The shark attacks that inspired JAWS

“In the summer of 1916, panic struck the Jersey Shore,” reads the opening sentence of this Smithsonian magazine article. No, the panic was not caused by the arrival of overly tanned, puffed-hair and muscular visitors, but instead by shark attacks in the waters off the shore. During that summer, a shark attacked five victims. In an interview with George Burgess, a shark-attack expert in charge of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History (sounds like a role for Nicolas Cage), he explains that when these attacks happened people thought a sea turtle was responsible before the press ultimately identified it as a great white.

This episode would go on to eventually revolutionize the film industry. The social terror that the shark triggered that summer in 1916 inspired the author Peter Benchley as he researched the material that would result in his bestselling book Jaws. The book in turn was adapted into the Steven Spielberg-directed film JAWS. The film then became the bellwether for the concept of a tentpole summer blockbuster film and ultimately influence the artist M.I.A.

If you’re looking for more thrillers on the beach, then tune in to Sundance Channel on Thursday, August 30 at 10 PM to watch Leo DiCaprio in the thriller THE BEACH.

Photo credit: Smithsonian and Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic