“Jaws” 40 Years Later

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As I sit and write this article, cable television’s longest running series “Shark Week” has just finished and I as an avid diver and ocean conservationist sit and ponder the effects that shows like this have on people.  This year’s “Shark Week” was a special because this year also marks the 40th anniversary of Peter Benchley’s summer blockbuster, “Jaws”. billips2There is something about the shark that fascinates human beings.  And when Benchley’s film came out in 1975 it took that fascination and turned it into fear.  No movie prior or since has terrified a nation like Jaws.  People were afraid to go swimming, skiing, diving…people were afraid to take a bath!  Sharks were vengeful serial murderers of the sea and all must die!  And, unfortunately, many people tried to make that happen.  Sharks were hunted unmercifully.  Shark populations have plummeted globally.  These creatures which have survived 4 major extinction events in there 400 million-year history are surprisingly vulnerable to human fishing.  And when I say fishing, I mean fishing and killing, not fishing and releasing.  We all love to land a big shark and release it back to the sea.  But commercial shark finning and by-catch results in up to 100 million of shark deaths annually.  That’s around 8 percent of the total shark population. But there is a glimmer of progress happening on a global scale.  New England as well as South Africa, California and Australia have made efforts to stop the harvest of Great Whites and their numbers seem to be increasing.  Additionally, many countries like the Maldives, Palau and the Bahamas, rely on shark tourism.  It’s estimated that a shark thats worth $108 dead is worth $1.9 million over its lifetime based on the number of visitors who will come to see it.  Even Peter Benchley turned toward shark conservation until his death in 2006.  He publicly expressed his regret for “Jaws” and its legacy.  He once said, “It’s a disgrace beyond all imagining, that we let the oceans, our own backyard, 70+ percent of the planet, go to wreck and ruin.” billipsShark Weeks trend has moved away from shark science toward shark schlock.  “Megladon: The Monster Shark that Lives” or how about this gem, “Submarine: The 60ft Great White that Lives in South Africa.” These are faux-cumentaries that the Discovery Channel throws into shark week to fool viewers. To all but the most ignorant, we no longer view sharks as these mindless killing machines with an insatiable appetite for human flesh.  But have we realized in time that we need to protect these once-vilified majestic creatures from our own greed and stupidity?  It’s not the shark, but man, who has earned the title of world’s most deadly animal.


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