Terrifying shark attacks and real story behind inspiration for Jaws and Meg

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Terrifying shark attacks and real story behind inspiration for Jaws and Meg
Terrifying shark attacks and real story behind inspiration for Jaws and Meg

Meg 2: The Trench hits cinemas today as Jason Statham once again faces down a megalodon - the prehistoric shark that's much bigger and scarier than the great white shark in Jaws.

It's been almost five decades since the best-selling novel Jaws instilled a fear of sharks in readers, with the book having prompted the blockbuster film that did the same.

The novel - which was published in 1974 - was written by Peter Benchley. The late author also worked on the screenplay for the film adaptation that was released the following year and had been directed by Steven Spielberg.

It was believed that the novel had been inspired by a series of shark attacks that were reported off the coast of New Jersey in around 1916. They took place in a resort town, similar to the fictional Amity that's the setting of the book.

Terrifying shark attacks and real story behind inspiration for Jaws and Meg rriddqixxiqezinvJaws (1975), which was based on the novel of the same name, influenced a fear of sharks among viewers (Getty Images)
Terrifying shark attacks and real story behind inspiration for Jaws and MegThe best-selling novel was written by author Peter Benchley, who worked on the screenplay too (Hulton Archive)

According to Smithsonian Magazine, concern began in the community when a shark sunk its teeth in Charles Vansant, 25. He was said to have been swimming off the coast of Beach Haven on the summer evening that he was attacked.

Teen girl mauled to death by shark in front of her friends in horrendous attackTeen girl mauled to death by shark in front of her friends in horrendous attack

Charles was pulled ashore by a lifeguard at the beach though he reportedly quickly bled to death. Following the incident, there were other reported instances of apparent sharks attacks in other areas along the coast of the state.

Just days after his death, another man, Charles Bruder, is said to have met a similar fate in Spring Lake, miles away from Beach Haven. The same shark is believed to have then travelled a further 30 miles north into Matawan Creek.

And it was there that the marine creature is said to have attacked Lester Stillwell, 11, who was playing in the creek. A man named Watson Stanley Fisher is said to have attempted to save Lester, but was fatally injured himself.

Terrifying shark attacks and real story behind inspiration for Jaws and MegThere are said to have been a series of attacks in New Jersey in around 1916, with the photo reportedly showing the suspected shark responsible

The apparent fifth victim is said to have been teenager Joseph Dunn. He was bitten less than an hour later, but fortunately survived. A single shark, believed to have been responsible for the incidents, is said to have later been caught.

Discussing the incidents with the outlet, ichthyologist George Burgess said that communities didn't initially believe it was a shark attacking people. He further commented that knowledge of sharks was limited at the time of the incidents.

George - who was the curator of the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) at the Florida Museum of Natural History - said some communities put up fences on beaches. Others are said to have offered rewards for anyone could catch it.

He added that, according to articles at the time, it was believed that the shark responsible for the attacks was caught in the area. It's said to have been subsequently been put on display in a shop in neighbouring state New York.

Terrifying shark attacks and real story behind inspiration for Jaws and MegIt was decades later that the beloved film about a great white shark terrified viewers (Universal Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Images)

Jaws' author however denied that the incidents inspired his best-selling novel. It was reported that he had denied that attacks off the coast of New Jersey in 1916 inspired the book in a correction to two New York Times articles in 2001.

As reported by BBC News, Peter once said on BBC Radio 4 's Front Row show that the inspiration for the book was actually a fisherman who caught a 4,550lb great white shark off the coast of Long Island ten years prior to its publication.

Peter reportedly shared on the radio show that he had seen an article in a newspaper back in 1964 about the fisherman catching the shark. He said: "And I thought right then 'what if one of these things came round and wouldn't go away?'"

Hero desperately tried to save girl, 16, killed by shark in front of friendsHero desperately tried to save girl, 16, killed by shark in front of friends

The film adaptation in particular is believed to have affected the perception of sharks and influenced subsequent films, like The Meg (2018) and it's sequel Meg 2: The Trench that is released in cinemas today. They are however loosely based on Steve Alten's novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, which was published in 1997.

Terrifying shark attacks and real story behind inspiration for Jaws and MegThe film has since influenced others like The Meg (2018) and its sequel Meg 2: The Trench (2023) (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Jon Turteltaub - who directed the first instalment in the Meg film series - told Yahoo! Entertainment back in 2018 that he wanted to pay homage to Jaws (1975). The director told the outlet: "There are Jaws references in [the] movie."

The sequel's director, Ben Wheatley, told Screen Rant : "I've probably watched Jaws every year since [I was a kid]. It's not just the greatest shark film of all time, but one the greatest films of all time. So, I take a lot of influence from that."

Although there's still concerns about shark attacks, experts suggest they aren't common. The ISAF reports that last year it confirmed 57 "unprovoked" shark bites on humans, with five of them fatal. It said there were 32 "provoked" bites.

Dr. Robert Latour, professor of marine science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, told CBS News recently: "Encounters with sharks are extremely rare. An individual is far more likely to be struck by lightning than to be bitten by a shark."

And discussing the idea of a 'rogue shark' attacking multiple people, ichthyologist George told Smithsonian Magazine in 2012 that isn't likely. He stated at the time that shark attacks are generally considered "one-off kind of events."

Joel Leaver

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