The New Jersey Shark

These shark attacks took place in 1916, in a time where little was known about sharks of any kind, and some scientists even claimed that sharks were not dangerous at all. This is one of the very few cases of real “man eating sharks” known, with most shark attacks being isolated incidents. It all happened along the coast of New Jersey; the first victim was a young man named Charles Vansant who was attacked in very shallow water while swimming with a dog; several people, including his family, witnessed the attack, and a lifeguard rushed to rescue the young man. The shark was extremely tenacious and seemingly followed the lifeguard to the shore, disappearing shortly after. The shark’s teeth had severed Vansant’s femoral arteries and one of his legs had been stripped off its flesh; he bled to death before he could be taken to a hospital. Five days later, another man, Charles Bruder, was attacked by the same shark while swimming away from the shore. At first it was reported by a witness that a red canoe had capsized; in reality, the “red canoe” was a giant stain of Bruder’s blood. The shark had bitten off his legs. He was dragged back to the shore, where the sight of his mangled body seemingly “caused women to faint”, but it was too late; he was dead by the time he got to the beach.

Although sharks had been seen in the area during those few days, scientists who were informed of the attacks claimed that sharks were unlikely to be responsible, and said that the culprit had probably been a killer whale or a sea turtle! The next attacks took place not in the sea, but in a creek near the town of Matawan. Again, people reported seeing a shark in the creek, but they were ignored until, on July 12, an eleven year old boy was attacked while swimming and dragged underwater. Several townspeople rushed to the creek, and a man named Stanley Fisher dove into the water to find the boy’s remains, but he too was attacked by the shark and died of his wounds. The final victim was another young boy barely 30 minutes after the attack on Stanley Fisher. Although he was severely injured, he was the only victim to survive.

On July 14, a young female Great White Shark was captured in the Raritan Bay near the Matawan Creek. It is said that human remains were found in her stomach. But, although this shark was usually thought to be the man eater, not everyone is convinced. Today, scientists believe that, although the female Great White shark may have been responsible for the first two attacks, the Matawan creek attacks were probably the work of a Bull Shark. Unlike the Great White Shark, the Bull Shark can survive in fresh water, and is an extremely aggressive species, considered by some as even more dangerous than the Great White. Even so, this was the beginning of the Great White Shark’s terrible reputation as a man eater. Once confirmed that the Jersey attacks had been the work of a shark, there was media frenzy and a shark panic “unrivaled in American history”. The incidents inspired Peter Benchley’s most famous novel, Jaws, which would later be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg. Even today, lots of people who saw the movie are terrified of going into the water, and it all started in 1916.

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