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Report: In Defence of the Great White Shark

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Report: In Defence of the Great White Shark

Six, shocked, and shaking on the sofa: that was me the first time I watched the 1975 thriller Jaws. Frightened beyond a state I thought was possible, and put right off my tea, I endured the two-hour long movie, as I’m sure most of you have. However, as the horrendous fake blood and chilling screams closed the credits, I took comfort in knowing that the horror that I had witnessed was good old fiction, completely and utterly made up. If like six-year-old me, you believe that this movie was thought up in the studio randomly, you are wrong. Although the movie is as accurate as a tabloid horoscope, it is based on the 1916 Jersey Shore Shark attacks.

July 1st to July 12th, 1916, saw the death of four people and the hospitalisation of another, all supposedly caused by the same animal. These tragedies took place along the coast of New Jersey, United States, during a shocking heatwave and polio epidemic that led to thousands of people escaping to Jersey shore. Throughout the twelve days, New Jersey, U.S.A, witnessed the death of Charles Vansant, aged twenty-five and Charles Bruder, aged twenty-seven, merely five days later. A ten-year-old boy, Lester Stillwell, and Watson Fisher, aged twenty-four, were also killed and a fourteen-year-old - Joseph Dunn- was injured.

July 12th 1916 marked the death of Lester and Watson. To briefly explain the events, Lester and his friends were swimming in Matawan Creek when his friends noticed a log like object. They were startled and got out of the water as hey believed that they saw a dorsal fin. While Lester was attempting to get out, he was dragged under the water’s surface. Petrified, confused and anxious, his friends went to get help. Watson dived into the water, attempting to get the boy who at the time was believed to have either suffered an epileptic seizure or have been attacked. However, he was dragged under as well. Neither survived.

Merely thirty minutes later Joseph Dunn was attacked as a ‘shark’ bit his leg. Later that night, a group rallied together and threw sticks of dynamite into the creek, a juvenile great white shark rose, filled with bones and flesh. Sounds a lot like Jaws, right? But what if that wasn’t the creature that attacked on the 1st,6th, and 12th? What if Jaws was wrong?

Several theories arose, the likelihood that the creature that had attacked was a great white began to dwindle. The main reason being that some of the attacks were in fresh water, a condition that a great white cannot live it. However, a bull shark (known for having a bite force of 1300 PSI, a bite that could rival a T-rex) could. Yet, why was it a great white that was found? Well, it is suspected that the remains were that of German soldiers and not the bones of Lester, Watson, and Joseph. Some scientists suspect that animal responsible could have been a sea turtle, known for its hostility and the power to cause the same damage. However, with the more frequent sightings of bull sharks (due to the hotter waters) and the conditions that occurred, it is most likely and most logical to assume that the creature that “terrorised” Jersey shore was in fact a bull shark.

I must note that I have grown to become fascinated by these creatures and, although I do not doubt that they are dangerous, I cannot label them as “man-eaters” nor find it within myself to fear them. How could I when humans have presented themselves to be much worse with police reports stating 716 cases of homicides in 2019/20 (in England and Wales), compared to the ten global deaths cause by unprovoked shark attacks in 2019?

Do not trust everything you see in movies. Supposedly ‘killer sharks’ could be a frighted bull shark or an aggravated sea turtle. So, don't hold Hollywood at face value and remember that an animal is often more scared of you, then you are of it. Oh, and if you don’t want to get bitten, stay out of deep water in warm locations.

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