We've all heard it. That all too familiar "dun nun" that increases in speed and volume until it concludes in a loud bang. We all know what it means, that the big, scary shark has sunk its teeth into the innocent swimmer and pulled her into the depths of the ocean. After 40 years, "Jaws" still has a major impact on ocean conservation and public beliefs regarding sharks. With more and more people coming into contact with sharks, it is time the public finally realizes how many problems the "Jaws" effect has had on these marine predators.
"Jaws" launched Hollywood into a killer shark feeding frenzy. At least 50 monster shark movies followed, including three more "Jaws" movies. Unfortunately this trend wasn't left in the 20th century and over half of the 50 movies listed were released after 2000. In fact, a new killer shark movie has been released every year since 1998. 2016 continues this trend, with "The Shallows" starring Blake Lively having been released this past week. The latest shark thriller features Lively fighting for her life against a cunning and strong willed predator. The sad fact is, even in 2016, we can't seem to stop painting sharks as manipulative and cruel creatures intent on eating any human in their vicinity.
All of these movies feed off of the fear that "Jaws" started. "Jaws" capitalized on the public fear of sharks following the rise in human/shark interactions. With the increase in shark attacks, people lauded the film that gave them both a monster shark and an experienced hunter that killed it. The blockbuster depicted sharks as predators with the ability to remember and stalk specific humans, even after multiple days had passed. Many viewers soon feared going into the ocean and an even greater fear and prejudice against sharks. Fisherman began going shark fishing in large groups and shark catching tournaments sprung up all over the U.S. coastline. The population of many shark species all around the U.S. have declined 50-90 percent since the release of "Jaws" in 1975.
Sharks reproduce at a very slow rate, with most not beginning to reproduce until after 15 years of age and only giving birth every other year. With such low reproduction rates, the shark population has struggled to keep up with the rapid decline of their numbers. While many conservation organizations have made huge leaps in raising awareness for the status of the shark populations worldwide, their circumstances continue to deteriorate.
The over fishing of both sharks and their prey is forcing these hunters to move closer to shore and closer to humans. With increased shark sightings and the continuation of the demonizing of sharks in Hollywood, conservationists are going to have to work overtime to save this integral part of the marine ecosystem. Many places still have a large shark fin and meat market, making shark hunting a valuable trade.
So sharks, don't go into the water.