Shark Thrillers as Old as Time – The Tales We Told before Jaws

unnamedMareike Dornhege is currently finishing up her PhD on shark fisheries in Japan. She is based in Tokyo at Sophia University and after seeing no sharks many times were there should be sharks on reefs all around the world she wanted to dig deeper and find out when we lost them, why and where. She is trying to reconstruct baselines by looking at the history of sharks and humans, talking to old fishermen and of course modern data as well. And she really loves going on that shark-feeding dive about 90 minutes south of Tokyo!
The latest shark thriller The Shallows just hit theaters—coincidentally with Shark Week around the corner – and is latest in a long line of shark thrillers. In the grand, yet predictable fashion of movies like Deep Blue Sea, The Reef or Open Water, it fuels our fear of the sleek ocean predators that was first awakened by the mother of all shark movies, Jaws, in 1975. Or, was it? It is only since the Jaws theme that got stuck in our heads, even if we are just paddling around in a swimming pool at dusk, and images of dangling legs under water, that we got so irrationally scared and obsessed with the well-designed teeth of these fish after all, right?

Actually no. During my research on the history of shark and men I came across some hair-raising anecdotes of monster sharks from the Caribbean and man-hunting mantas that are just a bit older. A few centuries that is. This fishermen’s yarn must be the pre-digital equivalent of this youtube video of a megalodon shark caught on tape, real mermaids, and dragon footage. Let’s look at what they say and then at what the real science behind these stories is.

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