Larry Madin on ‘Jaws’

VES Lifetime Achievement Award: Steven Spielberg

The movie generated a lot of interest but also fear about sharks. I think that one of the things that we’ve seen in the years since ‘Jaws’ is a reversal of that idea — people understanding that people are far more the enemy of sharks than sharks are of people. For those of us who are in the ocean-science business, we are much more worried about what humans have done to destroy populations of sharks than vice versa. In later years, even Peter Benchley completely changed his viewpoint on that.

“For me, part of the impact of the movie was that it took a real, live type of creature and made it the feature in a monster movie. And I don’t think that had been done previously. It made people really aware of the fact that there are big, ferocious fish in the ocean. It was mostly shot in the waters around Martha’s Vineyard. It involved an oceanographer or a marine biologist in Richard Dreyfuss’ character who was not too far off in terms of his characterization. Marine biologists are not white-lab-coat kind of people, and they do spend their time on boats doing messy, wet, dirty kinds of things, and sometimes they’re rough around the edges. So, in a way, it was nice to see that kind of portrayal — that it wasn’t some buttoned-up scientist stereotype. In fact, we had, at the time, a scientist here named Frank Carey, who worked on big fish like sharks and who was very much in that mold. He really looked like an old salt sea captain. And it was nice to see that on the screen.

“‘Jaws’ and ‘Blue Water, White Death’ really did elevate the white shark and the big creatures of the sea in people’s consciousness. They helped to open up an appreciation of what’s going on in the ocean. The ocean is the biggest thing on the planet for things to live in, and we don’t know too much about what’s out there. The ocean is not so much dangerous for us, in terms of being eaten by something, but dangerous in that we’re not taking care of the ocean. And the ocean, as a whole, might turn around and bite us if we don’t take better care of it.”

Larry Madin is director of research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.

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