We get a lot of stories here at TD, this one we had to share. With the release of Jaws on Blu-Ray next week, we decided you should learn the history of the most terrifying fish ever. Read on for the details.
Many know the story of Jaws but many haven’t known the series of real-life shark attacks in 1916 that sent New Jersey’s coast into a panic and are said to have inspired the hair-raising novel and blockbuster thriller: Jaws. Now you will.
It started on July 1st. A 25-year-old swimmer off the town of Beach Haven was pulled from the water by a lifeguard, victim of a shark attack that had been largely unheard of happening in the area.
Lying on the shore, Charles Vansant succumbed to his injuries after a loss of blood.
Five days later on July 6 while bathing along Spring Lake’s seaside coast, about 45 miles north, Charles Bruder, a young hotel bellhop was fatally attacked as well.
The sole witness Captain Thomas Cottrell, according to reports, described it as about 10ft long but locals thought his recount was exaggerated by the recent attacks.
On July 12, 11-year-old Lester Stillwell was fatally attacked while bathing in the Matawan Creek.
Watson Stanley Fisher, a young man at the scene, dove in with several other to help capture the fish, but was grabbed himself.
FIVE SHARK VICTIMS:
July 1: Beach Haven
1. Charles Vansant, 25, fatally attacked
July 6: Spring Lake
2. Charles Bruder, fatally attacked
July 12: Matawan Creek
3. Lester Stillwell, 11, fatally attacked
4. Watson Stanley Fisher, fatally attacked while trying to save Lester Stillwell
5. Joseph Dunn, attacked .5 miles downstream, survived
Witnesses described Mr Fisher as having been pulled under and resurfacing four different times before he managed to break free.
One hour later, after the first attack that day, Mr Fisher died from his injuries, suffering a massive bite from his groin down to his right knee.
Escaping the scene, the shark travelled only a half a mile downstream before he found his next victim in Joseph Dunn.
The teenager was attacked less than 30 minutes after Mr Fisher but managed to survive with credit given to his friends who pulled him out in time.
Two days later in Raritan Bay, a great white shark was caught. Inside, fishermen claimed to have found 15lbs of human flesh and bone.
Ninety-six years later, the string of fateful attacks is described by Ichthyologist George Burgess as still the ‘most unique set of shark attacks that ever have occurred,’ he told the Smithsonian Magazine.
One of the leading experts on shark attacks, Mr Burgess has documented over 5,000 attacks in precise and sometimes gruesome detail for the Florida Museum of National History whose collection dates back to the 16th century.
On the attacks in 1916 he compares the peoples’ reaction then to the ones today as being in stark contrast – with the most recent attack in Cape Cod, where the Jaws movies are based, having been just two weeks ago by what scientists believe was a great white.
‘…it could have been a shark that was either injured or had some sort of deformity. It became a deranged killer’
– Ichthyologist George Burgess
‘These days, there is more of a level view of sharks. Back then, this was brand-new and terror-driven. In 1916, the rallying cry was “Let’s go kill some sharks!” he told the magazine.
‘Back in those days, sharks were basically unknown. There was little known about what was going on in terms of their movement patterns and their ecology.’
He says because of the public’s little knowledge and experience with shark attacks, theories behind the 11 day attacks largely ignored the idea of sharks and instead stretched as far as ‘sea monsters,’ a school of biting sea turtles and a killer whale as potentially responsible.
‘Although it is hard to go back in time and always dangerous to make analogies like this, it could have been a shark that was either injured or had some sort of deformity. It became a deranged killer,’ he said on ideas behind the 1916 attacks today.
‘That theory was in vogue in the 1950s as a result of a researcher in Australia who pushed it, but it fell by the wayside since then, and the general feeling is that shark attacks are one-of kind of events.’
Today the events of 1916 are said to be responsible for inspiring Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws, published in 1974, one year before coming into the hands of movie director Steven Spielberg.
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