By the time this article is published, Shark Week 2017 will have just come to an end. Personally, I am an avid viewer of Shark Week and enjoy watching the specials all week long. But this week, I got to thinking: why are we so interested in sharks? Why do we spend a week during the summer sitting around and watching a show about sharks? We wouldn’t sit around and watch documentaries about any other animal, but with sharks, we are fascinated. Why? What made us so scared of sharks?
According to National Geographic, our nation’s intense fear of sharks began in 1916. In just two weeks, four people died on the Jersey Shore due to shark attacks. In 1916, people didn’t even believe that sharks would eat humans. They knew that sharks ate other fish, but no one believed they would attack a human. It wasn’t until the third victim of the week (Lester Stillwell, age 10) that people began to get scared. Lester Stillwell was epileptic, so many believed he had had a seizure in the water and drowned. However, when they found his body a few days later, they could not mistake what had happened.
After his body was found, President Woodrow Wilson held a cabinet meeting, and it was decided that federal aid would be given to attempt to capture the shark who had killed so many in such a short amount of time. Later, an 8 foot great white shark would be captured, the animal’s stomach containing human remains.
This was the beginning of the shark paranoia that our nation now experiences. This fear we now had of sharks was only intensified as Jaws came out. This movie scared the nation, and only increased our fear. Of course, sharks are not the exclusive man killers that Jaws paints them out to be, but that doesn’t stop us from being afraid. Now, while we are still afraid of sharks, we are also very curious about these killing machines. What makes them attack? How long do they live? What waters are they partial to? As they say, knowledge is power, and perhaps we think that by knowing so much about sharks we will be less scared of them. That may be, but no matter how much we learn about them, it doesn’t change the fact that sharks are a nation-wide phenomenon that won’t go anywhere anytime soon.