The Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 were a series of shark attacks along the coast of New Jersey between July 1 and July 12, 1916, in which four people were killed and one injured.
Scientists have debated since then which shark species was actually responsible. The great white shark and the bull shark usually get the blame.
There was a deadly summer heat wave and a polio epidemic in the northeast, so lots of people headed to the seaside resorts of the Jersey Shore.
Shark attacks on the northern Atlantic Coast of the U.S. are rare, so it became big news. It created a panic that led to many shark hunts aimed at eradicating the population of “man-eating” sharks and protecting the seaside communities. Resort towns enclosed their public beaches with steel nets to protect swimmers. Sounds familiar…
Scientific knowledge about sharks before 1916 was barely scientific. If you are a regular viewer of the History Channel, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, and National Geographic Channel, you know more than they knew in 1916.
Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence is a book by Michael Capuzzo that expands (maybe too much so) on the limited information available from 1916. He also has another version for young adult readers called Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 that actually is better paced, though lighter on the research. His renegade man-eating great white shark kills the three adults and one boy dead. The original book includes lots of other information on from sea monster tales to the bathing-suit fashions of 1916 to the still incomplete scientific information on great whites.
The stories from 1916 continue to fascinate readers and viewers, at least in part because they are still mysteriously inexplicable. It could happen again… and we can’t do anything about it [bring up creep Jaws theme here]
There’s also Richard G. Fernicola’s older In Search of the “Jersey Man-Eater” (1987) and Twelve Days of Terror: A Definitive Investigation of the 1916 New Jersey Shark Attacks (2001) Fernicola’s research is the basis of an episode of the History Channel’s documentary series In Search of History titled “Shark Attack 1916” (2001) and the Discovery Channel’s docudrama “12 Days of Terror” (2004). Fernicola also wrote and directed a 90-minute documentary called Tracking the Jersey Man-Eater.
In 2008, “Shore Thing”, a short fictional film inspired by the attacks was released and appeared in several U.S. film festivals and won Best Suspense Short at the NY International Independent Film & Video Festival in 2009.
In 2009, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week had a two-hour documentary about all the attacks and the days after, titled Blood in the Water. The attacks at Matawan, NJ are the subject of the National Geographic Channel documentary “Attacks of the Mystery Shark” (2002).