Steven Spielberg Really Regrets Shark Population Decimation After ‘Jaws’
Award-winning film director Steven Spielberg told a BBC radio host that he “really regrets” the decimation of the shark population, prompted in part by his horrific portrayal of the fish in his 1975 film Jaws.
Sport fishing boomed after the hit film, which tells the story of a vengeful, massive white shark attacking a coastal New York town and the anglers who come to kill it. Spielberg used a mechanical shark in the film.
Spielberg was asked by presenter Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs podcast on Sunday if he would fear sharks if he lived on a desert island.
“One of the things I still fear [is] not being eaten by a shark, but that sharks are kind of mad at me for the feeding frenzy of crazy sport fishermen that happened after 1975,” Spielberg said.
“I truly regret and still regret the decimation of the shark population due to the [‘Jaws’] book and movie. I really, really regret that,” he added.
Peter Benchley, who wrote the 1974 book on which Spielberg’s film was based, has publicly apologized for his role in the sharp decline in shark populations.
George Burgess, director of Florida’s Shark Research Program in Gainesville, told the BBC years ago that the book and film sparked a “collective testosterone rush” among anglers that “swept through the US East Coast”.
“Thousands of fishermen set out to catch trophy sharks after seeing ‘Jaws,'” Burgess.
“Jaws was a turning point for great white sharks,” Oliver Crimmen, who has been fish curator at the Natural History Museum in London for more than 40 years, told the BBC.
“I actually saw a big shift in public and scientific perceptions of sharks when Peter Benchley’s book Jaws was published and subsequently made into a film,” added Crimmen.
Burgess estimates that the number of large sharks along the US East Coast has declined by 50% in the years since Jaws was published.
Research by the biologist Dr. Julia Baum found that between 1986 and 2000 there was a population decline of 89% in hammerheads, 79% in great whites and 65% in tiger sharks in the Northwest Atlantic. This was due to both sport fishing and commercial fishing.
Consequently, after the publication of his book, Benchley spent time campaigning for shark rescue.
“‘Jaws’ was pure fiction,” Benchley told the London Daily Express in 2006. “With the knowledge that I know now, I could never write this book today.”
Sharks “don’t target humans, and they certainly don’t hold grudges,” according to Benchley, as portrayed in his book and film.
“There’s no such thing as a renegade man-eating shark with a taste for human flesh,” added Benchley.
The world shark population is in a “rapid decline,” the World Wildlife Fund has warned. Many species of fish that date back to the time of the dinosaurs are “critically endangered,” the organization notes.
Spielberg’s latest film, The Fabelmans, focuses on people. It is the largely true story of his own childhood and introduction to filmmaking.
Spielberg dubbed the already acclaimed film “$40 million therapy,” adding, “I really didn’t know what I was doing other than responding to a need I had.”
Spielberg said he struggled making the film as it brought up vivid memories of his youth. “It was a tightrope walk for a while,” he said of filmmaking.
When asked by Laverne if he got emotional during filming, he replied, “Yes, I did. I did. Oh my god I did.”
Watch the Jaws trailer calling sharks “devils” here: