It was 1974. I remember touring Martha’s Vineyard with my family in a beach buggy and one of the stops was to see a mechanical shark being filmed in a movie to be released the following year. I remember looking at the long piece of metal resembling the body of a great white, covered partly by a white sheet, and thinking, “Big deal.”
Being a 14-year-old brat, I didn’t care about this mechanical “Jaws” and wanted to hit the gift shops. But Jaws was everywhere; in every gift shop window his photo was plastered on toys, coffee mugs, tee-shirts, kiddy pocketbooks, and the book was being promoted too. Later that summer, a middle school chum of mine received bragging rights because he got to be one of the extras running out of the water and screaming in that memorable shark attack beach scene from the movie. Jaws was big that summer.
I grew up on Cape Cod and I’ve seen plenty of seals and have had Humpback whales swim under boats that I’ve been a passenger on. I’ve caught baby sharks while deep sea fishing (only to throw them back) but I have never seen a large shark up close and personal (only the mechanical, famous one in 1974).
Yet this week, the big news is that there was a shark attack off the coastline near the National Seashore. The swimmer, Chris Myers, was attacked below both knees and one of the rescuers reported that the injury was so bad that you could see bone. The victim was first brought to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis and then transferred to Mass General in Boston where he underwent surgery. Fortunately, his injuries are not life-threatening. He told attendants at the hospital that he was attacked by a shark.
Not since 1936 has there been a reported shark attack off Cape Cod.
But on Monday of this week, Chris Myers, father of two, swimming 80 yards off shore, changed history. The Truro beach’s parking lot has been filled with TV crews and the media has been buzzing that “Jaws is back.”
The media is wrong; Jaws never left.
In fact, from 1990 through 2009, there have been 50 credible white shark sightings around the Cape, with more than half documented near Monomoy. Shark sightings have always been a part of the Cape’s beach experience, but in recent years the occurrence is becoming more common due to the growth in the seal population off the coast. As recently as July 7, a great white was spotted only yards away from a kayaker in Orleans, and Chatham has had many sightings this summer as well.
The sightings are becoming so commonplace that lifeguards at Whitecrest Beach in Wellfleet are now carrying “shark sticks,” pointed wooden implements approximately two feet long that can be used as an extra tool for fighting off sharks. (Lifeguards didn’t do that in 1975.)
Hollywood is paying attention.
The Boston Herald reported on Friday July 27 that a History Channel reality show will be shot this fall off Cape Cod. Shark Wranglers is hosted by Chris Fischer who will be hooking great whites for research. As Richard Weir quoted Fischer in his Boston Herald article: “Shark Wranglers coming to Cape: Reality TV with bite.”
“For the first time in history, we will solve the life puzzles of ‘Jaws,’ Fischer said. “This is a 400-million-year-old secret and in order to ensure they have a robust future, we need to understand their lives.”
Not everyone on the Cape is happy about this project. Weir also reported in his article:
“‘He’s good at creating drama and boosting TV ratings, but he’s putting a protected species’ health in jeopardy in doing so,’ said Ben Wigren, a part-time Cape Cod resident who has spearheaded an online petition to try to revoke Fischer’s shark-tagging permit.”
Jaws, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film, won three Oscars but it caused fear that summer. Many visiting swimmers opted to stay out of the Cape’s water. It seems that today’s Cape Cod tourists aren’t afraid of Big-Ol-Bad-Jaws; tourism is up on the Cape and the merchants are reporting that Jaws is “good for business”. But after Monday’s shark attack, perhaps it is best to swim closer to the shoreline. Jaws is out there and won’t be leaving any time soon.