From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages

D.G. Hewitt - August 29, 2018

Sharks have been on this planet for more than 400 million years – considerably longer than humans. That means ever since man has taken to the water, people have been coming into contact with these apex predators of the deep. Over time, our understanding of sharks has evolved considerably. While they were once thought of as monsters or gods – or sometimes a combination of the two – these days they are regarded as perfectly-evolved killers and nature’s greatest weapon.

Even since the first human spotted a shark, mankind has been fearful of the animal. But over the centuries, that fear has evolved. Though rare, shark attacks on humans are dramatic, and they have a way of capturing the popular imagination. For that reason, our understanding of sharks has been largely shaped by a handful of notable encounters. In particular, the great white shark and the oceanic whitetip shark have come to be seen as ruthless killing machines, thanks in no small part to historic attacks as well as books and Hollywood blockbusters.

So here we chart the history of humans and sharks over the years, from the earliest attempts to understand the underwater killers to the most recent attacks:

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
In ancient Greece, fishermen brought tales of fearsome sea monsters back to the centers of learning. Wikipedia.

1. Sharks as gods: Man Eaters in the Ancient World

Ever since humans first took to the seas, sharks have been known – and feared. Of course, the people of the world’s ancient civilizations didn’t always know what sharks were, and so they often made up fantastical explanations for these fearsome creatures. What’s more, sometimes they weren’t simply feared but revered, and historians have uncovered numerous examples of sharks being regarded as gods or demi-gods by peoples living in the different corners of the world.

In ancient Greece, for example, learned men knew of sharks. In most cases, they learned about them second-hand, from the accounts passed down by fishermen who had seen them close-up, perhaps even witnessed or survived attacks. Here, people spoke of a shark-like creature called a Ketea. While no physical descriptions of the animals exist, the ancient writers did describe it as ravenous and aggressive, leading us to believe that it was sharks they were talking about. The ancient Greeks even had their own shark-like god. Named Lamia, he lived in the sea and was known to attack and eat children if he was displeased.

The Greeks weren’t alone in assigning god-like status to sharks. In Fiji, the people worshipped Dakuwaqa. Here, however, the warrior god was seen as largely benevolent, and fishermen made offerings to him in return for his protection. Similarly, the ancient inhabitants of Hawaii believed that a pair of shark gods, whom they named Ukupanipo and Kamohoalli’I controlled the oceans and decided how successful fishing expeditions would be.


From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Peal Harbor, Hawaii, once hosted battles between men and sharks. HuffPost.

2. In Hawaii, men fought sharks in underwater gladiatorial battles.

In Hawaii, sharks were seen as the kings of the sea. They were feared, respected and admired. And, some historians believe, they were also used for entertainment purposes. More specifically, men were pitted against sharks in fights to the death. Just as Roman emperors got their kicks out of seeing humans battling lions and other exotic beasts, so too did the old kings of Hawaii enjoy watching unfortunate souls go head-to-head with the most vicious creatures of the deep.

Long before the Americans arrived and moored their battleships there, Pearl Harbor had a different purpose. Here, a four-acre enclosure was built. Occasionally, the gates were opened, and sharks lured in with pieces of bloody meat. Then, when the waters were teeming with sharks, the gates were shut, and the games could begin. According to the accounts of the time, men would be forced to enter the water and fight for their lives. All the gladiator had was a small spear, a length of wood with a shark’s tooth tied to the end. Unsurprisingly, almost all fights ended with the sharks winning – thereby keeping the shark god happy for the year.

Nobody knows for sure how long such fights took place, or when the last one was held in Pearl Harbor. However, a few accounts to survive, showing how, for the ancient islanders, such contests were somewhere between Roman gladiator fights and traditional Spanish bullfighting. What’s more, we know that some men, chosen by their king to be that year’s sacrifice, actually made it out, having managed to swim underneath the sharks and gutting them.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
The first account of a shark attack written in English dates back to 1580. Smithsonian.

3. The British gave us the first written account of a shark attack in 1580.

For centuries, British seamen had been terrified by stories of shark-infested waters and deadly attacks. For the most part, however, such stories were passed on orally. This – and the fact that most sailors were illiterate – means that the earliest example of sharks being written about in the English languages dates back to only 1580. Unsurprisingly, the account was penned by an officer, probably the only man on his ship who knew how to write. And just as unsurprisingly, the account is gruesome and over-the-top.

The anonymous sailor wrote of a shark attack he had personally witnessed whilst sailing from Portugal to India. He recalled that one of the men fell overboard during a storm. “We threw him a block of wood attached to a rope, specially provided for this purpose. Our crew began to bring in the man, who had managed to catch the block, but, when he was no more than half the range of a musket away, there appeared from beneath the surface a big monster known as tiburon; it rushed at the man and cut him to pieces right before our eyes. It was certainly a terrible death.”

From then on, as more and more literate men went to sea, ships’ logs start being filled with similar accounts. In some cases, the attacks were fatal, but not always. In one notable example, the captain of a ship called the Ayrshire fell overboard. A shark saw him floundering and headed towards the stricken officer, ready to attack. The captain’s dog jumped into the water to rescue his master. The pair made it safely back to the boat – though, according to the ship’s log, the dog’s tail was sliced clean off by the shark.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Thomas Pennant’s account of a great white shark influenced many thinkers. Wikipedia.

4. Pennant’s 1776 account of Great White Sharks was seminal.

In the 18th century, Europe’s men of letters and science were keen to know more about the natural world. Numerous expeditions were undertaken, many of them with the aim of learning more about different species or charting unknown lands. Thomas Pennant was one of the greatest naturalists of the age. Born in Wales in 1726, he was a prolific author, focusing on zoology. And, though Thomas himself never travelled outside of Europe, his account of sharks were highly influential. In fact, his 1776 essay on the great white shark was to form the basis of our popular understanding of the fearsome predator for more than a century.

Pennant’s account made for terrifying reading. Far from depicting sharks as apex predators that only posed a minimal risk to humans, he described them as bloodthirsty maneaters. He wrote: “They reach very great dimensions. There is a report of a whole human corpse being found in the stomach of one of these monsters, which is by no means beyond belief considering their huge fondness for human flesh. They are the nightmare of seamen in all the hot climates, where they constantly follow ships waiting for anything that might fall overboard. A man who has this misfortune inexorably perishes…Very often, swimmers are killed by them. Sometimes, they lose an arm or a leg, and at other times are cut in two by this insatiable animal.”

Pennant was cited as a key influence by numerous scholars, both during his lifetime and after his death in 1798. His descriptions of numerous species of birds, reptiles and mammals would be used by scientists for decades. Moreover, his frightening description of sharks helped establish their unfair reputation as monsters and man-eaters.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Sir Brook Watson lost his leg to a shark while swimming in Cuba. National Portrait Gallery.

5. Sir Brook Watson loses a leg to a shark.

Sir Brook Watson served as Lord Mayor of London from 1784 until 1793. His time in office was largely unremarkable. However, what did make him stand out from the usual political figures in the British capital was the fact that he only had one leg. The other had been taken by a shark. Since most Londoners had never even heard of such animals, let alone seen one with their own eyes, Sir Brook helped introduce sharks – and their fearsome reputation – into the popular imagination in England.

Watson, who was born in 1735, was sent to live with his uncle in America as a young boy. As a teenager he expressed an interest in going to sea, perhaps as an officer in the Navy. However, his maritime ambitions were almost derailed in 1749, when he was aged just 14. While out swimming alone in Havana harbor, Cuba, Watson was attacked by a shark, not once but twice. In its first attack, the shark took most of the flesh off his lower right leg. When it came back to attack for a second time, it bit off the young man’s right foot.

Fortunately, Watson’s ship was close by. His crew mates saw the attack and managed to pull him to safety. The ship’s surgeon had to amputate his right leg below the knee. Watson was then forced to stay in a Cuban hospital for three months. Remarkably, however, he made a full recovery. Indeed, he went on to enjoy a career in the British Merchant Navy, sailing the world and then establishing himself as a successful trader. When Watson finally had enough of the sea, he returned to his native England and went into politics – with his amputated leg and the shark that caused it continuing to be the subject of much discussion right up until his death in 1807.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
‘Watson and the Shark’ was painted by an artist who had never seen a shark. Wikipedia.

6. “Watson and the Shark” – a painting that brought shark terror to London.

Sir Brook Watson’s 1749 encounter with a shark in the waters off Havana, Cuba, introduced the threat of the man-eating beasts of the ocean to many Londoners. However, the painting the attack inspired gave those who viewed it a not-entirely accurate understanding of the animals. Indeed, the work, which was produced in 1778, is notable for the way the infamous shark is depicted. Clearly, this was painted by a man who had never seen a shark with his own eyes!

The painting was commissioned by Watson himself in 1774. He had become friends with the artist, John Singleton Copley when the American visited London that year. Over drinks, Watson told the story of how, as a 14-year-old, he lost most of his right leg to a shark while swimming in Cuba. He asked that his new friend record the event for posterity. He duly complied and, several months later, the work Watson and the Shark was unveiled.

Copley had never visited Havana, which is why the city in the background bears no resemblance to the Cuban capital. Nor had he seen a shark. Which is why the beast in the picture has eyes looking forward rather than on the front of its head. What’s more, the shark in the painting has lips and is even shown blowing air out of a pair of nostrils – all details that are completely anatomically inaccurate.

The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and then, in 1807, it was bequeathed to Christ’s Hospital in the hope it would prove a “most useful lesson to youth.” For decades, this was the only picture of a shark many Londoners would ever see – and it was a curiously inaccurate one, as was the suggestion that sharks were vicious, bloodthirsty beasts.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Sir George Coulthard’s sporting ambitions were thwarted by a shark. Wikipedia.

7. George Coulthard’s shark attack changes history.

George Coulthard, who was born in 1856, found fame as a key member of the Melbourne-based Carlton Football Club side that dominated Australia’s national sport in the 1870s and 80s. He was also a founding member of the Victorian Football Association (VFA), making him a key figure in the sport’s development. Most notably, he developed the idea of Australia’s states competing against one another in a national competition, a format that endures to this day. It was while he was busy promoting Australia Rules Football that Coulthard’s famous shark encounter happened.

In the spring of 1877, Coulthard was in Sydney. Soon after arriving in the city, he and his colleagues were taken on a fishing trip in Sydney Harbour. The party was anchored off Shark Island (which should have been warning enough) and Coulthard was sitting at the edge of the boat, his coattails dangling in the water. All of a sudden, a shark grabbed his coat and pulled him under the water. Eyewitnesses describe how Coulthard kicked the “monster shark, 13 feet long” and then managed to “somersault” back into the boat to safety.

According to the accounts of the time, Coulthard’s heroics that day remain “one of the most marvelous escapes from a fearful death on record” and “probably without parallel in Australian waters. Notably, the shark encounter also had a wider impact. After his fright, Coulthard resolved to return to Melbourne as quickly as possible. The trip was cancelled, and the party from Victoria never did manage to introduce Australia Rules Football to Sydney – and to this day, rugby remains the more popular sport in the city.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
America was gripped when sharks terrorized New Jersey in 1916. Wikimedia Commons.

8. The Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916.

In the sweltering hot summer of 1916, a spate of shark attacks rocked the coastal communities of New Jersey. The so-called Jersey Shore Shark Attacks left four people dead and forever changed how Americans see sharks. In fact, some historians note that this summer was the point when sharks really gained their fearsome reputation, and the attacks have been the subject of numerous books, movies and TV documentaries ever since.

The first attack happened on 1 July at Beach Haven, a popular resort town on Long Beach Island. The 25-year-old holiday maker Charles Epting Vansant went for a swim in the ocean. A shark grabbed his leg. Lifeguards managed to bring him to shore, with the shark closely following them all, but Charles quickly bled to death. Despite this fatal attack, life went on as usual in New Jersey’s resort towns. Just five days later, a 27-year-old male was killed in a second attack. Reports of his mutilated body being brought ashore shocked all of America.

On 12 July, a pair of attacks took place at Matawan Creek. Despite it being away from the ocean, a huge shark swam up the creek and killed a boy and then the man who had been attempting to recover his body. Finally, a week later, a 14-year-old was attacked but survived. The attacks sparked a media frenzy and was devastating for the local tourism industry. Numerous sea captains set out in search of the ‘Jersey Maneater’ and some claimed to have caught the shark responsible for the attacks. At the same time, the events caused scientists to rethink what they thought they knew about shark attacks. Now it was clear that they would attack humans unprovoked.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
The US Navy did all they could to keep their sailors safe from sharks. CIA.

9. In 1942, America’s spy masters go to war with sharks.

In 1942, the United States was engaged in total warfare. As well as its pilots and sailors fighting in the Atlantic, they were also engaged in the Pacific. Ships were being sunk and planes shot down. And men who weren’t killed outright were still in danger, not least from sharks. America’s military leaders recognized this and so the Navy launched a major project aimed at keeping its men safe from sharks.

The Naval investigation – which was actually led by the secret Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA – brought together the nation’s leading shark experts. As well as the Navy’s own scientists, the finest minds of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the University of Florida Gainesville and the American Museum of Natural History were tasked with designing an effective shark repellent. In the end, they came up with “Shark Chaser”. The scientists announced that it was “the answer to the threat of man-eating sharks, the scavengers which infest all tropical waters of the world”.

The Navy began using the OSS’s Shark Chaser and continued to do so until the 1970s. However, it was not so effective. Indeed, modern experts believe it would have had no effect on sharks. Far more useful was the advice the Navy issued to its men in March 1944, teaching them how to stay safe in shark-infested waters and fend off attacks. Sadly, of course, shark attacks continued to occur, albeit rarely, most notably with the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in July 1945.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Only a few lucky survivors lived to tell the horrific tale of the Indianapolis. Smithsonian Magazine.

10. The USS Indianapolis: The worst shark attack ever.

It’s known as the worst shark attack in history and one of the most horrific episodes of the Second World War. When hundreds of sailors managed to escape the USS Indianapolis when she was sunk by a torpedo, they thought they would be safe. However, their ship went down in shark-infested waters. And, since their ship was on a top-secret mission, nobody knew it had been hit, and no help was on the way. For days, the unfortunate men had no choice but to wait and pray – and hope they wouldn’t be picked off by the dozens of circling sharks.

It was in late July 1945 when the Indianapolis was sailing from the Pacific Island of Tinian to the Philippines when it was hit. Two Japanese torpedoes split the huge ship in half. In just 12 minutes, it went under, taking dozens of men to a watery grave. Most men survived, however, abandoning ship and ending up in the warm waters of the Pacific. There were no lifeboats, though the men all had lifejackets on. In all, 900 men made it alive into the water. But then, the sharks arrived.

At first, oceanic white-tipped sharks fed on the dead. But then they started devouring the living. The men gathered in groups for protection. However, one by one, they were picked off, vanishing under the waves in pools of blood. As well as the sharks, the men also had to cope with dehydration and exposure. Many drowned or went mad. It was only four days later that the Navy learned of their fate and sent help. By then, around 700 had perished in the open water. Nobody knows for certain how many of those were eaten by sharks.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
The men of the RMS Nova Scotia were picked off one by one by hungry sharks. Wikimedia Commons.

11. The Nova Scotia Tragedy: Enemies united by sharks

The sinking of the USS Indianapolis was by no means the only instance of sailors being killed and eaten by sharks during the Second World War. Three years prior to the most infamous incident, in fact, dozens of men were likely killed by oceanic white-tip sharks following the sinking of the RMS Nova Scotia.

Despite being a Royal Mail Ship, the Nova Scotia was converted into a troop ship for the war effort. In the autumn of 1942, the vessel landed in British-occupied Eritrea. Here, she dropped off American troops and took onboard some 750 Italian prisoners-of-war. She then set sail for Durban, South Africa. On the morning of 28 November, the Nova Scotia was attacked just off the coast of Mozambique. A German U-boat scored three direct hits. The boat was sunk within minutes. Just one lifeboat could be launched. Hundreds of men went into the water with just lifejackets or pieces of wreckage to cling to.

The captain of the German U-boat responsible for the attack was under strict orders not to rescue survivors. He did, however, inform the Portuguese of the incident and rescue boats were launched. For more than 48 hours, however, the men had to fend off the hungry sharks. An unknown number of men, both Italian and British, were taken under and eaten, and countless more simply drowned. In all, 858 souls were lost that day, with many of the bodies – including those bearing the tell-tale signs of shark bites – washed ashore on the picturesque beaches of Mozambique.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Rodney Fox’s life was changed by a close encounter with a shark. Orange County Register.

12. The Rodney Fox Attack makes history.

In 1963, Rodney Winston Fox made history in the most painful way imaginable. The South African conservationist survived a full-on attack by a great white shark. He defied the odds to live to tell the tale of coming face-to-face with nature’s most fearsome predator. What’s more, he went on to become a world expert in shark behavior and, far from bearing a grudge for his near-fatal attack, is now a leading advocate for keeping sharks safe, including great whites.

It was in December of 1963 and Fox was spearfishing in the waters of his native South Africa. Perhaps attracted by the blood of the fish he had speared, a great white shark appeared and was hungry. The shark attacked Fox. Rather than taking a small bite out of one of his limbs, as sharks often do, it focused its attack on his torso. Every rib on his left-hand-side was crushed. His abdomen was ripped open and his spleen exposed. Additionally, one hand was completely shredded as a result of his attempts to fight off the great white.

Luckily, his fellow competitors managed to pull Fox onto a boat and stop him bleeding to death. He needed 462 stitches after the attack – an incident that’s been labelled as the ‘worst non-fatal shark attack in history’. Before long, however, Fox was back in the water. He designed the first-ever shark cage and for more than 40 years has been a leading marine conservationist. He even lobbies on behalf of great white sharks. Despite his own horrific experience – an experience that has been the subject of numerous articles and documentaries – he believes sharks and humans can get along, even in the ocean.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Barry Wilson’s bloody death was witnessed by many shocked witnesses. How Stuff Works.

13. Barry Wilson’s death in California shocked a nation.

California is the land of sunshine, easy living, surfing – and sharks. However, it wasn’t until 1952 that a fatal shark attack on a person was recorded in the state. Famously, many people were on the beach that day to witness the attack that left Barry Wilson, a 17-year-old musician, dead.

It was a sunny day in December when the attack took place. Wilson, a keen and talented tuba player, was swimming with a friend close to Lover’s Point in the small town of Pacific Grove. The pair were just 40 feet from the shore, with the Pacific Ocean around 30 feet deep below them. All of a sudden, Wilson was grabbed from below. Eyewitnesses on the beach described how he was shaken from side to side before the shark tossed him up in the air and then pulled him under the surface. Wilson appeared again, surrounded by a pool of water.

Incredibly, a group of young men from a local diving club dived into he ocean and went to Wilson’s aid. They managed to fend the shark off and then fought against the waves for 30 minutes to get him back to shore. All the while, the bloodthirsty shark was circling and following them. However, the seriousness of the wounds to his legs, back and buttocks was so severe that Wilson had bled to death by the time they managed to get him back on land.

The Pacific Grove shark attack of 1952 is now part of Californian lore. What’s more, the nature of the attack – with the victim flailing and then being pulled under in a pool of their own blood has been used as the inspiration for numerous fictional incidents, most notably in Hollywood movies.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
The South African Navy tried to bomb killer sharks from the air. Save Our Seas.

14. ‘Black December’ shark attacks stun South Africa.

For several weeks in the 1950s, a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances came together in South Africa and led to a wave of fatal shark attacks on humans. The era was known as ‘Black December’, though the attacks actually went on for much longer. Nobody knows how many sharks were responsible for the attacks, though they were all assumed to be (but not confirmed as) great whites, enhancing their reputation as fearsome man eaters and South Africa’s status as a shark attack hotspot.

The first attack happened at the popular surf spot of Karridene. A 16-year-old young man was bitten while out on the waves. He lost part of one leg but survived. The next victim wasn’t so lucky. What’s more, the 15-year-old youth was attacked and killed while he was standing in shallow water. Over the next few days and weeks, seven more attacks took place along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. The local tourism industry was devastated as people stayed away from the beach. And many tourist towns went into action to catch the killer sharks.

Some local authorities tried to fit shark nets. However, these would wash away in the surf. Then the South African Navy even dropped depth charges into the ocean. But this made things worse as more sharks were attracted by the blood of the fish the explosives did kill. In the end, a special organization was set up to prevent future attacks. This continues to this day, with shark nets and drum lines installed some meters from the shoreline. The attacks also highlighted the way in which fishing and whaling can attract sharks and lure them close to the shore. Though tragic, Black December led to a better understanding of sharks and their behavior around humans.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
The instant a shark took Henri Bource’s leg was captured on film. ABC.

15. Henri Bource loses his leg to a shark – and catches it on camera

In 1964, amateur conservationist Henri Bource was diving with friends in his native Australia. All of a sudden, he was attacked by a huge great white shark. Remarkably, Bource survived. And even more remarkably, much of the attack was captured on film. The footage, gory though it is, captured the popular imagination and brought the ferocious power of sharks into the homes of millions right around the world.

Bource and his friends were diving off the coast of Lady Julia Percy Island. They were playing with the island’s seals when a 2.4 meter-long great white came out of nowhere and chomped off Bource’s leg. His diving partners heard Bource’s screams and then saw his detached leg floating on the surface of the water. They dragged him back on board the boat and managed to get him to shore and to help before he bled to death.

While recovering in hospital, Bource explained that he had managed to fight off the shark. He pushed his hand down its throat and gouged at its eyes until it ripped off his leg and set him free. Before long, Bource was back in the ocean. With a modified leg and flipper, he carried on making films, even using the footage of his attack to produce a film on the life-changing experience. Since the attack, he has made numerous documentaries and also campaigned against the hunting of sharks, including giant great whites.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Jaws shocked a nation and caused a backlash against sharks in America. eBay.

16. The release of Jaws gives sharks a bad name.

Nothing in recent times has shaped the common understanding of sharks quite like the movie Jaws. Released in the summer of 1975, it convinced millions that it wasn’t safe to go into the water. And, while it made a fortune for the movie studio bosses and entertained massive audiences around the world, according to experts, it led to great white sharks getting an unfair – and inaccurate – reputation as bloodthirsty man eaters.

The movie, which was based on a novel by Peter Benchley, was partly inspired by the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks. Like those real-life attacks, the movie featured a great white shark. However, for artistic purposes, a number of changes were made. Above all, the Spielberg blockbuster featured a shark that was far bigger than any real-life beast. What’s more, the fictional Jaws was even shown to be motivated by revenge. Plus, rather than biting its victims and leaving them to bleed to death, as is the case in real life, this giant great white ate them whole.

According to marine scientists, Jaws was a major turning point in human-shark relations. The movie led to a massive rise in sharks being hunted for sport. Some studies found that shark numbers fell by as much as 60 per cent in the waters off the east coast of the United States in the years following the movie’s release. What’s more, any sympathy people might have felt for the animals quickly disappeared, dealing a huge blow for global conservation efforts. The damage would take years to repair. Only relatively recently, in fact, have the wider public come to understand that sharks only rarely attack humans, and that fatal attacks are extremely rare indeed.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Despite losing an arm to a shark, Bethany Hamilton has become a major surfing star. Pinterest.

17. Bethany Hamilton loses an arm surfing in Hawaii.

In one of the most famous shark attacks since the release of Jaws, young surfer Bethany Hamilton was bitten by a great white while out riding waves with her family. Despite losing her left arm in the attack, Hamilton has gone on to establish herself as one of the world’s best surfers, as well as a popular TV personality.

Hamilton was just 13 years old when the attack that changed her life took place. She was enjoying her usual morning surf along Tunnels Beach on her native Hawaii, accompanied by her best friend, as well as her friend’s father and brother. When she was waiting for her wave with her arm gangling in the water, a 4.3-meter tiger shark attacked, taking her arm clean off just below the shoulder. The rest of her party managed to get her to hospital and onto the operating table in time. Despite losing 60 per cent of her blood, she survived. Within one month of the attack, she was back on her board.

Shortly after the attack, local fishermen reported that they had caught a giant tiger shark close by. Investigators found fragments of surf board in its mouth and tests confirmed it was the shark that attacked Hamilton. Over the years, she has succeeded in adjusting her technique and has won numerous top-level surfing competitions. Alongside her surfing, Hamilton is also a children’s author and carries out lots of charity work, helping other young amputees adjust to their new lives.

From Sea gods to Jaws: Here is a Breakdown of Man’s Complicated Relationship with Sharks through the Ages
Egyptian fishermen hunted down a killer shark after it targeted tourists. CNN.

18. The Sharm El Sheikh Attack – the latest chapter in the sharks versus humans story.

Human’s fear of sharks is unlikely to go away anytime soon, especially when headline-making attacks keep on happening right around the world. And when attacks happen in popular vacation destinations, they just add to the worries that it’s never completely safe to go into the water – as the 2010 attacks in Egypt demonstrated. Even though people now know how rare it is to be attacked by a shark, the handful of attacks that took place in the resort city of Sharm El Sheikh had a major impact on the country’s tourism industry, while once reinforcing the unfair stereotype of sharks as remorseless man eaters.

On 1 December 2010, a shark attacked four tourists in the space of just a few minutes. All victims were seriously injured, though all of them survived. But just four days later, a German tourist snorkeling in the calm waters of the Dead Sea was attacked and killed. The attacks made front-page news right around the world. People stayed away from the beaches and many cancelled their planned vacations to Egypt. At the same time, the attacks fascinated shark experts, with many calling the incidents unprecedented.

According to local experts, an oceanic white tip shark – regarded as the most dangerous to humans – was responsible. It’s possible the animals was drawn close to the shore by fishermen, though others have blamed illegal dumping of animal carcasses in the Red Sea for attracting deadly sharks. It may also be that rising temperatures of these waters led to a rise in the number of sharks present – meaning that attacks could become more likely in the future.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Sharks and Humans: A Love-Hate Story.” Smithsonian Magazine.

“Top ten most infamous shark attacks.” The Daily Telegraph.

“Yearly Worldwide Shark Attack Summary.” International Shark Attack File, Florida Museum.

“Sharks Were Once Called Sea Dogs, And Other Little-Known Facts.” Smithsonian Magazine.

“Julia Child and the OSS Recipe for Shark Repellent.” The Central Intelligence Agency.

“USS Indianapolis sinking: ‘You could see sharks circling.” BBC.

“How Jaws misrepresented the great white.” BBC News Magazine.