It won’t be long before the iconic film “Jaws” turns 50 — a fact that’s just difficult to imagine.
Yet this single movie, from a then unknown director named Steven Spielberg, singlehandedly created the summer blockbuster model many studios work to recreate every year, and proved the big screen could deliver big thrills.
But “Jaws” had another, more lasting effect on society. It made many people fearful — or, at least, more cautious — about going to the beach. And it turned sharks, like the great white featured in Spielberg’s film, from ocean predators to living, breathing and biting beasts of pure evil.
Humans are a land species. Put us in the water and we’re at a clear disadvantage against anything that might mean us harm living in that environment. Especially something that can weigh more than two tons while boasting more than 300 teeth. Vigilance when in the water is essential — but demonizing an animal for simply acting on its nature is not.
In the years following the release of “Jaws,” many fishermen set out to hunt the great white, deeming the slaughter that came with it — cutting the population nearly in half — a way to rid the world of a man-eating predator.
But sharks are sharks, and for us to enjoy the ocean, we have to find ways of sharing it with these creatures, and everything else living below the waves. No one wants to be bitten, and hopefully most of us would rather stay as far away from sharks as possible. Yet the cleaner, warmer waters splashing onto the beaches of Long Island will indeed attract all kinds of aquatic life, and sharks won’t be far behind.
Drones certainly make a difference, with the state tripling the number of the flying camera-equipped contraptions patrolling local beaches. They can cover more territory in a short time, rather than simply putting lifeguards on WaveRunners, and beachgoers are getting the added protection of both.
Long Island beaches attract a number of species of sharks, although few of them, other than dusky sharks and the great whites featured in “Jaws,” pose any immediate danger. But it’s still imperative to stay away, because if a shark did decide to turn on you, it’s a battle you likely wouldn’t win.
Sharks are the ocean’s dominant predator for sure — and humans should stay far away from them — but they aren’t evil. We shouldn’t be happy when a shark is killed, or wish for a world in which they don’t exist.
In the end, sharks are a key component to our very fragile marine ecosystem. And they are dying, with few people standing up to defend them because of the fear perpetuated by movies like “Jaws” and annual television events like Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.”
Even Spielberg regrets how the great white was portrayed in his 1975 film. When a British radio personality asked him last year how he’d feel if he lived on a desert island surrounded by sharks, the Oscar-winning director said it’s something he fears. “Not to get eaten by a shark,” he added, “but that sharks are somehow mad at me for the feeding frenzy of crazy sport fishermen that happened after 1975.”
Sharks may not actually hold grudges, but we can share the ocean with them, and keep ourselves safe, by steering clear of them. It’s the only way we can have the fun, relaxing summer we’ve always enjoyed on Long Island beaches.
Keep your distance from sharks
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Florida — where more than half of the country’s shark attacks happen each year — says it’s always good to stay in groups, since sharks are more likely to bite someone swimming alone. Also, don’t wander too far from shore — especially if it isolates you from other swimmers. It also takes you farther away from any help you could receive from land.
Avoid the water at twilight or after dark. Those are the hours when sharks are most active. Even during the day, if the water is murky, be extra careful.
And most important, stay in areas watched by lifeguards.