Hooper: “It doesn’t make much sense for a guy who hates the water to live on an island either.”
Brody: “It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.”
A Great White Shark attacks and kills several people across the Cornish coast, such was the cut and thrust of my 1987 mini-epic, Jaws V, written in my English lessons at school.
A lifelong fan of all the movies my 12 year old self was thrilled to continue the franchise and bring Ellen, Mike and the other Brody’s along to England with Hoagie (Michael Caine’s character from Jaws the Revenge) in tow, as well as the return of one Matt Hooper (clearly following the movies as he was consumed in the original Peter Benchley novel).
It’s something I still have tucked away in the loft somewhere but the idea of a Great White being spotted in Cornwall always seemed a massive flight of fantasy for many who read it at the time, whereas for me it was the next logical step after the shark turned up in the Bahamas in Jaws the Revenge.
In the intervening years though such a possibility has become less horror fiction and more the shape of fins to come. Famously in 1999, 2003, 2007 and seemingly every subsequent summer since The Sun and other national papers spark a shark frenzy as they claim that several people have spotted a Great White Shark off the Cornwall coast, this obviously felt like my sequel prophecy coming true.
With headlines such as ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’, The Sun isn’t exactly as reliable a source as something like the National Geographic (like to prove that wouldn’t you) and whilst the images are indeed interesting, in the same way that many Alien Big Cat sightings in the UK are, many of the sightings are coming from otherwise reliable, upstanding citizens such as Policemen and local fishermen. In fact if you were to believe The Sun, Great White Sharks are now “patrolling Britain’s shores!”
But it isn’t just The Sun, of course you expect The Mirror, The Daily Mail and Daily Star as well, but even The Daily Telegraph has entered the fray with such headlines as ‘Great White Shark fear’. And reported sightings aren’t just in Cornwall, they are in Devon and Norfolk. Mauled carcasses washed up on UK shores of dolphin attacked by large predators only add further potential evidence of something lurking in the water.
After video footage emerged in July 2007, experts who commented on it, esteemed people such as the Natural History Museum’s Fish Curator Oliver Crimmen, and the Shark Trust’s Richard Pierce, said that the animal in the video looked like a large shark and a Great White could not be ruled out.
So could this be the first of many following their traditional food source? For some years now, many species that are also the Great White Shark’s prey have been observed migrating farther north—possibly because the sea around the UK is getting warmer, therefore. Is it not inevitable that the Great Whites will follow in their wake?
But there is other compelling evidence that a Great White off our coast isn’t so far-fetched. When you think of the UK you don’t think of it as a haven for sharks, but it is thought that around 21 species of shark call the coastal waters of Britain home, although many are plankton eaters, such as the Basking Shark.
But bonafide killers do lurk on the list, such as the Blue Shark, which has been held responsible for numerous worldwide deaths. More disconcerting still is that our waters are also frequented by both the Porbeagle and Mako, both of which look like smaller versions of the Great White for a reason, they are both first cousins, and again are on the list known as man-eaters.
And Oceanic White Tips were spotted by a Cornish fisherman in 2011, they are infamous killers in deep water, especially in plane crashes and ship sinkings. Forever linked with Jaws these are the sharks that attacked the crew of the torpedoed SS Indianapolis that forms the basis for Quint’s chilling monologue.
It may come as a further surprise then that the UK has already seen its first shark attacks, two, one in Poole in Dorset and the other in Cork in Scotland, both were non-lethal and they are, up until now the only recorded shark attacks in the UK since records began in 1847.
Of course when it comes to Great White Shark attacks we think of such shark hotspots as South Africa, Australia and California, and you’d be right, but the oceans number one predator has also preyed on mankind much closer to home, in a place frequented by many Brits, the Med.
To the millions who use the beaches and the clear blue sea this may come as something of a shock, but it is a renowned breeding ground for them. Like the fictional Amity Island though the Med isn’t really going to want to actively promote such a fact. Such facts as that between 1909 and the 1990s there were some 40 people attacked in the Med by a Great White, 18 of which were fatal and whose bodies were never found.
The Med is a warm stretch of ocean I hear you say, not like in the UK. Then consider the Russian port of Vladivostok which in 2011 recorded its first ever Great White Shark attack.
We do, naturally, have to put all of this shark attack business in some kind of context and yes more people do die from snake bites and bee stings than they do shark attacks, that maybe but those words are scant consolation if you are the one staring down the snout of what Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) called the ‘perfect killing machine’.
In investigating over 70 claimed Jaws UK sightings and encounters the Shark Trust Chairman, Richard Peirce, has found less than 10% remain credible. In 2007 he was quoted as saying: “Whilst there is no reason why these animals should not be found in British waters there is no concrete evidence to support their presence…(but) if we can prove Great White Sharks are occasional vagrant visitors to UK waters then this may be nothing new, they could have been visiting here for tens of thousands of years.”
Perhaps then this apex predator isn’t absent it is just, as yet, unrecorded. All of this makes that once 12 year old boy pleased but also fearful of the water, still this is no matter as ‘Jaws’ had already put pay to that many years ago. At present the line between fact and myth may be like that of the UK coastline, rather murky.
But one thing that is for sure is that with rising sea temperatures and rapidly changing eco-systems it can perhaps only be a matter of time before the large dorsal fin of the Carcharodon carcharias breaks the water of the south coast of England.
By Dean Newman
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