Nearly 50 Years Later, a Big Regret From Spielberg

Director speaks about decimation of shark population after 1975's 'Jaws'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 19, 2022 7:49 AM CST
Updated Dec 24, 2022 6:30 AM CST
Nearly 50 Years Later, a Big Regret From Spielberg
Steven Spielberg is seen in Rome on March 21, 2018.   (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia,file)

Steven Spielberg's Jaws is considered to be the very first summer blockbuster film, surpassing $100 million in box office earnings. There's one demographic that likely isn't a big fan, however: sharks, who bore the brunt of the public's wrath (specifically at the hands of trophy-hunting fishermen) after the movie scared America out of the water. Now, the 76-year-old director is accepting responsibility for the decimation of shark populations in the years after his 1975 flick. "I really, truly regret that," he tells Lauren Laverne in an interview that aired Sunday on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs program. The Guardian cites a study last year in the journal Nature that showed the shark and ray population globally declined by more than 71% between 1970 and 2018.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, meanwhile, also noted last year that 37% of sharks and rays are in danger of extinction. "I still fear ... that sharks are somehow mad at me for the feeding frenzy of crazy sword fishermen that happened after 1975," Spielberg tells Laverne. Some experts are in agreement with Spielberg on the impact made by his movie, which depicted a small New England beach town terrorized by a killer great white shark in its waters. "Jaws was kind of a turning point," Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at California State University-Long Beach, tells the Washington Post. "It got people thinking very negatively about sharks, which just made it so much easier to overfish them."

Others, though, are letting Spielberg off the fish hook. "I don't think he should feel terrible that he has caused everybody to start commercially fishing for them," says Gavin Naylor, who heads up the Florida Program for Shark Research. "There was a reaction to the movie by a few people that just wanted to catch a few sharks. But that was happening long before Jaws." One other big name tied to the movie has also previously claimed responsibility: the late Peter Benchley, who wrote the novel the film was based on and said in 2000 that he never would've written the book if he'd known how it would mar the reputation of great whites. (More Steven Spielberg stories.)

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