Newswise – A recent shark attack left a young fisherman,who was standing in the ocean fishing with live bait, withone leg missing. Despite this, biologists insist that sharksare not nearly as dangerous as they seem and that thethriller Jaws gave them a bad reptuation that doesn’t fitthe facts. Shark expert George Burgess says that the movie’sportrayal, 30 years ago, of a great white shark as avengeful predator, set into motion the slaughter of sharksthemselves.

“Back in 1975 when the movie came out, many of us whostudied sharks sort of gasped at some of the inaccuracies[in the film],” he says. After Jaws, dozens of shark fishingtournaments began popping up along the East Coast, part of agrowing shark-hunting trend that has dramatically reducednearly all shark species. “Shark fishing became a popularrecreational fishing activity for testosterone-bolsteredmales who wanted to have their pictures taken with theirfeet on the heads of ‘maneaters’ and to have jaws on theirmantles,” Burgess says. In the waters off the US easternseaboard, many species of sharks have dropped by 50% percentand some have fallen by as much as 90%. As shark populationshave declined, scientist realized that they still need tolearn more about these creatures?while they have thechance.

One of the movie’s biggest errors was attributing one attackto a shark of the genus Squalus, which in reality is a spinydogfish shark with tiny teeth that grows no bigger than 3feet long and almost never attacks a human. Burgess says,”We have one attack in the International Shark Attack Filewhere somebody was washing his hands over the side of a boatand a shark came up and probably thought it was a piece offilet going overboard and nipped a guy’s finger. This is thegeneric equivalent of your pussycat being accused ofconsuming a human being after nipping a finger.”

When Burgess showed this Jaws seguence to a group of sharkscientists in Pennsylvania several years ago, their laughter”brought the house down.” Another episode in the movieshowed marine biologist Richard Dreyfuss single-handedlyperforming anautopsy on one of the shark victims. Burgess says, “It’svery interesting that a marine biologist would be doing anautopsy at all. As a guy who studies shark attacks, I’mfrequently involved in autopsies, but I don’t perform any. Ionly consult with the medical professionals.”

But the movie’s greatest mistake is to portray sharks asvengeful creatures that can remember a particular humanbeing and go after him.

Burgess says, “The difference [between sharks and land-basedpredators] is that a high-powered rifle in the hand of ahuman being equalizes all land critters, even chargingelephants, while humans are no match for sharks in the sea.The irony is if humans sit in a boat and put a hook in thewater, sharks, which as efficient predators are quick tograb the bait, are highly vulnerable.”

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