Once upon a time, in a world of polyester blends and disco infernos, there was an event that forever changed the way society perceives the ocean. It began simply as an evening of thrills but has since evolved into an international phenomenon. Decades later, you will be hard pressed to visit the ocean without hearing a reference to it. People were afraid to even sit in a tub of water at home (Really, people? I wish that was a joke). The musical score, particularly the intro, is one of the most recognized set of chords on the planet (and it’s my ringtone). Of course, I am talking about the movie Jaws. What tends to be the most surprising part of this oceanic apocalypse? Much to the shock of the general public, animal care and zoological professionals love Jaws. Okay, “love” doesn’t quite encompass the depth of our enthusiasm for this movie. We are obsessed super fans with a level of devotion that rivals a Justin Bieber tween stalker.
“I’m not going to waste my time arguing with a man who’s lining up to be a hot lunch.” ~ Hooper
Over the years of my career, many of which were spent as an aquarist, people have been surprised to hear how much I love this movie. Typically, the general public feels that Jaws levied a great disservice to the shark species and many of us felt that way as well… in the beginning…when we were ten. We grappled with our instant love for this classic piece as did the author of the book, Peter Benchley (we’ll talk more about Mr. Benchley later). I will be honest, our “grappling” ended years ago and those of us in our mid-30’s and older have been able to watch the evolution of the general perceptions of sharks slowly (oh, so slowly) change. Honestly, even if the film depicted sharks as ravenous revenge machines hell bent on eating rich, pale children (that little Kintner boy) you have to admit one thing; it jump started discussions about sharks on a global scale. This is a discussion that sorely needed to be started and absolutely needs to be continued. So, my advice is that once you realize how pivotal this movie was to bringing sharks to your front door, succumb to your love of Jaws and let your inner freak flag fly!
“Here lies the body of Mary Lee; died at the age of a hundred and three. For fifteen years she kept her virginity; not a bad record for this vicinity.” ~ Quint
So, how does our passion for Jaws manifest itself into our normal lives outside of work? Oh, it’s endless. We are all generally complete nerds at heart so the most visual way we display our love is through costume. Show me an animal care specialist (zoo, aquarium, or trainers) and I will show you someone who loves to cosplay. We attack any genre we are passionate about with cosplay as the proverbial fat kid does a cupcake with his gluttony. There are Quint costumes, Chief Brody, Ellen Brody and her stunning black bathing suit or bell bottom/blue bandana combo, Alex Kintner’s mother in her funeral regalia, Hooper, and Mayor Larry Vaughn in that God-awful anchor blazer. This group revolves around someone in a shark costume and they are available for beings of all shapes and sizes. Bonus points go to the master craftsman who is able to incorporate a nictitating membrane! I mean it, we are serious about costumes and we are not above incorporating our pets and children. Seriously, sometimes just for funsies, you need to dress up like a shark.
“Come on into the water!” ~ Christine “Chrissie” Watkins, aka the “Original Shark Bait”
We also buy anything original that is shark related. No, I don’t mean posters or ridiculous figurines. I said “original”, not tacky, so please stop buying that stuff for us. You’re welcome, zoo professionals, I said it for you. Typically we will clamor for bags, shirts, pillows, cups, or something that hits us as unique; something non-Jaws fanatics would look at and pass by but we couldn’t live without. The minute another fan sees what you have they are immediately jealous and demand to know where you bought it. That gigantic shark sleeping bag that looks like it’s eating you? Got it. The shark backpack that cost 3 times a normal bag would? Mine. That discontinued Hurley® sweater with a shark jaw stitched on the front? Hanging in my closet. We also love anything witty that relates to sharks and portrays them as superior beings, because they are. This is currently my favorite shark cartoon… “The dolphin was all like ‘Whaaa?’”. Gets me every time!
“He ate the light.” ~ Hooper
We also love to throw a good Jaws themed party. I lucked out and currently live in an area where some of the larger and fancier movie theaters play the movie from time to time. It is simply awesome to go to modern theaters and watch it “old school” style. When I lived on the island, a married couple had a Jaws party every year and we would float in the canal behind their house, watching the movie on a homemade movie screen. Pay no mind that it was in the worst place (deep canal off of the Gulf), during the worst time of year (shark pupping season), and at the worst time of day (twilight) to be paddling around the canals. Say this with me, kids… “Bull Sharks”. Pssshh… If you drink enough Jägermeister and Cuervo you tend not to care about these things. YOLO! If you are just puttering around at home, no party in sight, and Jaws comes on the telly? One simply does not turn off Jaws, you might as well sit down and call it a day. One thing I can guarantee, whether you are floating drunk in the canal with a dozen friends wearing shark water wings or home with the shark cat riding a Roomba®, you will most definitely sing a few rounds of… wait for it…
“Show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I wanna go to bed.
Well, I had a little drink about an hour ago and it’s gone right to my head.
Wherever I may roam, by land or sea or foam,
You can always hear me singing this song,
Show me the way to go home…”
All jokes aside, Jaws has had a huge impact on raising awareness for sharks and their plights; awareness leads to funding and research. Thanks to the valiant efforts of our zoos and aquariums, biologists, naturalists, and wildlife experts we have been able to help society understand how important sharks are to our oceans. In turn, that also helps us relate how their extermination could lead to our existence being compromised. Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, somberly expressed regret at the effects he felt the book (and movie) had on the public’s perceptions of sharks. However, fiction is for enjoyment and he soon rallied against the entity that causes the true damage to our ability to empathize with the shark; the local and international media.
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” ~ Brody
Towards the end of his career, Benchley wrote non-fiction works that “illustrate how hype and news sensationalism can help undermine the public’s need to understand marine ecosystems and the potential negative consequences as humans interact with it.” He was a member of the National Council of Environmental Defense and a spokesman for their Ocean Program, as well as a founding member of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI). He was often quoted as saying, “The shark in an updated Jaws could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim; for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.” I agree, however change is on the horizon and a large catalyst for that change was his book. Would you like a strong comparison for how perceptions can change in just a few decades? Check out who also had their own horror movie in the 70’s and was perceived as a ghastly creature to be feared, an expendable nuisance to be eradicated. We were so desensitized to their place in the ecosystem that they were used for target practice.
“Back home we got a taxidermy man. He gonna have a heart attack when he see what I brung him!” ~ Quint
So, my friends, if you weren’t a Jaws fanatic before now I hope I have planted the seed. We are a unique bunch, us marine biology folk, and a deep-rooted love for this movie is a bond we share. We quote it, we sing the songs, we wait with baited breath for the Great White to break the surface behind Chief Brody as he carelessly chums the water and smokes his cigarette. We adore Quint, the “quintessential” sea dog, and can never get enough of his banter with Hooper. We all secretly wish that Mayor Vaughn had been eaten while wearing that awful anchor print sport coat. “Half-assed autopsy of a fish..”? He deserved to die just for the wasting the opportunity to say “necropsy”.
Also, as an afterthought, has anyone ever told you that the guy who played the doomed Alex Kintner is named Jeffrey Voorhees? And he dies in the water as a little boy, just like another J. Voorhees we all know and love? Hmmm… I sense shenanigans and conspiracies!
Until next time and instead of my usual “Hugs and Fishes”, I leave you with this one last earworm…
“Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies,
Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain.
For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston,
And so nevermore shall we see you again.”