerous for humans who happen to be in the water, as the sharks may not be able to distinguish between prey and people," Booyens added.

Deep Fear of Sharks Rooted in World War II?

Professor Janet M. Davis wrote in in The Conversation: Journalists and scholars often credit “Jaws” as the source of America’s obsession with sharks. Yet as a historian analyzing human and shark entanglements across the centuries, I argue that the temporal depths of “sharkmania” run much deeper. World War II played a pivotal role in fomenting the nation’s obsession with sharks. The monumental wartime mobilization of millions of people placed more Americans into contact with sharks than at any prior time in history, spreading seeds of intrigue and fear toward the marine predators. [Source: Janet M. Davis, University Distinguished Teaching Professor of American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin, Published: July 9, 2021]

Before World War II, travel across state and county lines was uncommon. But during the war, the nation was on the move. Local newspapers across the country transfixed civilians and servicemen alike with frequent stories of bombed ships and aircraft in the open ocean. Journalists consistently described imperiled servicemen who were rescued or dying in “shark-infested waters.” Whether sharks were visibly present or not, these news articles magnified a growing cultural anxiety of ubiquitous monsters lurking and poised to kill.

The naval officer and marine scientist H. David Baldridge reported that fear of sharks was a leading cause of poor morale among servicemen in the Pacific theater. General George Kenney enthusiastically supported the adoption of the P-38 fighter plane in the Pacific because its twin engines and long range diminished the chances of a single-engine aircraft failure or an empty fuel tank: “You look down from the cockpit and you can see schools of sharks swimming around. They never look healthy to a man flying over them.” American servicemen became so squeamish about the specter of being eaten during long oceanic campaigns that U.S. Army and Navy intelligence operations engaged in a publicity campaign to combat fear of sharks. Published in 1942, “Castaway’s Baedeker to the South Seas” was a “travel” survival guide, of sorts, for servicemen stranded on Pacific islands. The book emphasized the critical importance of conquering such “bogies of the imagination” as “If you are forced down at sea, a shark is sure to amputate your leg.”

‘Shark Sense’ sought to prepare troops for encounters with the marine predators. Navy Archives Similarly, the Navy’s 1944 pamphlet titled “Shark Sense” advised wounded servicemen stranded at sea to “staunch the flow of blood as soon as you disengage the parachute” to thwart hungry sharks. The pamphlet helpfully noted that hitting an aggressive shark on the nose might stop an attack, as would grabbing a ride on the pectoral fin: “Hold tight and hang on as long as you can without drowning yourself.”

Office of Strategic Services executive assistant and future chef Julia Child worked on the project, which tested various recipes of clove oil, horse urine, nicotine, rotting shark muscle and asparagus in hopes of preventing shark attacks. The project culminated in 1945, when the Navy introduced “Shark Chaser,” a pink pill of copper acetate that produced a black inky dye when released in the water – the idea being that it would obscure a serviceman from sharks.

Nonetheless, the U.S. military’s morale-boosting campaign was unable to vanquish the glaring reality of wartime carnage at sea. Military media correctly observed that sharks rarely attack healthy swimmers. Indeed, malaria and other infectious diseases took a far greater toll on U.S. servicemen than sharks. But the same publications also acknowledged that an injured person was vulnerable in the water. With the frequent bombing of airplanes and ships during World War II, thousands of injured and dying servicemen bobbed helplessly in the ocean.

Jaws and Shark Week

“Jaws” began as a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley. The book was a bestseller. The hardcover stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for 44 weeks — peaking at number two behind Watership Down – selling a total of 125,000 copies. The paperback version top book charts worldwide. By the time movie version debuted in June 1975 the novel had sold 5.5 million copies in the U.S.. The number would eventually reach 9.5 million copies. “Jaws” was inspired by a story about a massive great white harpooned off Montauk, Long Island in by New York shark fisherman Frank Mundus in 1964. Benchley knew of the famous 1916 New Jersey shark attacks that left four dead but that event wasn’t an inspiration for the book as is sometimes claimed. [Source: Wikipedia] . “Jaws” was the first movie to earn US$100 million at the box office.Film producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown read the novel before its publication and bought the film rights, selecting Steven Spielberg to direct the film adaptation. The film “Jaws” was released in June 1975. It was a history-making film. It was the highest-grossing film up to that time and is regarded as the first summer blockbuster film.

One of the movie’s most memorable moments is when one of the shark hunters, Quint, quietly reveals that he is a survivor of the USS Indianapolis disaster. “Sometimes the sharks look right into your eyes,” he says. “You know the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. He comes at you, he doesn’t seem to be living until he bites you.”

The movie was filmed in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Benchley later said that he regretted the bad rap he gave great whites. "I couldn't write “ Jaws” today," he told Time in the early 2000s. “It used to be believed that great white sharks did target humans; now we know that except in the rarest instances, great white shark attacks are mistakes.” Until his death in 2006 Benchley devoted himself to ocean conservation and was an advocate for shark’s rights.Describing his encounter with a great white in the Bahamas, Benchley wrote in National Geographic, "The shark was as shocked to see me as I was to see it. It stopped dead in the water, braking with its two pectoral fins, voided its bowels, and fled.

“Shark Week” debuted on the Discovery Channel in 1988. Janet M. Davis wrote: The television event was an instant hit. Its financial success wildly exceeded the expectations of its creators, who had been inspired by the profitability of the 1975 blockbuster film “Jaws.” The enduring popularity of the longest-running programming event in cable TV history is a testament to a nation terrified and fascinated by sharks. [Source: Janet M. Davis, University Distinguished Teaching Professor of American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin, Published: July 9, 2021]

Image Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, Global Shark Attack File (GSAF), National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides and various books and other publications.

Last Updated May 2023

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