In 1975, a 28-year-old filmmaker named Steven Spielberg scared the bathing suits off of movie audiences all over the world with the smash hit "Jaws." His big-screen adaptation of Peter Benchley's best-selling novel cost just $7 million dollars to make, went on to gross more than $470 million around the world and launched Spielberg's Academy Award-winning directing career. The book and movie were about a killer great white shark that terrorizes the fictional beach resort town of Amity Island. The movie opens with the famous night-time attack of a frolicking female swimmer, with John Williams' understated, classic score supplying the tension: Da-dum. Da-dum. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum! The water went red, panic ensued and a classic was born.
What many people may not know is that Benchley's novel was inspired by a real set of shark attacks on the beach communities of New Jersey in 1916. That story clocks in at number two on our list, just ahead of the true story of the USS Indianapolis attacks that "Jaws'" shark hunter, Quint, recounts in gory detail to Chief Brody and Matt Hooper.
In this article, we'll get our feet wet with those stories and eight others for a top 10 that may leave you beach-bound.
10. Brook Watson
John Singleton Copley was the most renowned painter in Colonial America. Although he was best known as a portrait artist, one of his more famous paintings was called "Watson and the Shark." This painting depicts a brutal scene of a fair-haired young boy reaching from the water for help as a large shark closes in, mouth open and ready for dinner.
Copley based his painting on an actual shark attack from 1749. The victim was Brook Watson, a 14-year-old crew member of a trading ship that was docked in Havana, Cuba. Watson was swimming in the harbor one day when a shark attacked him not once, but twice. The good news? His shipmates witnessed the attack and pulled him from the water, saving his life. The bad news? They were a little late. Watson lost his foot in the attack and later had the leg amputated below the knee. Watson did, however, go on to lead a good, full life -- serving in the House of Parliament for nine years as well as becoming the Lord Mayor of London. Not to mention the notoriety he received as being the first known shark-attack survivor.
Swim ahead to read the next story.
9. Barry Wilson
Barry Wilson's case is notable because he was the first recorded shark attack victim in California history and because of the many eyewitness accounts of the attack. It was on Dec. 7, 1952, that the17-year-old tuba player was killed in the Pacific Ocean near Lover's Point in Pacific Grove, Calif. Wilson was swimming with a friend about 40 feet from shore in roughly 30 feet of water. One eyewitness saw Wilson jerk suddenly and unnaturally from side-to-side. Wilson screamed, drawing the attention of his fellow swimmers, including his close friend, Brookner Brady. Witnesses then reported seeing the shark attack Wilson from the front, completely lifting him from the water to his knees. He was then dragged under, before reappearing in a pool of blood, screaming and flailing his arms. Brady and four members of the Monterey Peninsula Sea Otters, a skin diving club, swam to his aid. They managed to get Wilson onto an inner tube and fought for 30 minutes to get him through the rough surf and back to the beach with the shark following them the entire time. Sadly, wounds to Wilson's left leg, right thigh, back and buttocks were too severe -- he died by the time they reached the shore.
Wade into the shallow waters on the next page for story number eight.
8. Robert Pamperin
The case of Robert Pamperin is interesting because he may have actually been completely devoured by a giant great white shark. Pamperin and his diving partner, Gerald Lehrer, were diving for abalone off the coast of San Diego, Calif., in 1959, swimming about 50 feet (15 meters) apart. Lehrer heard Pamperin scream, "Help me!," and turned to see his fellow diver upright and high out of the water with his mask off. Lehrer swam toward his friend and watched as he descended slowly beneath the water. At this point, Lehrer dove down to see Pamperin in the mouth of a gigantic shark he estimated to be more than 22 feet (7 meters) long. Lehrer noted that Pamperin was in the shark's mouth up to his waist and was dragged down to the ocean's floor. Lehrer dived down and saw the shark thrashing about with Pamperin still in his mouth. He ascended to get a good breath, and then dived again to try to frighten the shark. This didn't work, so Lehrer swam to shore and alerted the life guards. Scuba divers spent two hours combing the waters for any sign of Pamperin, only to find a single swim fin and his inner tube.
If you dare, move on to the next page for another story.
7. Omar Conger
Omar Conger was another free-diving abalone hunter. He was one of four victims during a mini-feeding frenzy in 1984 near Santa Cruz, Calif. Conger and his diving partner, Chris Rehm, were a long way from shore, nearly 500 feet (150 meters), and about 15 feet (4.4 meters) apart when he took a moment to tread water and rest. Out of nowhere, a huge great white shark grabbed Conger, shook him and pulled him under. A few seconds later, the shark surfaced with Conger still in its mouth and headed straight for Rehm. The big fish released Conger when he was close to Rehm and disappeared.
Rehm pulled his friend onto a flotation mat and brought him back to shore, only to find that Conger was already dead from massive blood loss. The wounds to Conger's legs, hands and buttocks indicate that the great white was roughly 16 feet (5 meters) long.
Over the next two weeks there were three more shark attacks. Fortunately, those victims all survived.
Grab your snorkel and fins and kick forward to the next page for story number six.
6. Bethany Hamilton
Thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton was Hawaii's top female surfer in her age group and one of the best in the United States when she made headlines in 2003 after being attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark. She had gone surfing on the morning of Halloween with her best friend Alana, her brother Byron and Alana's father Holt. Bethany was lying sideways on her board with her left arm dangling in the water when the shark came up from below and bit her arm off just below the shoulder. Her surfing partners acted quickly, applying a tourniquet to her arm with a surf leash and paddling her to shore on her board. Bethany passed out on the beach while waiting for an ambulance.
Despite losing 60 percent of her blood, she survived several surgeries and avoided infection. Remarkably, Bethany was in the water less than a month later, catching waves on Thanksgiving Day. Her balance was slightly off, but she quickly adjusted and showed the same aggressive style she was known for before her accident. Although it's more difficult for her to paddle out, she refused any special treatment in her return to competition surfing and won her first national title in 2005 at the National Scholastic Surfing Association National Championships.
Story number five awaits you on the following page.
5. Randy Fry
In 2004, Randall Fry and Cliff Zimmerman were free-diving for abalone in Westport, Calif., when tragedy struck. They were in about 15 feet (4.5 meters) of water and only a couple of feet apart when Fry dove and never came back up. Zimmerman reported that he turned from Fry for just a moment when he heard a "whooshing sound" and felt the water move "as if a boat went by" [source: GreatWhite.org]. Zimmerman turned to see the side of a large fish swimming by. The shark fin and part of its body surfaced momentarily at a high rate of speed before disappearing into the water again. At that point, Zimmerman said that "everything turned red."
Zimmerman swam for his life and managed to safely reach his boat about 150 feet (45 meters) away. Fry's body was found by a search-and-rescue team the following day -- bite marks stretched from shoulder to shoulder, indicating that the shark was a great white. Fry's head had been separated from his body.
You won't believe story number four -- it's on the next page.
4. Henri Bource
The most remarkable part of Henri Bource's shark attack was that part of it was actually captured on film. In 1964, Bource and two other divers were playing with some seals in the ocean off Lady Julia Percy Island in Australia when a great white came up from under Bource and took off his leg. His diving partners heard Bource scream and then saw his leg floating in the water. They managed to get Bource back onto the boat and he was able to tell them his blood type, which was radioed ahead to shore. Bource later recounted that he tried to get his leg free by jamming his hand down the shark's throat and gouging its eyes. Bource is an amateur underwater photographer and filmmaker, and a few years later, he took the original film footage from the attack and reconstructed the other parts for a documentary called "Savage Shadows."
To find out what story number three is, please surface and tread to the next page.
3. USS Indianapolis
The U.S. Navy cruiser USS Indianapolis was sunk in a matter of minutes by Japanese torpedoes near Guam on July 30, 1945. Roughly 900 sailors of the 1,196 aboard made it into the water with only their life vests. The sharks came around when the sun rose the following morning. The crew was helpless against the hungry man-eaters. Four days later, the remaining survivors were discovered by an overhead bomber plane. A seaplane was sent to the site and landed to begin the rescue effort after seeing the Indianapolis survivors being attacked by sharks. Out of the 900 that made it into the water, only 317 survived, marking the worst maritime disaster in U.S. Navy history. It's not known how many sailors died from shark attacks, exposure or thirst.
If you think this one was bad, wait till you see story number two on the following page.
2. Matawan Creek, N.J.
Two ocean attacks off the Jersey shore the week of July 4, 1916, preceded the attacks in Matawan Creek. There had never been an attack in New Jersey, and it wasn't thought at the time that sharks went after living humans. Six days after the attacks, Captain Thomas Cottrell spotted a 10-foot (3-meter) shark swimming in the shallow waters of Matawan Creek, which connected Matawan with Raritan Bay. Locals thought he was simply caught up in the panic of the recent shore attacks.
Twelve year-old Lester Stillwell was the first victim. The shark took him from below and carried him under while he was swimming with friends. Local men scoured the creek looking for revenge, but the shark found them first. Watson Fisher was one of these men. He fought the shark with all he had, being pulled under and resurfacing four times. He eventually broke free, but the flesh from his right leg was missing from his groin to his knee. Fisher died hours later, becoming the second victim in less than an hour. A half-mile downstream, teenager Joseph Dunn was bitten on the leg. His three friends pulled at him from the bank as the shark tried to take him under. Eventually the shark released him, and he was rushed to a hospital, where they were able to save his leg. Two days later, a great white was caught in Raritan Bay. When it was cut open, they found 15 pounds of human flesh and bone.
For the granddaddy of all shark attack stories, please move on to the next page.
1. Rodney Fox
Rodney Fox is the most famous shark attack victim in history. Why? Because of the extent of his injuries and the fact that he survived them. On Dec. 8, 1953, Fox was defending his Australian spear-fishing title when a great white shark grabbed him around the middle and took him for a ride. He was flying through the water upside down, trying to gouge the shark's eyes. The shark released him and came back for more. Fox jammed his arm down the throat of the beast and pulled it free, ripping the flesh from his arm. The shark released him again and came back a third time, dragging Fox along the ocean floor. After nearly drowning, Fox was released and pulled into a nearby boat. His bones were visible on his right hand and arm -- the hand alone required 94 stitches. His rib cage, lungs and upper stomach were all exposed. His rescuers kept his wetsuit on, which kept his internal organs from spilling out and may have saved his life. He arrived at the hospital within an hour of the attack and somehow never went into shock. Miraculously, his main arteries remained intact and after four hours of surgery and 360 stitches, Fox lived to tell his tale.
For more on sharks and the ocean, please see the links on the following page.
Lots More Information
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How Sharks Work
- How Shark Attacks Work
- How Great White Sharks Work
- What causes a shark feeding frenzy?
- How do sharks see, smell, and hear?
- How Bull Sharks Work
- Why do people collect shark teeth?
- How Tiger Sharks Work
- Do whales and dolphins sleep?
- If water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, why can't we breathe underwater?
- The Geography of Oceans
- How Scuba Works
- How the Georgia Aquarium Works
- What causes "the bends"?
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- Why do my ears pop when I dive in the deep end of the pool?
- How do fish rise and sink in the water?
- How Animal Camouflage Works
- How Deep-sea Rescue Works
- Curiosity Project: Marine Life Pictures
More Great Links
- Discovery Channel Shark Guide
- Rodney Fox
- Natural Wildlife Federation
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Ocean Conservancy
- "Bethany's General Biography." bethanyhamilton.com, 2008. http://www.bethanyhamilton.com/
- "Great White Shark Attack News Articles." jawshark.com, 2008. http://www.jawshark.com/great_white_shark_news_articles_us.html
- "Jaws." imdb.com, 2008. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073195/
- "Rodney Fox Biography." rodneyfox.com, 2008. http://www.rodneyfox.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=38&Itemid=51
- "The Red Triangle & California." greatwhite.org, 2008. http://greatwhite.org/frame_attack.htm
- "Unprovoked White Shark Attacks on Divers." The Shark Research Committee, 2008. http://www.sharkresearchcommittee.com/unprovoked_diver.htm
- boxofficemojo.com, 2008. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=jaws.htm
- Capuzzo, Michael. "Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence." Bradway Publishers, 2001.
- MacCormick, Alice. "Shark Attacks." St. Martin's Press, 1998.
- May, Nathaniel. "Shark: Stories of Life and Death from the World's Most Dangerous Waters." Thunders Mouth Press, 2002.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2008. http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?recview=true&id=30998&coll_keywords=&coll_accession=&coll_name=&coll_artist=&coll_place=&coll_medium=&coll_culture=&coll_classification=&coll_credit=&coll_provenance=&coll_location=&coll_has_images=&coll_on_view=&coll_sort=0&coll_sort_order=0&coll_view=0&coll_package=36011&coll_start=1
- ussindianapolis.org, 2008. http://www.ussindianapolis.org/story.htm