THE FIRST REPRESENTATION of an attack by what must have been a shark was discovered on a vase unearthed at Ischia, Italy, an island just west of modem day Naples. The vase shows a man seized by a fish reminiscent perhaps of a shark, and has been dated c. 725 BC.
The first account of an attack by a marine monster dates back to Greek history, with Herodotus in 492 BC. He was not talking specifically of the shark, even though the latter was probably involved, for the word did not yet exist and no really lifelike graphic representation was to appear before the I5th century. Again in Greek history, the poet Leonidas of Tarentum evokes the tragic end of the sponge-fisher Tharsys, when he was being hoisted aboard his boat by his two companions and was attacked by a sea monster which tore away the lower sections of his body. Tharsys' companions brought ashore his remains and thus, the poet elegantly noted, Tharsys was buried both on land and at sea.
The first reference in English dates back to 1580 when an officer related an attack he had witnessed between Portugal and India.
One of the first representations of a shark attack, by the Swede Olaus Magnus around 1550
Medieval representation of sharks
man fell overboard during a storm, and it was impossible for us to reach him or go to his assistance in any way. So we threw him a block of wood attached to a rope, specially provided for this purpose. Our crew began to bring in the man, who had managed to catch the block, but, when he was no more than half the range of a musket away, there appeared from beneath the surface a big monster known as tiburon; it rushed at the man and cut him to pieces right before our eyes. It was certainly a terrible death."
In 1776, Pennant described the Great White Shark: "They reach very great dimensions. There is a report of a whole human corpse being found in the stomach of one of these monsters, which is by no means beyond belief considering their huge fondness for human flesh. They are the nightmare of seamen in all the hot climates, where they constantly follow ships waiting for anything that might fall overboard. A man who has this misfortune inexorably perishes. They have been seen to rush at him like a gudgeon at a worm... Very often, swimmers are killed by them. Sometimes, they lose an arm or a leg, and at other times are cut in two by this insatiable animal.'
Ships' logs often recount similar tragedies, but a few rare cases exist in which the seamen get the better of the situation. The captain of the Ayrshire fell overboard in the course of a crossing in 1850. His courageous labrador plunged into the water to rescue him. A shark immediately headed towards them, but,'according to the logbook, both were saved. The captain was unharmed, but the dog's tail had been cut clean through.
Basic scientific knowledge of the shark is extremely recent, and it can therefore be assumed that up to the 20th century, accounts of attacks by sharks were largely based on popular mystique, superstition and fanciful speculation.
DEVIL SHARKS AND GOD SHARKS
The Greeks wrote their legends from the constellations, but well before them primitive humans projected various representations of their own devil-god, the shark, on the stars. The stars that the Greeks saw as the belt of Orion were for the Warran Indians of South America the missing leg of Nohi-Abassi, a man who had got rid of his mother-in-law by training a murderous shark to devour her. As legions of men have discovered since then, Nohi-Abassi learned to his cost that it is not safe to provoke a shark or a mother-in-law. His leg was cut off by his sister-in-law, apparently playing the part of the shark, and Nohi-Abassi died. His leg wandered into one region of the skies, and the rest of his body into another. For some primitive tribes the shark was an avenging god, for others a two-faced devil. In many primitive religions, the status of the shark became so complex that it had several roles: sharks became men, men became sharks. On many Pacific islands, the insatiable god could not be satisfied by the men, women or children which it occasionally gulped down in the depths of the sea - so it claimed the ultimate homage: human sacrifice. The head of the high priests then made his way among the people accompanied by an assistant wearing a nose similar to the long snout of the shark. At a signal from his chief, the assistant pointed his nose towards the crowd. The person, man, woman or child, at whom the nose happened to be aimed was immediately seized and strangled. His body was ritually cut up into pieces and thrown into the sea for the shark-gods.
In the Solomon Islands, the deified sharks lived in sacred caves constructed for them near the coast. Opposite these caves, large stone altars were erected, on which the bodies of the chosen victims were placed. After mystical ceremonies had been performed, the bodies were offered to the sharks. Certain sharks in the Solomon Islands were considered to be incarnations of deceased ancestors; these were the good sharks. Other estranged sharks, which roamed between the islands on fiendish missions, were considered malevolent. The fishermen could, however, drive out these evil-minded sharks by brandishing in front of them small wooden statuettes representing the familiar sharks.
AU these appalling rites and traditions still existed only a few decades ago in certain isolated islands, and the more 'civilised" among them still persist.
The Vietnamese fishermen still refer to the Whale Shark in its capacity as Ca Ong or "Mister Fish". Little altars beseeching the protection of Ca Ong can be seen on sand dunes all along the central and southern Vietnamese coast, close to wrecked tanks and other relics of the war.
When the US Navy built the enormous base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, the remains of an enclosure where the Hawaiian kings used to make local gladiators fight with captive sharks were found. The sharks represented the ancestors, and were fed with live humans. The only weapon the gladiatorial warrior could use in his defence was a single shark's tooth mounted on a short wooden handle held tightly in the fist. Only the tooth showed between the two fingers firmly closed around the handle. The difference between this and the matador, who can dodge a charge by the bull, was that the warrior was only allowed one chance and that, to win, he had to let the shark charge him. He was supposed to wait until the last moment before diving beneath his assailant and trying to disembowel it with his weapon. Legend has it that sometimes, on rare occasions, the warrior got the better and killed the shark. Perhaps a royal edict stipulated that if the warrior drew blood from his adversary he could leave the infernal arena, failing which it seems impossible that such duels could have been terminated in any way other than in victory by the shark, which after all did have a mass of teeth to set against the single one held in the fist of its opponent, to say nothing of its swiftness of manoeuvring in the water. The shark arena was a circular enclosure of about one hectare, made up of lava rocks. It had an opening on the seaward side to allow water to enter. Fish and human bait were thrown into the enclosure in order to attract sharks into the opening, which was of course shut at the time of the "battles". The queen of the sharks was supposed to live next to the arena, at the bottom of the bay. The queen condescended to permit battles near her refuge, provided that she was seduced by offerings. These offerings were once again human, for one of the economic realities of life in Hawaii in former times was that people cost less than pigs.
In 1900, when the U5 Navy had completed the construction of an enormous dock at Pearl Harbour, at a cost of four million dollars, the foundations suddenly collapsed under the pressure of an under-sea eruption, and the whole dock sank under the waters. The engineers looked into all the hypotheses to no avail, but the natives knew what had happened: "The queen of the sharks is angry and flexing her back." Even today, numerous beliefs persist with regard to sharks, not only in Hawaii but also in Tahiti, the Cook Islands in the Torres Strait, the Marshall Islands and Samoa, and even among the Alaskan Indians and in Latin America, where many ancient pieces of pottery have been unearthed depicting swimmers being devoured by sharks.
In Japan, one of the mythological gods is the storm god, known as the 'shark-man". In fact, the shark is so terrifying in Japanese legends that when the Chinese thought about a talisman to paint on their aircraft to fight the Japanese, they chose the demon head of the Tiger Shark. The American pilots who did the same were known throughout the world as the 'Flying Tigers", when in fact they should have been called the 'flying sharks".
In the Torres Strait, between Papua and Australia, Mutuk is a legendary man who was delivered from the stomach of the shark which had swallowed him. His "gastric adventure" naturally brings to mind Jonah, who was swallowed by a "big fish". As the biblical scribes were unlikely to distinguish between a fish and a mammal, it was thought that a whale was probably involved, and most religious representations of the event stick to that anirnal. Anatomically, however, it is difficult to see how a prophet could have passed
During the colonial period, sailors learned how to catch sharks. The capture was always a major event on board, and even Napoleon was invited to the spectacle on board the Bellerophon after his defeat in 1815.
through the whalebone of a whale, and so it must indeed have been a big fish, and probably the biggest of all fish, the shark. Moreover, this shark could not have had a mouth filter like the Whale Shark, but it would have had to have been large enough to swallow a man whole. Therefore it could only have been the Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). And let readers of the bible be reassured, whale or shark, the regurgitation of a live man is even more miraculous from the inside of a Great White Shark than from a whale.
If sharks are legitimately the origin of many myths, they can also, in certain circumstances, be a brutal means of debunking. In 1776, the naturalist Thomas Pennant wrote: "The master of a slave ship from Guinea told me that a wave of suicides had taken hold of the recently bought slaves, for the poor wretches thought that after their death their bodies had to be returned to their family, their friends and their country. To convince them that their bodies would not be condemned to perpetual wandering, he ordered that one of the slaves be tied by the ankles to a rope and lowered into the sea. He had scarcely been underwater a minute when the crew pulled up the body, but only the ankles and the feet protected by the rope remained intact. All the rest had been devoured by sharks." Thus it was bluntly demonstrated that the mortal remains would not have to be returned to the families since they would be fed to the sharks.
If India has its snake-charmers, the Fiji Islands have their shark-charmers. Twice a year, to avert the sharks from attacking them, the Fijians would indulge in the 'ceremony of kissing the shark". Father Laplante was a missionary in these islands up to 1938 and told how the sharks were captured in a large net, turned over on to their backs by the slightly drugged officiating ministers, before being kissed on the stomach. The missionary was astonished that on each occasion the sharks, once kissed, stopped moving, 'as if the men had an occult power that I wouldn't know how to define". This custom experienced a renewal of interest in 1960, at Fort Lauderdale in Florida, when students made it an initiation rite for new pupils. The police put an end to this very unusual ragging by putting a close guard on the shark they named "Freddy", before returning it to the sea. Although it measured only 1.5 metres, it was a Tiger Shark.
The pearl-fishers of Ceylon likewise resorted to shark-charmers to protect them. The powers of these charmers were hereditary and mystical in the extreme, as Sir Emerson Tennent reported in 1861, since even if the charmer was ill and incapable of moving about, it was sufficient for him to delegate anybody in his place for the sharks to remain placid. Without wishing to deny this highly mythical power, I shall say that the same officiants would certainly not have had the same results on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. We shall in fact see that, curiously, and despite its latitude in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has always remained relatively safe from attacks.
The mystique attached to sharks has managed to make a fortune for some, if we believe Franqois Poli's book Les requins sont captures la nuit (1959, Chicago). Lake Nicaragua is well known in Central America for the numerous 'man-eaters" it harbours, and the book concerns an event that prompted the resident lakeside Indians to attempt to appease the 'lord of the waters". They had very elaborate funeral ceremonies, at the end of which the bodies, covered in jewels and weighed down with gold ornaments, were committed to the sharks of the lake in order to appease them. The latter of course devoured the bodies together with the jewels, to everyone's satisfaction. Until the day when a Dutchman interfered by hunting the sharks, opening their bellies and retrieving the gold and the sacred jewels. He very quickly amassed a fortune, but forgot to leave in time. Informed of his sacrilegious thefts, the Indians set fire to his house after having slit his throat. His corpse being unworthy of the sharks, it had to be carbonised.
Certain myths have given rise to real events, like that we have just mentioned, and certain events could have given rise to myths had their improbability not been far too gross. For instance the story told by Marc Twain, and regarded as a true fact for some years. According to him, a certain Cecil Rhodes was said to have caught, close to Australia, a shark which had swallowed a newspaper in London ten days previously; the lucky fisherman thus learned before everybody else that the wool market had shot up considerably and he invested considerable sums risk- free, which turned out to be the beginnings of an enormous fortune.
Certain shark attributes, alleged but not proven, easily become superstitious beliefs. For example, the ability that sharks are supposed to have to 'smell death". Many seamen who died aboard ships and whose bodies were committed to the sea in fact did find their graves in a shark's stomach. But the superstition grew with time until sharks were believed to be able to know when a man was on the point of dying, and the appearance of a shark in the wake of a ship became a sign of imminent death on board.
When a cholera or yellow fever epidemic broke out on board a ship, the superstitious believed that the sharks would remain behind them until the epidemic had delivered its final victim. A skipper who sailed from San Francisco added to the legend. He often carried an unusual cargo: the corpses of Chinese people who had died in the United States, and who, according to ancient custom, had to be
This illustration from the 19th century represents the shark as an exotic curiosity rather than a 'Uling machine-
buried in China. This skipper was categorical: when transporting bodies, his boat was followed by an army of sharks as if they were able to detect the corpses encased in plated coffins down in the hold. The sharks never appeared when his cargo was less macabre.
It is curious to note that in the brotherhood of seamen, so respectful of traditions and even of superstitions, there has never been a prohibition on naming a ship Shark, Tiburon or Requin. When one knows the price to be paid for uttering the mere name of the "animal with big ears" (the rabbit) on board a ship, it is surprising that the shark, which has nevertheless terrified generations of seamen and castaways, is not put in the same category. In the United States alone, six ships have been named Shark: the first, in 1821, was a twelve-gun schooner, and the other five were submarines, the last of which, launched in 1960, was a nuclear-powered submersible.
FROM MYTH TO SYMBOL
The etymological roots of the word "shark" in fact indicate certain characteristics of the animal itself. The Anglo- Saxon root scheron means to cut or tear (compare the French arracher). "Schurke" is the German word for villain. Sin -ce Elizabethan times, popular speech has used the word to indicate "sharks" in various contexts: loan shark, pool shark, card shark etc. The sound itself is sharp, and emphasises the impression of urgency, of terror, of surprise and of assertiveness.
In France the lord of the seas goes by the name 'requin". This very probably comes from "requiem", evidently referring to the
unenviable fate that awaited the unfortunate seaman falling overboard in certain tropical waters. In Spanish, the animal is referred to by the name "tiburon". Not surprisingly, perhaps, many people in these countries believe that the English name for shark is in fact "jaws", from the celebrated top-biuing film.
If one asks a random selection of townspeople and professional shark fishermen to choose four images that immediately come to their mind when the word "shark" is mentioned, the similarity of response is amazing.
"Danger", 'killer", 'man-eater", "jaws", "desperate", "teeth",
" fin", "fishing", "great white", "maco", "marauder", "foam", "Deep water" are some of the key words most frequently encountered, irrespective of occupation, of the country concerned and of any possible real-life experience of the person in question with regard to sharks. It is remarkable, in fact, that all of the people questioned have never witnessed an attack, some have never seen or even caught a glimpse of a shark in their lives, and others live in countries where there are no sharks.
These responses suggest that the image of terror and destruction is much more firmly established than the picture emerging from scientific discoveries which reveals the shark to be an animal with a very distinctive biology and behavioural characteristics. Several factors may explain the sharws reputation as a symbol of power and terror.
Even more so than other fish, its tenacity for staying alive is impressive. Gaffed, shot, harpooned, ripped open, it is still
THE REASONS FOR FASCINATION
Anyone investigating the man-shark relationship will be struck by the disproportion between the impact on the subconscious of a few exceptional mishaps and the statistical reality of the facts. The recently established Organisation International Shark Attack File, which lists all known attacks since 1560, was unable to find more than 1500. Even though the true number is, in my reckoning, much higher, it is nevertheless the case that the number of attacks throughout the world certainly does not exceed 500 per year and of these only 200 will die (if we disregard big shipwrecks). This is the number of people struck by lightning each year, the consequences of a single reckless weekend on the roads of France, the number of victims in a single air disaster, the number of people dying of AIDS every two weeks in the United States. So why this irrational fear? Why all the media coverage given to these deaths, which are then talked about in minute detail the world over?
At the root of it there is certainly a phenomenon of projection, that unconscious action which consists of refusing to see or being incapable of interiorising certain emotions or certain personality traits, and instead 'pinning' them on another person, another place, another object. The classic example is that of the "bad element" which always seems to linger in the great families and drain the guilty conscience of one and all like an abscess. Dogs, meanwhile, are often an outlet for their master's frustrations when the latter insults them as he would like to dare insult his boss or mother-in-law.
We can each one of us ask ourselves if there are any aspects of our own personality that we project on to the shark or, on the other hand, any shark characteristics which we would secretly like to be able to have at our disposal. In a later chapter we shall see the thousand and one ways of making use of sharks, introspection no doubt not being the least of these.
We have seen how island peoples have always attributed both attractive and repulsive qualities to sharks, as if primitive peoples, living in close contact with the earth and the natural cycles, more easily saw both the negative and the positive side in everything. It is significant that nations called 'civilised", which have lost touch with nature, project onto the shark an almost exclusively morbid, negative image. The gap is ever wider between our safety-conscious, hypersecure, ever more comfortable and technologised world, and that abyssal, cold and sombre world which is that of the shark. A world which takes us back to the barbarity of early ages when the frail body of man did not count for much faced with physical assaults of every order. It is probable that the shark will convey more and more frightening images as modern man creates for himself an artificial world which is more and more fearful and less and less "physical", and in which the "hunting instinct" will have disappeared for good. The "organic" relationship which we maintain with the shark will become increasingly intolerable, and at the same time will be increasingly exploited by the media, as if the better to exorcise these hideous reminders of another age.
The fear of sharks embraces a number of phobias: fear of the dark, of heights, of falling into a strange world, of blood, of gaping wounds, of being alone when faced with danger, of physical combat, of the inexorability of death... These chilly monsters, which glide through the water like serpents and lock you in the stranglehold of their jaws as in the clutches of a spider, take you back to the nightmares of your childhood.
We must not, of course, overlook the 'delightful shudder of horror" as a possible reason behind this fascination for the shark. Sadomasochistic drives still exist in many adults, and whether these drives are active or passive, the subconscious still projects onto the shark or its victim. The morbid instinct of many readers is well known among editors-in-chief, who know how to distil the horror of an attack across eye-catching headlines, their tales of suspense and photos often having nothing to do with the actual event. Do you need proof? Watch the attitude and reactions of a potential reader of this book when confronted by the sealed photo section it contains. And then, how did you yourself react in the bookshop when you came to these photos that were hidden from you?
Our fascination may become more admiring, if not wholly positive, when we come to know more about the invulnerability and hyperefficiency of this unpredictable, uncompromising and solitary animal, which trifles with others as it pleases. C)ur interest may then turn more towards the animal than towards its victim.
Whatever the reason behind man's current fascination for sharks, it is always accompanied by anthropomorphism, inseparable from the phenomenon of projection, which is encountered every time man is confronted with a problem outside his control. There was the serpent, there was the bear, there will soon only be the shark left, as long as it retains some of its mystery. Having arrived on earth 350 million years before man, it will without any doubt outlive him, and
the passage of man in the animal world will have been only a minor incident in the history of the shark.
SHARKS AND THE MEDIA
The shark is a creature tailor-made for media sensationalism. Magnificently represented by the Great White, it is a primitive carnivore of terrifying appearance, whose diet does not exclude the odd human being now and then. In other words sharks possess all the necessary credentials for a ftont-page news story. However, as the latter is normally reserved for events concerning people, sharks do not become newsworthy until they have just devoured a potential reader.
Although journalists are experts at collecting data, they are not shark specialists, and in general they have very little available time to write their article. This explains the scientific impoverishment that most often presides over the reports of such events, and the stereotypical manner in which accidents are described. Contrary to these reports the circumstances are usually totally different, sharks are not always "ruthless Great White Sharks", the victims not necessarily "young, athletic, swimming champions" and the waters not automatically 'calm and blue with nothing to warn of the drama about to unfold'.
Besides attacks, there should be many other foci of interest for journalists writing about sharks, such as the way of fishing for them, cooking them, detecting them, avoiding them, repelling them and luring them with bait - but the stories would no longer be front-page material, indeed they would barely merit a few lines in the "tourism" column for the attention of those going on a "game-fishing" trip to Mauritius in December.
When the celebrated film laws was released at the end of the 1970s, it was a potential goldmine for all the critics, who could have made not only a cinematographic but also a scientific analysis of it. The technical adviser of this film was Professor Compagno, without doubt the greatest specialist worldwide, and, as he himself told me, the implausibility of the film came not from the attack sequences but from the exaggerated accumulation of them and from the excessive anthropomorphism with respect to the shark.
Our modern society is in the end less well equipped to separate myth from facts with regard to a film like jaws than was the society of the 19th century with regard to the novel Moby Dick. Whaling was a standard industry at the time when Moby Dick was written, and everyone knew that whales could kill their hunters. Most of the inhabitants of the New England coasts knew personally men who
had been whaling or had at least seen whales, and they knew that the "Cachalots", or Sperm Whales, do not devour a man deliberately.
But we are no longer close to nature, for it is no longer indispensable to our survival, and our gullibility is all the greater. The media could have a dual role of informing and educating via a film such as laws; and as a result the reader's or the spectator's interest would be greater still, and the role of the journalist might turn out to be more gratifying. Many people have seen the sequels, laws 1, 2, 3, and 4, but who has dissected for them the alarming implausibility of the scenarios and the unreality of the behaviour of the new heroes?
In the countries where such things take place, many journalists dream of covering a shark attack. One of them even left a town in the center of Oregon for another on the coast, just to be first to cover the next attack. It is true that any shark attack will always be a newsworthy event as long as it remains exceptional. Imagine an American reading on page five of his newspaper of 30th June: 'About 250 people will die during this first summer weekend on all the nation's beaches, through attacks by sharks. This figure represents a very clear improvement on the 375 attacks in 1990, before the speed limit of 55km/h prevented a considerable crowd from getting to the beaches more quickly ......
This type of article appears every year in connection with road accidents, and is received with general indifference, despite the tens of thousands of deaths, to which we have become immune. And then, what could be less mysterious than a car accident the circumstances and causes of which are always known, the speed of which allows no time for states of mind or for suspense, the people involved in which belong to the same world, and the reporting of which leaves hardly any room for interpretation?
The journalist Steve Boyer tells a story indicative of the ever greater extravagances to which anecdotes relating to the world of sharks lend themselves. A few years ago, the news agency Associated Press received the following dispatch: 'Is the population boom in seals attracting more sharks?". The question, a banal one, came from a small local newspaper on the west coast, the Santa Barbara News Press. The message was taken up by another paper, this one regional: "More seals may mean more sharks". The next day, another printed on its front page: "Experts declare that the seal population is attracting more and more Great White Sharks... A debate on the causes of the proliferation of the Great White". A few days after the initial dispatch, another paper announced across five columns: 'Great White Sharks infest Santa Barbara waters". We are a long way from the original dispatch by a small local editor, who certainly did not imagine that because of him the tourist trade at his seaside resort would collapse for several months... Not content to follow the generalized attempts to outdo one another, a final newspaper sank into total approximation: 'Sharks and seals attacking divers..." In the journalists' profession, as in many others, everything depends on the ethics one has set oneself: whether to give way to sensationalism or not, whether or not to sacrifice the reality of the facts for the extraordinary stories the public clamors for. It is significant that the very responsible New York Times prints 900,000 copies daily, whereas the newspaper specialising in sordid murders and other small news items, the New York Daily News, is probably all set to do a special issue on the minor threat of shark attacks in the Hudson, and prints 1.5 million copies.
Much more innocuous is the anecdote related by that great specialist David H. Davies. In August 1959, from the bank of the mouth of the River Umgeni near Durban, two fishermen captured an impressive Bull Shark 1.8 meters long and weighing 120 kilos. After having fastened it by the tail to a stout tree stump in a few centimeters of water, they left to inform the people in charge at the Durban aquarium of their catch. The latter were very interested in such a species, known as the most dangerous in the region, and a lorry was sent to bring the shark back.
It was a lifeless body covered with a damp sheet that arrived several hours later at the aquarium, where it was immersed in a tank for observation. To everyone's surprise, a few minutes later the shark was swimming vigorously around the tank, and four remoras had already immediately adopted it as their new "master". This was by far the most spectacular of the fish that had ever stayed at the place, and from the very next day a crowd of visitors began to flock there. For twenty-three days the shark adapted remarkably well, but did not eat. It was only when attempts were made to save a young manta ray of 5 kilos, which had been salvaged from a fishing net and placed dying in the aquarium, that in a cowardly fashion, the shark attacked and swallowed it in one second.
It very quickly became the "Boss" of the aquarium, and its popularity spread. A local newspaper named it Willie, and the name was to stay with him for good. Willie fed irregularly on the pieces of shark or ray flesh that were thrown into the tank but preferred to manage by himself. Throughout the period from September to December, several rare specimens disappeared down Willie's throat, with the exception of four Dusky Sharks and four or five dogfish including one pregnant female. However, the latter was soon cut in
two by Willie, just before her several young were to be born. And then not content with spreading devastation among the animal life around him, from December onwards Willie seemed to take an interest in the divers who regularly carried out routine work in the aquarium. This perhaps had something to do with the rise in water temperature, but knowing the past record of this type of shark in relation to human beings, those in charge were not about to take a risk. The situation was not a simple one, for Willie had become the visitors' most favorite resident by far and the removal of such a specimen would not have been popular. Moreover, if the animal were set free, no doubt all subsequent attacks in the region for years to come were going to be attributed to him. There was also the not inconsiderable problem of how to capture him inside the tank.
I After much serious thought, it was decided, very reluctantly, that Willie had. to be captured and removed. At dawn, for three mornings in succession, several methods of capture proved ineffective. In the end, Willie was brought to the surface with a large triple hook attached to a heavy nylon rope and immediately killed and cut up into pieces which were concealed in several dustbins. By seven in the morning everything was completed, there had been no witnesses to the "murder".
In the half-hour following the opening of the doors to the public, a reporter rushed up, having been informed by a visitor that Willie had disappeared and wanting to gather any information on the event. David Davies, the establishment's Director, decided not to launch forth into details, and revealed that, in actual fact, to everybody's great sadness and utter surprise, Willie had been found dead beneath the surface that same morning, at dawn. The reporter piled on the questions, becoming more and more inquisitive, and finally asked whether an autopsy had at least been ordered. Considering that the ignominious cutting up that had been carried out earlier that morning could be regarded as a post mortem examination, Davies replied that, in fact, the autopsy had indeed been performed. The next question demanded what this had shown, and, as Davies had certainly noticed a slight and commonplace discoloration of one of the lobes of the liver, he pointed this out to the reporter, who, to everyone's relief, finally agreed to leave. The next day, across five columns on the front page, the Durban local printed: "Willie dies suddenly from liver failure".
A CHAPTER OF HISTORY
It was not until 1916 that stories about sharks were to leave the realm of myth and legend to which they had hitherto been confined. For in that year the sensationalists were to have a ball and the morbid to take delight, the stubborn disbelievers were forced to keep silent, the skeptics to become observers, the scientists to ask themselves questions, and the political authorities to wake up. Fanciful speculations would henceforth give way to attempts at objective analysis, even though it would need another sixty years to arrive at the scientific certitudes chronicled in this book.
Saturday lst July 1916, Beach Haven, New Jersey
Charles Van Sant runs towards the beach, eager to plunge into the cool water he has been dreaming of since the beginning of the week. He has only just got off the train from Philadelphia, accompanied by his father and his two sisters whom he was too impatient to wait for. Within minutes of arriving at the hotel, he was in his swimming costume and running out of the foyer. At twenty-three, he will soon no doubt be dragged into the war like so many others but, for the time being, the endless horizon offers itself to him and he plunges with delight into this sea that he loves so much. The sea is calm that day at Beach Haven.
Charles is a strong swimmer and very soon is far out from the beach, going a hundred meters or so beyond the distant barrier. After a few minutes, he decides to return towards the shore, and turns his back on the open sea, as if with regret, now swimming lazily, unhurried as he is to interrupt this first serene and solitary bathe. But he is no longer alone.
Just behind him, tracing a beeline wake beneath a black fin, a gray shadow is catching up with him. It has been seen from the beach, and bathers shout at the swimmer but he doesn't hear. They suddenly stop, speechless and immobile, paralyzed at the sight of the shorter and shorter distance now separating the two silhouettes. Van Sant is still swimming slowly, unable to imagine for a single moment that he might be the target of some deadly pursuit.
It is when he is very close to the shore that the water seethes around him and red foam encircles his body. Immediately, Alexander Ott, a former member of the American Olympic swimming team, dives in and swims faster than he has ever done before. Just as he arrives level with the red stain, the grey shadow turns around menacingly, slowly approaches, then rapidly disappears into the blue waters, leaving Van Sant to the man who has come to rescue him.
Ott manages to bring Charles back to the beach, surrounded by a crowd horrified by the sight of his legs which are cut to shreds. Van Sant dies that evening of haemorrhagic shock.
The grey shadow departed as it had arrived, invisible and mysterious. Nobody could remember a shark ever having killed a swimmer in the past. Perhaps it had happened in the waters of the open south or in Australia, but never in New Jersey. And what about the experts who declared that there had never been any absolutely authenticated case of a shark attacking a swimmer anywhere in the world? Twenty-five years beforehand, a rich New York banker had offered a prize of five hundred dollars to anyone who could prove to him that a swimmer had been attacked by a shark anywhere north of Cape Hatteras. The prize had never been claimed.
Three years earlier, on 26th August 1913, a fisherman had caught a shark off Springlake, in New Jersey. Although a woman's foot with a leather shoe and a stocking had indeed been found in the stomach, this simply appeared to prove that sharks devoured dead bodies, not live swimmers.
6th July 1916, Springlake.
It is five days since Van Sant was killed. over five hundred people are out for a stroll on the beach. It is low tide, and very few swimmers are in the water. Springlake is an elegant and peaceful resort, frequented by all the upper middle class of New York. Senators and governors live close to the shore there in their luxury houses which they like to call "cottages", or in the big hotels, notably the Essex and the Sussex. The talk is neither of the war nor of that lowly young man who died a few days earlier at a rather antiquated resort 80 kilometres away, but about the epidemic of infant paralysis that has been decimating New York for weeks, with twenty-four deaths on 5th July alone.
In the sea of democracy, a bellboy or page is just as good as a billionaire, and that is perhaps why Charles Bruder loves the ocean. When he is not working at the Essex or the Sussex, he often goes for a bathe in the course of the day, and everyone knows him as one of the faces of the town. He is only twenty-eight, but his open nature and his kindness have made him popular with everyone. With his tips, he maintains his only family: his mother who lives in Switzerland.
Bruder is not working on the afternoon of 6th July and, low tide or not, he is determined to go for a bathe. He walks out almost as far as the barrier, talking to and smiling at the clients who recognize him. When the water is up to his waist, he decides to dive and start swimming; he very soon goes beyond the "security lines" which enclose the bathing zone, but White and Anderson, the lifeguards on duty, do not intervene as they would with the majority of bathers, for everyone here knows that Bruder is an excellent swimmer.
A woman's scream echoes on the beach at Springlake and, instinctively, White and Anderson scrutinise the sea. Bruder has disappeared. "He's turned over!" the woman cries out. "The man in the red canoe has turned over!"
She has scarcely started to scream again before White and Anderson have rushed into their dinghy, heading for what is not a red canoe as the panic-stricken woman thinks, but the cloud of blood in the middle of which emerges the dying face of Bruder and, for a brief instant, one of his arms dripping with blood. The boat reaches him and White offers an oar to Bruder who still has the strength to grasp it. They pull him towards them. His face is terribly pale and his eyes are closed. "A shark, a shark's had me, taken both my legs", he still has the strength to moan before losing consciousness. White hoists him over the freeboard, his body does not weigh much. When White and Anderson arrive at the beach, they hesitate to set Bruder down in the midst of the crowd, where several woman have already fainted. There is in any case nothing more that can be done for him.
The switchboards at the Essex and the Sussex telephone all areas and, in a quarter of an hour, all the swimmers have left the water along the thirty-five kilometres of the New Jersey coast.
But was it a shark? Is it true that man-eaters will now plague the region's coasts? The hoteliers, resort officials and gossip columnists all wish to make it known that it cannot have happened, and people start to talk of a turtle or an enormous mackerel to account for Bruder's wounds. All wait anxiously for the verdict of the doctor, Colonel Schauffler. The latter's decision is final: 'There is not the slightest doubt that it is indeed a man-eating shark that has inflicted these injuries on Bruder. The right leg has been torn off, and the bones cut halfway between the knee and the ankle. The left foot has been torn off as well as the lower part of the tibia and of the fibula. The bones are stripped of flesh below the knee, and a deep gash stops in the femur above the knee. On the right side of the abdomen, a piece of flesh the size of a fist is missing."
That night, while a collection is being made for Bruder's mother, motorboats equipped with searchlights are launched for a futile pursuit. The crew members ara armed with guns for patrolling, and fishermen set tens of lines with mutton which is reputed to be the best bait. 'I am certain that two or three days from now the beaches will be safe", Senator Hill declares. Not one shark is captured, shot or even seen.
The day Bruder is killed, twenty-four people die in New York from poliomyelitis, known at that time as 'infantile paralysis", but the newspapers talk only of Bruder. Such are the demands of man's terror and his fascination at the hands of the shark.
In the days following, there is a frenzy of action and unhelpful commentary. At Atlantic City, swimming costumes that do not cover the hands and feet are banned, while at Asbury, with the help of publicity, the installation of a shark-proof metal net around the beach is set in motion. According to a captain of an ocean-going vessel interviewed as an authority in the field, the net is not necessary since it is easy to frighten any shark "by shouting as loud as possible, and by striking the water with one's feet and hands". Everything moving in the water is aimed at, with guns, pistols, spears and oars. Finally, in the midst of this hysterical war, the voice of academic reason makes itself heard when Dr Frederick Lucas, director of the Natural History Museum, declares: 'No shark could skin a human leg like a carrot, for the jaws are not powerful enough to induce injuries like those described by Colonel Schauffler."
The experts having spoken and equivocation having cost 250,000 dollars in loss of revenue for the seaside resorts, there was still hope that this could be made up over the six remaining weeks of the summer, with the final blessing of the fisheries department in Washington. In fact the person in charge there declared that the two attacks were without any doubt attributable to the same shark, which would have been driven to attack Van Sant as it had lost its way far from any zone with plenty of fish; having tasted human flesh, it would have continued swimming near the coasts until satisfying its appetite with Bruder. Doubtless the situation would not recur.
Matawan, again in New Jersey, is a small inland port 16 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, to which it is connected by a narrow creek just a few metres wide at low tide. Its wharves, long since disused, serve as diving-boards every summer for the children of Matawan.
In early July 1916, Rennie Cartan, aged fourteen, dives into the muddy water of Wyckoff Dock. He is scarcely in the water before he feels a whiplash at stomach level, as if he were being violently rubbed with coarse sandpaper. Hastily climbing back on to the quay, he discovers a superficial bleeding wound and warns his companions: "Don't go in! There's a shark or something!". Nobody takes any notice of the warning and the incident is forgotten.
On II th July, a few kilometres away, a fisherman catches a 3 metre shark, something that has never been seen in the region, but no more is spoken of it.
On the morning of 12th July, Captain Cottrell, retired seaman and casual fisherman, is walking along the new bridge which crosses Matawan Creek 1.6 kilometres downstream of Wyckoff Dock. Eleven days have passed since Charles Van Sant died 120 kilometres away, and six days since Charles Bruder was killed 40 kilometres from Matawan. Cottrell suddenly catches sight of a grey shadow gliding sl owly upriver beneath the bridge, carried by the rising tide. He shouts in the direction of two workmen a little farther on, who also see the shadow passing. He then runs to telephone the barber at Matawan, who is also the chief of police, and hurries into the main street warning everybody to stop their children going to the creek where they swim every day. Everyone bursts out laughing at the idea that a shark'could come prowling inland in a creek no more than 12 metres across at its widest point, and Chief Mulsonn does not even leave his barber's shop. Captain Cottrell therefore returns to the creek.
One of the stores that he has forewarned is that belonging to Stanley Fisher, a giant of twenty-four years who has just set up as a dry-cleaner at Matawan, even though he could have followed in his father's footsteps and joined the navy. Many regard it as lamentable that a man so big and strong should content himself with such an occupation, but hasn't he got the future ahead of him to change direction?
That 12th July is decidedly hot, and young Lester Stilwell is impatiently waiting to leave his father's mill where the heat is almost unbearable. His father releases him from work for the afternoon and he immediately goes and joins all his friends on the edges of the creek.
Later that afternoon his friend, eleven years old Albert O'Hara, is about to leave the water when Lester calls to him: "Look at me floating!". Albert turns to him in surprise. Lester is so thin that he usually has difficulty floating without splashing about. At that moment, something hard and rasping barges into Albert's right leg. He looks beneath the water and catches a glimpse of the sinuous tail of an enormous fish. His friend Van Burnt also sees it, the biggest, the blackest he has ever seen. They call Lester, who answers them with a yell. Van Burnt catches sight of the body of the enormous fish turning around as it seizes Lester; it is indeed black above, but it has a white belly and enormous pearly teeth. He is sure now that it is a shark that has just shut its jaws on Lester's frail body and dragged it beneath the reddening waters of Matawan Creek. Lester will never shout again. All, the children dash out of the water, and some run to the village to give the alarm while the others despairingly call Lester.
There is nothing but panic and screaming on the banks where Captain Cottrell took his walk the day before.
Among the adults who are running towards the creek without knowing exactly what has happened is Stanley Fisher, who has taken the time to slip on his swimming costume.
The schoolmistress Anderson warns him: "Remember what Captain Cottrell said, it could be a shark!". Fisher stops for a moment. "A shark? Here?" He seems huge as he stands in front of the schoolmistress, thinking out aloud as if to convince himself. "Too bad, I'm going anyway." He immediately heads for the little creek, where two hundred people are now gathered, including Lester Stilwell's parents. He tells two men to get a boat and tow a stuffed chicken towards the other end of the creek, hoping in this way to lure the monster from the area he himself must search. Fisher knows that there is an underwater cavity in the creek, and he is sure that the shark is hiding there with Lester's body. Once his archaic plan of action is put in place, Fisher plunges towards that hole. When directly above it, he takes two big breaths and then disappears underwater.
The detective Van Buskirk arrives just in time to see Fisher dive. The surface remains calm for about twenty seconds before a big swirl seems to announce Fisher's return to the open air. But instead, the surface becomes calm again and clouds over with a rapidly expanding red stain. Van Buskirk hurries by boat towards the sinister stain, from which Fisher's head, then his chest, slowly emerge. Seen from a distance, Fisher seems to be standing beside the hole, with water reaching to his waist. He turns his back to the crowd, who therefore do not see the spectacle that greets Van Buskirk when he reaches Stanley Fisher. The latter is staggering, holding in both hands the bleeding remnants of one of his legs. Van Buskirk barely has time to grab him by the shoulders before he slumps face downwards. He can only hoist him up by the waist while the helmsman makes a half-turn towards the dock. The crowd then get a view of Fisher as a macabre ship's figurehead. His body is out of the water sufficiently for the hideous wound to be visible. From the hip to the knee, all the flesh has gone from his right leg, which is now only joined to the trunk by the femur, itself deeply gashed along its whole length. Reaching land, Van Buskirk manages with difficulty to stop the flow of blood escaping from the torn femoral artery using a piece of rope. Fisher makes desperate efforts not to sink into unconsciousness, as if he definitely wants to say something. He is taken on a makeshift stretcher to the station, where there is a three-hour wait for the next train. There a doctor manages to ensure that the bleeding from the wounds has been arrested, but a further three hours' traveling is necessary before finally reaching the hospital. Despite his pain Fisher remains conscious until reaching the operating table, where he succeeds in delivering his message. He did find young Lester's body at the spot he had envisaged, and he did manage to snatch it from the jaws of the shark before being attacked himself. Fisher succumbs even before being given the anesthetic.
While Fisher was waiting on the station platform, several boys continued to bathe a kilometer downriver from Matawan Creek, unaware of the drama that had just taken place. When they were at last informed, they all rushed out of the water. Joseph E)unn, the youngest of them, was the last to use the dock ladder at Key Port. As he was starting to climb up, he felt something like a huge pair of scissors lacerate his right leg: "I felt my leg inside the shark's mouth, I thought it was going to swallow me whole." His brother Michael and two other older boys clung on to him in a deadly tug-of-war against the shark, which refused to release its hold. They tore open Joseph Dunn's flesh but saved his life. The shark finally released its victim, the third in less than an hour, and the only one to escape with his. life even though he had to have his leg amputated at the thigh.
The tragedy was followed by one of the most intensive shark hunts ever seen. Hundreds of volunteers flocked in. After the creek had been shut off with metal nets, hundreds of kilos of dynamite were set off everywhere where the shark could have hidden itself, but nothing significant was caught. Even small craft fitted with cannons for harpooning whales were brought in. Several sharks were caught here and there, immediately stuffed and put on show for the public, in return for their participation. Meanwhile, Lester's body was recovered a hundred metres from the spot where he had disappeared, bearing seven wounds including two to the abdomen.
Two days after these events, Michael Schleisser, a taxidermist, captured a shark 2.6 meters long off South Amboy, six kilometres north of Raritan Bay. When he opened it up, he found seven kilos of flesh and bones, very quickly identified as of human origin, in its stomach. Among the remains was part of a bone apparently belonging to Charles Bruder attacked nine days earlier. Schleisser mounted the shark skin so as to exhibit it and it was definitively identified as a Great White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias. Following this capture, the attacks immediately ceased, confirming that this shark was a loner, the one and only perpetrator of the five attacks.
There was no lack of theories to explain this phenomenon. Some people claimed that it was the time of the year for sharks. Others suggested that the beast must have been suffering from a kind of mange in the way dogs do, when they can be driven mad by it. It was also thought that because of the war sharks were no longer finding the usual food that was thrown overboard from liners, and were falling back on other sources. Recent maritime disasters had also perhaps given these unscrupulous predators a taste for human flesh.
Whatever the real reason may have been, these events demonstrated for the first time the destructive power of a shark capable of attacking man.
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