Peter Benchley sure did a number on sharks.
Fact is, the author of "Jaws" has been largely responsible for making fear of being attacked by a shark the second greatest terror known to mankind. (Interestingly, the first is the more sanguine angst about standing before a live audience to speak.) And yet, Benchley's widow, environmentalist Wendy Benchley, told me when I interviewed her, "Peter regretted writing 'Jaws'. He created a monster that simply doesn't exist."
As an author, I didn’t know much about sharks when I began looking into the true story of Nicole Moore, a nurse from Canada, who was visiting Cancun, Mexico where she was brutally, savagely attacked twice by a bull shark. She very nearly died. She had to have her entire left arm amputated to save her life. She continues to experience physical challenges to this day, nine years later.
In researching the story, I interviewed three of the world's foremost shark specialists to determine how this awful event could have occurred. Their knowledge helped me understand that sharks don’t like eating people. Fish, birds, other sea creatures, etc. go down well, but not humans. From these authorities, here's what else I learned: you are more likely to be struck by a bolt of lightning than you are to be attached by a shark. Seriously. You are more likely to win the lottery than be attacked by a shark. In fact, you are more likely to die from taking a selfie than die from a shark attack.
The specialists took me to school on sharks and with their help, I became somewhat of an expert myself on the more than 440 known species of sharks across all the seas on earth. I was also able to use the equivalent of forensic narrative to re-create just why Nicole was so brutally attacked on that awful, very rare day in January.
Today, it's fascinating to look at our sustainability within climate change, and see how so much of our ocean life – including sharks – are at risk. National Geographic reports that 100 million sharks are brutally, illegally slaughtered every year for shark fin soup. As my friend Dr. Peter Sale, a marine ecologist who has seen firsthand the degradation of coral reefs during the course of his working life, tells me sharks are the police of the seas: they keep order down there. Without them, it would be chaos.
Now you know why Peter Benchley regretted creating his tale about sharks: the horrible attacks he wrote about simply don't stand up to scrutiny.
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