How the Movie Jaws Vilified Sharks, Inspired Scientists, and Changed the World

white shark photo
©. DCL


Growing up, I never really understood the impact of the movie Jaws. I got that it was a huge hit, that it became part of our culture, that for my entire childhood no kid went into the waves at the beach without singing the "da da, da da..." tune at least once. But I never really understood the real world impact of the movie, the way it changed our oceans, until reading the book Demon Fish by Juliet Eilperin a year or so ago. While exploring the status of sharks around the world, Eilperin explains how sharks came to be so vilified in today's culture -- and the book and subsequent film Jaws is one of the main factors.

To put it mildly, this film freaked people out. Freaked us out to the point that we were running at the water with fishing poles the way a frenzied mob runs toward an ogre's lair with pitchforks. But to what end? Are we really so dumb as to try to fish out of the sea every last animal with teeth big enough to kill us, at the expense of the ocean's health, even though the vast majority of us enter and exit the water unscathed? Apparently, yes.

This fear the film was able to instill in us has been carried to unexpected lengths. But it also inspired a new fascination with sharks that has lead to important research about these apex predators, and important protections needed to keep them swimming through the deep blue sea.

A new show for Shark Week presents this story. Airing tonight, (August 14) at 9 pm EST, learn about how one man's novel started the boulder rolling that has altered how we look at these amazing fish.

From Discovery Channel:

There are very few movies we can honestly say truly changed the world — but Jaws is one of them. Audiences stood in lines that wrapped entire city blocks to watch the world's first summer blockbuster. Careers were made, fortunes created, and ways of directing and scoring movies and shooting special effects were all changed forever when it was released. But the impact the film had on the oceans and their inhabitants was as big as the audience it found — and just as surprising. In the aftermath of the film's release, great white sharks were vilified and killed, leading to their near-disappearance from the eastern seaboard. At the same time, public fascination with sharks led to a golden age of shark science that completely changed our view of the ocean and how it works. And as the science began showing us how real sharks behave, it spurred a worldwide conservation effort whose earliest champion was Jaws author Peter Benchley.