47 years later, Spielberg says he regrets the effect “Jaws” had on sharks

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Months after “Jaws” came out in June 1975, it became the highest-grossing thriller of all time. Critics still rank director Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster as one of the most influential pictures in film history.

However, Spielberg says he still worries about another legacy of “Jaws.” In a BBC Radio interview published on Sunday, Spielberg said he feels responsible for the decimation of sharks in the decades since the film’s release.

“I still fear…that the sharks are somewhat angry with me for the mad sword hunters’ feeding frenzy that happened after 1975,” said Spielberg, 76.

“I am really sorry about that,” he added.

According to a study published by Nature, the number of sharks and rays worldwide declined by more than 71 percent between 1970 and 2018. A 2013 study estimated that 100 million sharks They kill annually. Last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said that 37 percent of sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.

Some say “Jaws” influenced this downward trend. Chris Lowe, director of the shark lab at California State University Long Beach, said the film It made people view sharks as malicious towards humans.

“‘Mand Jaws’ was kind of a turning point,” Lowe said. “It made people think very negatively about sharks, which made them very easy to overfish.”

Over the years, researchers have documented some negative portrayals of sharks in movies like “Jaws.” A 2021 study concluded that 96 percent of movies have depicted sharks animals as a threat. Last year, the Florida Museum of Natural History reported that sharks killed 11 people worldwide.

Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Shark Research Program, said Spielberg may be too self-critical. While Naylor notes that “Jaws” sparked an interest in sharks, he believes people would have caught and sold them regardless.

“I don’t think he should be dismayed that he caused everyone to start commercial hunting for them,” Naylor said. There was a reaction to the movie from a few people who just wanted to catch some sharks. But this was happening long before the song “Jaws” came out.

Spielberg directed other projects before “Jaws,” but the movie was his first. When he was 27 years old, Spielberg adapted Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel. The film follows residents of a New England coastal town who catch a great white shark that kills swimmers. “Jaws” collected $100 million in 59 days and later surpassed “The Godfather” as the highest-grossing film worldwide – a record it held until the advent of “Star Wars” two years later.

Spielberg has since produced dozens of blockbusters, including “ET the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Schindler’s List.” However, he said the legacy of “Jaws” bothered him.

“I really, to this day, regret the sharks that died because of the book and the movie,” Spielberg told the BBC. (Benchley, who wrote the novel “Jaws” in 2000, has said he also feels somewhat responsible for the suffering of great white sharks.)

Lowe said he believes “Jaws” sparked the proliferation of shark fishing tournaments. When other species became endangered in the 1980s, Lowe said, people overfished sharks with little resistance from the public.

“It made it easier for people to say, You know what? The word ‘shark’ had that connotation, and people were less compelled to protect it,” Lowe said.

Naylor agrees with the expanding popularity of “Jaws” sharks, including demand for shark fin soup in the 1990s. But he said Jaws had become a scapegoat for a problem which people created.

“People have hunted sharks for a long time,” Naylor said. “And sharks have been afraid of them for a long time.”

But Lowe said the stereotypes surrounding sharks are diminishing. In the past decade, he said, the majority of his students have done research on sharks to protect them.

“I don’t think it had the same impact it had on my generation,” Lowe said of “Jaws”. “They were starting to see it as, ‘Well, this was more about entertainment, and less about really letting us know what sharks are about. “

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