|CLASSIC DIVE BOOKS
- On sharks.
YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE - NOW READ THE BOOK
The following article was written about 1988 and published in Skindiving in Australia. An update written recently is appended.
We have an obvious fascination for sharks. Within a year of the movie Jaws being released in 1975 it had grossed a staggering $120 million in the United States alone. An analysis of the reasoning of its popularity isn't so difficult. Jaws provided a combination of shear horror and excitement with fine acting and just enought plausibility to make it appear realistic.
We tend to have a fascination with death, or more specifically the mode of death. The terror of being eaten alive is perhaps an instinct that has been with us since prehistoric days when we had to fend for ourselves amongst the beasts of the jungle. We now rarely need to enter the domain of the wild animal and of we do, it is by choice, usually for some means of pleasure; we are usually well protected and little is left to chance.
As divers we have a greater appreciation of the sea and its `wild kingdom' than do the majority of the public. We see and experience for ourselves the beauty of marine life and through our enthusiasm we learn and understand. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to see a shark glide ‘silently' past cannot help but be struck by its strength and agility. There is a beauty in its strength and dominance of the marine chain beneath it. Even the Great White has an awesome magnificence that we admire. It fears no-one, not even man, the greatest predator of all.
The influence of the media on the public was quite apparent after the release of Jaws. It would be an exageration to suggest that beaches were deserted but it is a fact that many coastal towns and resorts, particularly in the United States, had a downtrend in numbers. There is no doubt that Jaws did, and still does, affect the diving industry. How many times have you been asked "do you see any sharks" ? I wonder how many people have been put off diving because of their fear of the huge mechanical monster in the film. But then lets not be too smug about it. How many times have you been treading water waiting to board the dive boat and for a moment, just a fleeting moment, you have had a flashback to Jaws and wonder what is lurking 'down there'. There is no doubt that the film has affected everyone who has seen it in some way or another. The public's insatiable appetite for blood and guts has resulted in Jaws sequels, and a range of 'man-eating' movies, including the most fascinating true life mystery, ‘Evil Angels' (the taking of baby Azaria Chamerlain by a dingdo at Ayers Rock). The great fear of being eaten alive is dominant.
How much of Jaws was realism, and how much Hollywood smultz? The fact of the matter is that much of the film was indeed true. The shark was a mechanical monster but that was necessary because the real life fellows don't take to be ordered around by a fussy film director. The real life Great White Sharks are just as terrifying - ask Rodney Fox. But the basic theme of the film was most definately true: the unwillingness of people to believe that a rogue shark could exist, the avoidance of publicising the truth because it would affect business interests, the inability to know what to do about it all, the confusion and fear and self interest. They were all part of the film, and they all played a role in the real life drama that affected New Jersey in the summer of 1916.
We still however live in ignorance of the Great White Shark. We have not fully substantiated the theory of the roque shark, the one like a marauding tiger that has tasted human flesh and seeks to satisfy a similar apettite. We know little of their breeding and feeding habits; and we certainly know very little on how to protect ourselves whilst in their environment.
The film Jaws has done little to enlighten our ignorance, and indeed, for some, has made them positively paranoid . On the other hand the film has made the public aware that such magnificent animals do exist and that we are all vulnerable at some time or other.
Since 1975 when Jaws was first released there has been a spate of books on the subject of sharks. Some have been nothing more than sensational drivel, satsfying only the author's ego, whilst others have attempted to take a serious educational and entertaining look at the animals.
My earliest recollection of reading about sharks was in one of the most respected books on the subject published to date. Dr Victor Coppleson's incredibly detailed book Shark Attack was first published in 1958 and is predominantly based on Australian waters. An Australian medical doctor, Coppleson was an adviser to the Surf Lifesaving Association of Australia and had a medical interest in shark attacks. There were very few books on the subject published at this time and Dr Coppleson had to resort to primary research, interviewing victims and collecting statistics and coroner reports. His research was extensive and he came to the conclusion that the rogue shark theory does apply.
"It cannot, surely, be a matter of simple coincidence that a small area of coastline, used extensively for bathers, should be free of attack for years, then experience in quick succession a series of maulings and deaths, and then just as suddenly a return to a long period of peace."
The events in South Australia from 1961 to 1963 seem to echo Dr Coppleson's point.
Shark Attack combines factual statistics with incredibly detailed accounts of the attacks. I first read the book soon after I took up diving in 1969 and I must admit to being somewhat sceptical. Like our attitude when we get behind the wheel of a car, I believed that an attack could never happen to me. But this is better than believing that Port Phillip Bay is swarming with monsters waiting to take a nibble. I found the book fascinating as it combined a certain measure of morbid entertainment with facts and figures.
One particular thing that I have always remembered from Shark Attack is the fact that there was no account of a single shark attacking two (or more) divers or swimmers in the one encounter. There are many accounts of divers going to the aid of a victim, the rescuer not being harmed in any way. Indeed, there are accounts of the shark specifically avoiding the rescuer, and in some instances passing the rescuer to have another go at the victim. To this day I cannot recall anything that would refute this postulation; certainly not as far as diver attacks are concerned. In each of the three attacks in South Australia and that of Henri Bource in the sixties, none of the rescuers were attacked, and yet they were in the sea surrounded by blood. It may indeed prove the point that Rodney Fox emphasises - that in most instances of attack the shark has made a mistake.
Coppleson's book is both readable and educational. It is particularly valuable in its attempt to describe the actual attack situation, and the pattern of attacks that apparently occur. ‘Shark Attack' contains a number of useful diagrams and statistics, and black and white plates - including a photo of Treacle, a Torres Strait islander who was attacked and taken by the head, and lived to tell the tale. He became quite a celebrity.
The fascinating tale of the 'Case of the Shark Arm Murder' is told in Shark Attack.
On the 17th April 1935 a large tiger shark was caught tangled up in a line off Coogee Beach, Sydney. It was taken to the Coogee Aquarium and given the run of the pool. For several days the 14 ft monster seemed quite active and had a voracious appetite, but suddently acted strange and appeared ill, moving slowly and seemingly disoriented.
Late that afternoon before a group of a dozen or so horrified aquarium visitors, the shark regurgitated a volume of material - including a human arm with a piece of rope attached to the wrist.
Police took the arm to the morgue where it was examined by Dr.Coppleson; a slightly faded tatoo was noticed on the forearm, of two boxers shaping up to each other. Dr Coppleson concluded that the arm had been crudely severed by a knife, and had not been bitten by a shark. Through press publicity of the tatoo the arm was identified as being that of one James Smith, a 45 year-old ex-amateur boxer. The tiger shark became worse and was eventually killed. No more human remains were found in its stomach.
Police tracked down the movements of James Smith leading to one of the most intriguing law cases in Australian history. The Crown alleged that a number of men including Smith were involved in an insurance fraud which had gone wrong. One of the conspirators had rented a cottage at Cronulla and had bought a mattress and a tin trunk. Smith was last seen alive at a hotel near the cottage with his partners in crime. The police deduced that Smith had been murdered at the cottage and his body dismembered on the mattress.
Parts of his body were stuffed in the trunk but as there was no room for the arm it was tied to a weight and dumped separately in the sea with the trunk. The trunk was never found so all the police had was the arm.
A month after the arm was found, Patrick Brady who had rented the cottage was charged with Smith's murder. Another conspirator, Reginald Holmes was questioned by the police and was to give evidence at the coroner's enquiry. But Holmes was found slumped over the wheel of a speadboat tearing around Sydney Harbour out of control. Holmes recovered in hospital after a bullet was removed from his forehead, however a day before the inquest he was found again - this time near the Sydney Harbour Bridge will a bullet in the brain.
Two men were arrested and tried for the murder of Holmes but the evidence was not strong eneough to convict them. The case against Brady was dismissed also through lack of evidence. Due to the unique finding of one piece of evidence that proved the murder of James Smith, the Shark Arm Murder became the most publicised of Australian crimes - until a family went camping at Ayers Rock.
Shark Attack was out of print for many years however I have been informed that Angus and Robertson have reprinted the book in paperback, no doubt because of the renewed public interest in sharks. Copies of the original 1958 edition, the revised 1962 edition, and a 1968 reprint may be occassionally found in second-hand bookshops.
Men and Sharks by Austrian explorer Hans Hass is another intriguing book, yet not of the same scientific theme as that by Coppleson. This was originally published in 1949, and reprinted in 1954. Hass rates alongside Cousteau as one of the great underwater adventurers of our time, and through his early books possibly encouraged more divers to take to the sea than anyone else of the period. Many divers of my age and older were inspired by Hass through his classics Diving To Adventure and Under The Red Sea.
If Men and Sharks has one predominant theme it is the suggestion that sharks were not to be feared. With the ignorance that prevailed prior to the Second World War, a diver was regarded as being something of a nut, much as some of us still view hang-gliders and ultra-light pilots. The term frogmen had become common after the war and for a time these military nicknames were pinned to the few sport divers who had access to the twin hose regulators and tiny `oxygen' bottles (which indeed some were) from aircraft (but of course filled with compressed air). Their masks and rubber wet suits looked like something out of a Jules Verne movie; camera equipment was bulky and leaked worse than a dero on the turps.
But Hass was a true explorer and developed underwater photography and cinematography to a high level of professionalism. He had an enquiring mind and unlike the diver of today who can study first and observe later, Hass was the quintessence of the explorer's mind and sought to discover knowledge for himself.
Men and Sharks is very much an adventure book, a series of annecdotes of personal and observed experiences. He is in effect sharing his original experiences in the Mediterranean with the reader; it is like being a witness to the early discovery of behavior of sharks and other marine animals. Of course Hass didn't have to confront a Great White, but the terror of the unknown was just as strong. Men and Sharks clearly demonstrates that fear can be overcome by knowledge and understanding. The book has been out of print for many years but, like his other early works, including We Come From The Sea, it is occassionally seen in second-hand bookshops selling for a modest price. If a classical library of diving literature is ever established then the Hans Hass volumes would take pride of place.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jaws author Peter Benchley in Madang many years ago and I asked him, somewhat facetiously I suppose, if he had ever read the book Shadows in the Sea. I can't recall his reply although I am sure it was affirmative as this American classic provides the theme for Jaws. It is here that all the fears and doubts and intrigue are expressed about the Nemisis of those who were so foolhardy as to dare to swim in the open sea. Well into the 20th century it was believed by many that sharks would not attack a swimmer. Even when evidence of human remains was found in the stomachs of caught sharks it was suggested that the victims had already drowned when taken. There was a $500 reward for anyone who could prove that a shark had taken a swimmer. The reward lay unclaimed for thirty years.
Saturday, July 1st, 1916. Beach Haven, New Jersey. It is summertime on the northern Atlantic seaboard. Twenty-three year old Charles Van Sant plunges into the surf and swims leisurly to sea and then back toward shore. He cannot hear the screams of bathers in the shallows who have seen the the black fin. They jump in panic as the gap narrows netween the shark and its victim. The sea turns red. Alexander Ott, a former U.S. Olympic swimmer bravely dashes into the surf. The shark turns on Ott and then swims away. Van Sant is brought to shore but dies that evening through loss of blood.
No alarm was raised. Despite the grim evidence before them, it simply was not accepted that a shark would or could attack a swimmer.
Then came a young man who was a bellboy in Philadelphia. Twenty-eight year old Charles Bruder loved the sea. Five days after Van Sant's death he dived into the ocean off Spring Lakes, a popular beach resort in New Jersey 45 miles north of Beach Haven. A woman's screams first alerted the lifeguards. Only a red stain could be seen spreading out in the distance. For a brief moment an agonising face appeared amidst the blood and disappeared. The lifeguards took a boat to the scene. Bruder was still alive.
‘Shark - shark got me - bit my legs off'', he cried. He was hauled on board but died within minutes.
Spring Lakes was now in trouble. Could it really be that a killer shark was out there somewhere. Like a Pacific nation after a coup, it feared for its tourist business as the summer season was upon them. Fears were raised but only to be shouted down by councilmen. A shark authority was interviewed. Protection from sharks was not necessary. ‘The best thing to do when a shark comes along is to shout as loud as you can and splash the water with your hands and feet'. He should have added ‘..if you still have them.' A director of the Museum of Natural History said the attacks were all rubbish as a shark's jaws were simply not powerful enough to snap off a man's leg.
Other New Jersey resorts played down the incident, suggesting that it couldn't happen off their beaches. Atlantic City was more concerned about the ‘exposed extremities' of the bathers and the danger to morals rather than life. But swimmers were now concerned. Any doubt was expelled five days later. Twelve year old Lester Stilwell was cooling off at Matawan New Jersey, 70 miles from Beach Haven. He was floating on his back when a huge shark simply rose to the surface and took the youngster in its massive jaws. Lester's mates witnessed the scene in terror. They never saw Lester again. Half an hour later Stanley Fisher, a strong swimmer who had gone in search for Stilwell, crawled up the bank of the inlet where Stillwell was taken, holding on to his mutilated leg. He died that day.
By now the towns folk were convinced. Several sharks were caught and one indeed had human remains in its stomach. It was identified as Carcharadon carcharias - a Great White. Whether the same shark took all victims will never be known.
What I have related is in the first fifteen pages of Shadows In The Sea - and there are four hundred more pages to go. The book by Harold W.McCormick, Tom Allen and Captain William Young is in my opinion the most interesting and informative book on sharks printed to date. It was first published in 1963 and as far as I know has not been reprinted. Being an American publication it is extremely scarce in Australian second-hand bookshops but about eight years ago it was sold as in softcover so there may be copies around.
The excellence of Shadows In The Sea is due to its wide coverage of shark incidents and shark biology. It is not simply a book about attacks; shark worship is covered, as is the prehistoric origins of sharks and the incredible beasts that once roamed our seas. It is an eminently readable book with few black and white photographs of interest. It is limited in its statistical analysis of attacks and concentrates more on the man-shark relationship with such sectional headings as 'Shark Against Man', 'Man Against Shark', and 'Man and Shark'. Two hundred pages are devoted to descriptions of the various species making a valuable reference book also.
West Australian diver Hugh Edwards is well know for his award winning book Islands of Angry Ghosts, and more recently a magnificent volume on Crocodile attacks. In 1975 Lansdowne published Sharks And Shipwrecks , a compendium of eighteen diving stories, with no less than six centred on sharks. The timing of the release of the book was perfect, although by luck rather than good judgement, as Jaws was soon to be released in Australia.
Sharks and Shipwrecks is one of the most interesting diving related books published. The writing is crisp and to the point, each chapter telling a specific story related around well known Australian divers such as Taylor, Cropp, Coleman, Bource, Birchell, Johnstone, Harding, Cramer and also Wade Doak from New Zealand. It includes an account of the Bource, Fox, Corner and Rodger attacks with graphic photographs of the leg-less Henri Bource on board the boat immediately after the attack. Hugh Edwards manages to capture the essence of each attack through first-person narrative.
I interviewed Henri Bource for Skindiving in Australia magazine over twelve years ago and was amazed at the courage and tenacity of the man. Within two months he was back in the water. Because if the little knowledge that was available at the time, Henri Bource took it on himself to study the White Shark and learn as much as he could about its behavior. His attitude was typical of a person who has mental courage as well as physical strength: "Personally I have nothing against that shark or any shark in general. They do what Nature intended them to do and they don't kill indescriminately as man or for the sheer pleasure of it."
The vivid account of Henri's attack once again indicated that a shark does not attack a second victim. The bravery of Henri's rescuers, in particular Jill Ratcliffe who jumped into the bloody water with a safety line with no concern for her own safety, is a story that should never be forgotten.
Latching onto the mania for shark material, Harpers and Row Publishers released Great Shark Stories by Ron and Valery Taylor in 1978, with a new edition by Crowood Press in 1986. The title is accurate although the word 'Great' might have been presumptuous. It is an adventure book, a collection of personally related stories of shark experiences and shark behaviour. Much of the text is a direct excerp from other publications including Coppleson's Shark Attack, Hugh Edwards' Sharks And Shipwrecks and Peter Benchley's Jaws. The book succeeds in whetting the appetite for more information but fails otherwise in that it tries to cover too many subjects with too little text .
Rigby Limited published an interesting book of first hand accounts with the release of Ben Cropp's Shark Hunters back in 1964. Shark Hunters pales into insignificance compared to recently published books but at the time it was an important book as it combined scientific fact and theory, with recent shark attack descriptions covering the gap since Coppleson's revised edition of 1962. The attacks of Rodger, Corner and Fox are included but Bource just misses out. Cropp's own experiences are also related in an easy readable style.
Whereas accounts of spearfishing and chapters such as `Gropers Aren't So Tough' don't exactly enthrall me, I do believe that books that relate first hand experiences, particularly by someone as interesting as Ben Cropp, play a vital role in recording our diving history. Times and attitudes have changed. It would be quite easy for me to criticise the bopping of sharks, spearfishing competitions and wreck looting that was all part of our early history. But attitudes and the causes that we now feel strongly about cannot be retrospective. It is from books such as Shark Hunter that we can read of the past and evaluate the rights and wrongs of what we are doing now.
Shark Hunters has been long out of print. I don't know of any reprints and I have rarely seen a copy in a second-hard bookshop. If you see one, grab it. It is good reading and may become a collectors item one day.
For pure machoism Shark by Olaf Ruhen takes the prize. Ruhen is a well known professional author with a number of excellent historic books to his credit and I personally found it incongruous that he should publish such a blood and guts booklet - mercifully it is only 64 pages. But judging once again the public's interest in sharks, Olaf Ruhen probably made more out of the forgetable Shark Attack than he would out of his excellent Minerva Reef. Those who like gore will appreciate the stomach-churning photos displaying Rodney Fox's guts and rib cage. Nothing is left to the imagination. And for the image, I guess you can't beat a cool and calm Henri Bource balancing on the gunwale of a boat, stumpy leg hovering above a huge Great White - 'The shark that Henri caught,'; Rod Fox prying open the jaws of a Great White; and everyone happily cleaning their own set of jaws trophies. But Rodney - those three harmless shovelnose sharks. Really!! I can't help wondering when it was that these incredible men came to the realisation that sharks should not be slaughtered for pleasure. Personally I think Ruhen's Shark is one book that could well have been left unpublished.
Dr Carl Edmonds is well known for his Oceans congress appearances and two brilliant publications, Marine Injuries To Man, and Sub-Aquatic Medicine. The former book was called Dangerous Marine Animals in its first edition. I mention it here because of its short thirteen page section presenting a most concise and inforative treatise on shark behavior, medical treatment and prevention. It should be required reading for all divers.
Valerie Taylor must be one of the most courageous and remarkable women ever to have donned a wet-suit. In 1981 she and husband Ron tested a new diving suit aimed at the prevention of, or should I say, limiting, shark attack. The Great Shark Suit Experiment is the record of the guinea-pig tests that Valerie performed using a chain mail mesh suit, graphically describing in text and photographs actual induced attacks during which she received a severe laceration to her leg.
Ron Taylor's photographs are superb as usual. The experiments havn't convinced me to use a chain mail suit but the 64-page book is quite interesting.
Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch was educated at Eton and London University and completed his degree in philosophy - so the dust jacket of Shark - A Photographer's Story proclaims of the author. Shark - A Photographer's Story is a two hundred page glossy with many excellent underwater photographs - and a superb top-side shot of a Great White, its jaws gaping as it rolls its massive body past the boat. It would have to be one of the best shots I have seen to depict the character of the Great White. Readers expecting a definitive guide to sharks would be rather disappointed with the book but the title is not deceiving. It is more of a personal file of experiences occassionally embellished with scientific fact, centered on several expeditions that the author has joined. Quite frankly, I found the book to be pretentious, uninteresting and hence difficult to read. I defy the reader to find two consecutive sentences without the word "I".
I leave the best of the recent shark book publications to last. Another coffee table book, and hardly scientific, but Sharks - Silent Hunters of the Deep embodies all the best qualities of a `popular' book on a vast subject. We expect good quality material from Readers Digest and this is no exception. Thirteen contributors, most of whom are professionally qualified provide material that is scientific and interesting, together with personal experiences, myth and speculation, and pure adventure. The presentation of the book by Sydney company Capricorn Press is an art in itself; Lawrence Hanley and Alistair Barnard deserve special mention. The photographs are clear and crisp, the diagrams and drawings excellent, with a pleasing balance on every double page. It is an eminently readable book with short sharp chapters and box inserts. The blood and guts market has not been forgotten but does not dominate the book; each photograph is relevant to the theme.
But to the content - Sharks - Silent Hunters embodies most of the material that I have already mentioned in other books.After a short introduction, the various species of shark, their habits and biology is covered with graphic drawings and photographs. Part Two is titled Men and Sharks and delves back into the history of man's first recorded encounters; chapters on attacks; prevention; myth and magic. Rodney is there exposing himself again, and Henri balances on a dead Great White. The Shark Arm mystery is exceptionally well covered with historic photographs, and I was particularly pleased to see a well illustrated chapter on the 1916 New Jersey attacks that I first read about in Shadows In The Sea.
Sharks - Silent Hunters of the Deep is a book both for the reader requiring armchair adrenalin, and those who genuinely wish to learn about these magnificent creatures. As you would expect from a top publisher, it recognises its major audience and sensationalism is not lost. But the facts are there, and presented in a most professional manner.
It has been argued that Jaws, and the publication of other books on sharks has led to a greater fear of the creatures, with a corresponding reduction in numbers of those now enjoying the beach, snorkelling and scuba diving. I argue that knowledge itself cannot instill fear. If we persisted with the theory that a shark's jaws are not powerful enough to sever a man's leg then our ignorance would undoubtedly lead to more deaths and suffering. If we choose to enter into the domain of a wild animal, be it the grass plains of Africa, or even your own backyard garden, then we must have an understanding of what dangers there are, and what we can do to prevent injury. Shark - Silent Hunters mades the point that ‘Stanley Fisher was one of the very few people to have been injured while going to the aid of a shark attack victim.' That sentence alone amongst thousands of others could save an attack victim.
I have mentioned only a few of the shark books in my own library. Others of interest include Shark Attack, David Baldridge; The Shark - Splendid Savage, Jacques Cousteau; The Book of Sharks, Richard Ellis; Sharks of the World, Rodney Steel; The Lady and the Sharks, Eugenie Clark; The Coast of Coral, Arthur C. Clarke; Men Beneath the Sea, Hans Hass; Blue Meridian, Peter Mattheiessen. I am sure there are dozens more worthy of note.
1.There are at least two books out on the Shark Arm Case: The Shark Arm Case by Vince Kelley, and The Shark Arm Murders by Alex Castles.
2. Rodney Fox was taken by a Great White in 1961 in South Australia. He survived. Photographs showing his injuries are featurs in most books on shark attacks.
3. The shark attacks off New Jersey in 1916, which are the founation of the Peter Benchley's Jaws, are features in the recent title Close to Shore - The Extradorinary True Story of the New Jersey Great White Shark Attacks of 1916, by Michael Capuzzo.
4. More recent shark books are listed on the Classic Dive Books page.
5. Carl Edmond's Dangerous Marine Creatures is in print.
Original article and update by Peter Stone.
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