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Get to Know the History Behind Shark Week

Our national fear of sharks began 101 years ago, right here in New Jersey.


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From movies like Jaws in 1975, Deep Blue Sea in 1999 and more recently, The Shallows in 2016, our fear of sharks is nothing new.

New Jersey is known as the Garden State, but most people don’t  know that the history of sharks and their attacks can be attributed to our great state as well.

It all began in 1916

101 years ago people didn’t fear sharks like they do now. According to a shark report on NPR, people thought of them as fish who had no real interest in humans for lunch. This all changed during the summer of 1916 when a 25-year-old man was attacked while swimming at night (you know you should never do this, right?), then rescued and brought to shore where he died shortly after. The shark soon struck again in Spring Lake, where it killed another young man.

The same shark then made its way to Matawan Creek, a tidal body of brackish water in Monmouth County two miles inland from New York Bay (that’s right, it was in a river). The 8-foot shark attacked and killed an 11-year-old boy named Lester Stillwell who was floating on his back, swimming with friends. 24-year-old Stanley Fischer came to help but as he pulled up Stillwell’s body, Fischer was bitten on his leg and died hours later at the hospital.One more victim was bitten a half-hour later but luckily survived.

Fishermen found and netted the shark in the lower part of New York Bay, where the fish and its stomach contents (including human bones) were then displayed in the window of local newspaper office attracting thousands of people

What you need to know:

The shark attacks of 1916 were unusual, and the Matawan Creek shark’s rogue predatory behavior was more than likely the result of being sick or injured or otherwise unwell. And don’t worry—your chances of being struck by lightning, injured in a hunting accident, or attacked by a domestic dog are statistically higher than your chances of being injured by a shark, according to the Smithsonian. (Whew.) Still, you can take a few precautions to avoid any unpleasant encounters:

  • Never swim at night, dawn or dusk, when sharks are more active.

  • Avoid entering the water if you are bleeding because blood is easily detectable to the creatures.

  • Always swim in a group.

  • Don’t swim out too far from shore.

Check out more shark attack prevention tips from the Florida Museum of Natural History.

This year’s Shark Week is bigger than ever as Olympian Michael Phelps takes on a Great White Shark to see who can swim faster. After that spectacular event, watch shows about the nature and life of sharks like “Dancing With the Sharks” and “How to Survive A Shark Attack”.

Learn more about sharks during Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, airing all week!

 
 
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