We’ve been screening cult feature films to sell out audiences on the Cornish clifftops all summer long at Wavelength Drive In Cinema. Don’t miss your chance to see 1975’s epic Jaws on he big screen, Sat 5th September, tickets here
Jaws was the first major feature film ever to be shot at sea, and as a result of repeated mechanical hitches with the shark, assorted boat and camera troubles and a massively blown budget, director Steven Spielberg ended up using the power of suggestion rather than the model shark, to such great effect that it kicked off a global phobia of what lies beneath.
The film’s editor, Verna Fields used the haunting two tuba bass notes for the leading tone, and the result was the most recognisable and emotive cinematic theme of all time.
Floating on the surface of the sea was the new going into the woods at night.
Sure, mariners had long told tales of monster squid pulling down vessels and other horrors of the deep, but it’s hard to think of anything else in popular culture that had such an effect on global attitudes towards an animal as Jaws.
“Floating on the surface of the sea was the new going into the woods at night”
Meanwhile, reports of real shark attacks had risen continually through the 20th century, as more and more people ventured into the sea. A Surfer magazine interview with Eric Larson, bitten repeatedly by a great white at Davenport Landing near San Francisco in 1991 postulated, “Imagine being eaten alive by a monster fish.”
A two wave hold down suddenly seemed almost pleasant by comparison.
In mainstream media, sharks were described using language usually reserved for vermin. ‘Shark infested waters’ was the go to phrase for stretches of ocean with almost certainly lower populations of the animal than in the pre-human era. You don’t often read about ‘bird infested trees’ or ‘trout infested rivers’.
Since medieval times, we’ve become progressively more unaccustomed to and intolerant of apex predators, and systematically removed them from ecosystems. Wolves and bears, have long since been broadly exterminated from most of Europe, many species of tigers in Asia hang on by a thread.
If it’s got teeth and has been known to sink them into human flesh, well this planet’s simply not been deemed big enough for the both of us.
In more recent times, an awkward moral conundrum presents itself to would be conservationists regarding sharks. Whales? Easy. They’re mammals after all, technically our distant cousins.
As for sharks, while in principal many folk espouse the “it’s their environment” line, in truth, most of us, at least in whatever bit of sea we’re hoping to venture into that day, would prefer it wasn’t, at least for the next couple of hours anyway.
Here are 5 shark stats that might help assuage your surfing fears – or confirm them.
53% of all 2019 attacks were on surfers. Surfing / board sports account for more attacks than all other user groups put together, with a whopping 53% of global ‘unprovoked’ attacks in 2019. (‘Bodysurfing/horseplay’, as described in the International Shark Attack File, accounts for 8%). While 53% sounds disproportionately high, it’s probably due to the amount of time surfers spend in the water. A worldwide total of 64 unprovoked attacks were reported worldwide in 2019, 2 of which were fatal (in Reunion Island and The Bahamas).
Humans kill about 100 million sharks per year for food, most of which is for shark fin soup. Not all though, there’s a strong chance your local chippy sells sharks in batter. ‘Rock salmon’, ‘huss’, ‘flake’, ‘rock’ and ‘rock eel’ are all alternative names given to shark as food species in the UK. (Rabbit Bartholomew has famously never eaten shark in any form, for karma reasons). Around the US alone, a 50-90% decline in shark populations has occurred since Jaws was released.
Reunion Island accounted for 16% of global attacks 2011-15, along just 128 miles of coast. ‘Don’t go in the water’ used as the publicity slogan for Jaws, has become law in Reunion Island, with full or partial bans on surfing since a major spike in attacks and deaths in the last ten years. Between 2011 and 2016 (when the ban came in) Reunion accounted for 16% of all shark fatalities worldwide; the statistical death rate in 2015 was 3.15 per million of population, versus 0.76 in South Africa and 0.0013 for the USA. The attacks were a source of pro surf themed controversy in 2016 when Kelly Slater called for a cull in response to Jeremy Flores’ Radical Times short film, then publicly U-turned having encountered a social media shit storm backlash.
Despite 3 ASP World Titles, Mick Fanning is most famous for a shark incident during the 2015 J-Bay final, the first time ever a shark incident has occurred live during a broadcast. Mick was never actually bitten, although the shark did bite through his leash. Shark attacks were once so rare, that a reward was offered at the beginning of the 20th century for anyone who could provide evidence of one, nobody came forward. Taj Burrow scuttled himself on the rocks at J-Bay in 2003 having seen a ‘massive great white coming straight for me’ during a heat with Damien Hobgood, but was told to paddle back out, with no restart. He didn’t.
The Mediterranean is home to 47 shark species, 17 of which are classed as ‘dangerous’ to humans, but attacks in European waters remain relatively extremely rare. As for the Atlantic coasts of Europe, the vast majority of any ‘attacks’ involve fishermen being bitten in a boat, trying to remove a hook from the mouth of a shark they’ve just caught. Mainland Europe is the only continent in the world – aside from Antarctica – to have never recorded an attack on a surfer.