How The Creator of ‘Jaws’ Became a Shark Advocate After its Success

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

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Peter Bradford Benchley is the author of the bestseller Jaws, also known as the book and movie that bred either shark enthusiasts or ocean avoiders. The thriller was directed by a young Steven Spielberg and is one of the top ten highest-grossing movies of all time.

Jaws spins a gripping narrative of what happens when a great white shark kills a swimmer and the town, unwilling to give up the tourist fare for fear that of the scandal the news of shark trouble could cause who take it upon themselves to rid the area of the beast.

Shark Phobia

After the drafts of “Silence on the Water”, “What’s That Noshin’ on My Leg?” and “Jaws of the Leviathan” became Jaws on-screen complete with that gut-wrenching ‘get out of the water ‘scene. But, there was an interesting turn of events in the writer’s life.

Needless to say, the movie, frightened some people. After Jaws‘ release, there was a world-wide shark- phobia. Even though shark attacks are pretty uncommon. Experts say people are more likely to be killed by a cow than a shark. But when the blockbuster painted a different tune, people took that as fact. But the truth regarding shark attacks is that they don’t prey on humans and in the case they do so it is due to the scent of blood, not revenge or blood-thirst.

Shark Advocate

Another outcome of Jaws’ release was more positive but less known. A number of scientists and ocean researchers were inspired by the movie to explore and learn about the ocean after watching the movie. However, the monster shark aftermath is more appealing, and no one talks about this.

Saddened by his part in the world’s newly learned perspective of sharks, especially the great white, Peter Benchley decided to do something about it. Peter Benchley became a shark advocate and joined the conservation movement after the film adaptation of his book. Apparently, Benchley had always been drawn to aquatic life. Born in New York and into a family of literature lovers/creators, it was only natural that Peter followed suit.

He traveled the world, took Nantucket vacations, and loved the ocean. Hence why many of his works are oceanic in nature. Jaws was his first novel, he went on to write The Deep, The Island, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez,  Beast, and White Shark. Before Jaws, he was writing on ocean life for National Geographic.

Shark Graveyard

A fateful dive, however, is what turned him into an activist. While diving on Coco’s Island, Peter witnessed a graveyard of sharks, mutilated bodies and fins in on the ocean floor. The demanding market for shark fin soup was most likely the cause of the carcasses. However, realizing that his book and movie sparking fear into so many people also played a part in shark hunting and the slaughter was his biggest fear come true. The scene changed him forever.

Benchley states, in a 1995 travel piece for the Smithsonian Institute entitled Ocean Planet, that “the shark in an updated version could not be the villain”. With his Jaws money, the writer found a way to make a difference for sharks and the entirety of the ocean. He devoted the rest of his life to educating people on marine life and the threats faced to it by human life and founded Peter and founded the Peter Benchley Ocean Award with his wife Wendy. Pete passed in 2006, but his work in ocean conservation continues to reach many lives, on land and under.

Watch: Eating Habits of the Great White Shark

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