The GIRL of THE SEA of CORTEZ is my favorite Peter Benchley novel. It's a high-spirited adventure story that speaks to my personal love of the ocean and all its fascinating creatures. The story takes you under the sea to experience the spectacular, but it also shares the threats facing our seas. While this book was written 30 years ago, Peter was prescient about mans complex relationship to the sea. This captivating story is even more relevant today than ever.

--Gregory S. Stone, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for Oceans, Conservation International



"The ocean drives the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the oxygen cycle, the nitrogen cycle … it drives the way the world works. Even if you never touch the ocean, the ocean touches you every day. And it’s only now, as we get into the 21st century, that we’re beginning to put the blue part of the planet on the balance sheet."
--Sylvia Earle


"It is our responsibility to preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
--Carl Sagan, Astronomer + Author


 

 

 “For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.”
--Jacques Cousteau, Oceanographer + Explorer

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40 Years of JAWS: Hope for Protecting Sharks and Our Seas

It's hard to believe that 40 years ago this week JAWS premeired in theatres. With it the summer blockbuster was born and also the beginning of a new era of ocean awareness. There are many communities that will be showing JAWS throughout the summer and generations of families will gather to enjoy it.  It's staying power is a tribute to director Steven Speilberg's masterful job of bringing Peter's fictional novel to life.

While JAWS scared some people, it mesmerized others. So much so that they would go on to study the ocean and commit their lifes work to being real life Matt Hooper's in the field of ichthyology and other marine sciences.  Following the release of JAWS, Peter and I traveled and dived in nearly all of the world's oceans where we witnessed dramatic changes to our ocean’s wildlife and habitats on expeditions that included work on documentary films, articles, and television shows for National Geographic, ABC’s American Sportsman, The New England Aquarium, and many others. 

Today, I sit of the Board of WildAid, a great organization solely dedicated to stopping the traficking of and demand for llegal wildlife, including shark fin, rhino horn, ivory and tiger. WildAid has sounded the alarm on the devastating impacts of shark finning to shark populations. Their highly successful public awareness campaign to reduce consumption of shark fin soup in China, Hong Kong and across Asia has helped change attitudes about sharks about why we need them swimming in our seas and not in our soup.  The results of these efforts have helped reduce demand for shark fin by more than 50 percent.  

We have more work to do, but progress like this makes me hopeful that the positive impact of JAWS will live on for decades - bringing more people into our blue community to protect our oceans at every level.

 

 

 

Sharks Matter - Debunking the Jaws Myth and Rewriting the Script on these Majestic and Misunderstood Creatures.

Last week I had the great pleasure to speak at the New England Aquarium's IMAX Theater at an event hosted by Women Working for Oceans (W2O). We celebrated Massachusetts joining eight other states that have enacted legislation to ban shark finning.

They asked me to address the myths that have grown up around sharks and "Jaws."  I led with my most important observation, which is that over the past forty years attitudes have changed greatly and support for protecting sharks is gaining momentum. 

I covered the myths and realities of these areas: 

1) How Jaws changed ocean awareness and helped create a new generation of marine scientists. While the media has continually sensationalized the fear of sharks, the movie has become a multi-generational viewing experience where grandparents, parents and children watch together and discuss ocean issues.

2) Why sharks are evolutionary wonders, their importance to the health of our oceans, and how much we have learned about sharks through research and new technologies. 

3) The devastating impact of shark finning (more than 100 million sharks killed every year) and how effective WildAid's powerful PSA campaign has begun to turn the tide (50 percent reduction in demand for shark fin in last 2 years)

4) Ocean conservation is now a global priority. Marine protected areas are one of the most effective ocean conservation tools we have. I was thrilled to be invited to take part this summer in Secretary of State Kerry's "Our Ocean" Conference. Over two days hundreds of marine conservation initiatives and new ideas were exchanged, including President Obama's declaration to expand the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to more than 490,000 square miles.

5) The Ocean is not political. It’s ours. It’s everyone’s.  Taking action and coming together in a bipartisan way to craft legislation at every level — local, state, national and international—to protect our seas has been the focus of my efforts for more than four decades.  This gives me hope.

 

A few slides from my presentation...

Standing here with Nigella Hillgarth, the new CEO of the New England Aquarium

7th Annual Benchley Ocean Awards and Bay to Sea Symposium Highlights

The 7th annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards took place on the evening of Friday May 30, 2014 at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The Benchley Awards were followed on Saturday, May 31st, by our first-ever west coast high-level public forum called the "Bay to Sea Symposium", which was sponsored by Blue Frontier and the Aquarium of the Bay.

The event included a raft of ocean heroes, advocates, scientists and policy makers.  This year's honorees include the following:  

The National Stewardship Award went to the European Union Commissioner for Fisheries, Maria Damanaki and was presented by 2010 policy winner and former NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco. The Science award went to Dr. Steve Gaines and was presented by 2011 science winner Dr. Steve Palumbi.  The Policy award went to Leon Panetta and was presented by 2009 winner Rep. Sam Farr. The Media Award went to ‘Blackfish’ Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and was presented by 2010 Media (and Academy Award) winner Louie Psihoyos, director of ‘The Cove.’  The Exploration Award went to Prince Khaled bin Sultan and the Living Oceans Foundation and was presented

by Jenifer Austin, manager of Google’s Ocean Program (the 2012 winner). The Christopher Benchley Youth Award went to 16-year-old Casey Sokolovicby and was presented by last year’s winner, Sean Russell.  And the Hero of the Seas Award went to Captain Charles Moore, presented by Plastic Pollution Coalition Executive Director Daniella Russo.

The winners came together with the directors of the National Aquarium, the Aquarium of the Bay, Hopkins Marine Lab, Marine Mammal Center, Mission Blue, SeaKeepers International, Greenpeace and 200 other ocean champions (including the director of ‘Ocean Champions’) at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

The evening started with winners greeting each other, Leon Panetta hugging Jane Lubchenco, Louis Psihoyos explaining about his new movie ‘6’ (the global extinction crisis with elements of a Hollywood thriller).  Gabriela Cowperthwaite talked with her NASCAR driver friend and supporter, Leilani Munter, whose ‘Blackfish’ racecar is painted to look like an Orca.

While ROV pilot Dirk Rosen spoke to one of Leon’s Secret Service agents, Leon told us about his love of growing up with sardine canneries in Monterey.   Although he was White House Chief of Staff, CIA Director and Secretary of Defense, he still counts creation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary as one of his proudest moments.benchley-awards-2014-0191

‘Sherman’s Lagoon’ creator Jim Toomey launches the festivities as this year’s MC.     

Jane Lubchenco introduced a video from Maria Damanaki.  She and Maria worked closely together to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (pirate) fishing.  In her video statement, Maria Damanaki reminds us that while real progress is taking place, “we need to stand shoulder to shoulder to address the tremendous challenges that our oceans and seas are still facing."

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Sam Farr introduced Leon Panetta “It all starts with California’s love affair with the sea as well written in David Helvarg’s book, ‘The Golden Shore’. Leon was emphatic about how we need to move faster on marine protection as the threats to our seas are mounting - "At a time of crisis over development, pollution, fisheries… we need to protect the oceans not just for the oceans sake but for life itself."

In his acceptance speech, Dr. Steve Gaines, Dean of the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara explained that, “Everything I’ve done (on fishing reform, marine protected areas, etc.) is through putting together interesting teams.  Solutions come when teams of people combine skills but… we have to find solutions that grow faster than the problems.”

In introducing Gabriella Cowperthwaite, Louie suggested that when deftly handled “film is a weapon of mass construction,” while Gabriella, a first-time filmmaker recounted the surprising and ongoing response that her riveting ‘Blackfish’ on captive whales and corporate malfeasance continues to receive.

In a video message, Prince Khaled bin Sultan explained his belief that, “ocean exploration today gathers critical information for making wise conservation decisions for the future,” while the Living Oceans Foundation director, retired Navy Captain Philip Renaud told the crowd how their research vessel is half way through a 5-year “Global Reef Expedition,” creating new ways to map and study coral systems.

Long time sailor and this year’s  ‘Hero of the Seas’ Captain Charles Moore, who discovered the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ and founded the Algalita Research Foundation noted that, “We live in the age of plastic.  The annual consumption of plastic and the weight of the earth’s human population are nearly equal… I hear it expressed that somehow technological advancements will result in ways to clean up the ocean and create non-polluting plastics that will cancel the need for radical changes in our globalized economic and political system that creates megatons of  waste.  There is no doubt that we need to keep pushing for global change.  Heroes, like Capt. Moore will make it happen!”

 

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Perhaps 16-year old sea turtle activist and 2014 Youth winner Casey Sokolovic expressed most clearly what unites all 48 past and present Benchley winners and their dedicated supporters. “I have learned many lifelong lessons in my 8 years of activism — which is half my life…I’ve discovered that to make a difference, you have to become the difference and not just be a small wave of change. You have to be a tidal wave and flood the world with this change.” She was so inspiring!

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Bay to Sea Symposium

David Helvarg and I were honoroed to be among many blue luminaries to speak to a crowd of more than 300 people who gathered at the Aquarium of the Bay's theater. They heard outstanding talks and panels on the Bay and the Wonder and the Challenges of the Ocean from past and present Benchley award winners Jane Lubchenco, Geraldine Knatz, Steve Gaines and Steve Palumbi, as well as the Bay Institute’s Program Director Marc Holmes.  David Helvarg moderated a luncheon conversation between National Geographic Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle and Scripps Institution of Oceanography Director Dr. Margaret Leinen.  They both addressed global issues like overfishing and climate change and the belief that it is not too late to enact solutions that can turn the tide in favor of our living seas.   It was great - Sylvia even led a meditation on the sea.

If that wasn’t enough to provide hope, you could leave the aquarium and walk down the pier to see dozens of sea lions noisily hauled out on the docks along the city’s waterfront where one of the world’s great marine wildlife recoveries is in progress.  This includes the return of harbor porpoises to the bay for the first time in 60 years and a large number of whales, dolphins, salmon and seabirds that are thriving just beyond the Golden Gate and up and down California’s coast.

If the world’s eighth largest economy (California) can prosper while protecting and restoring its coast and ocean, there’s no reason commonsense solutions can’t be scaled up to a national and global level.  That’s what Peter Benchley Ocean Award winners are working towards every day. This year’s more than 20 sponsors included Google, The Campbell Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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Top Ten Ocean Stories from 2013

Top Ten Ocean Stories from 2013

  • Just after the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippines, killing thousands and indicating the ‘new normal’ we can expect with extreme storms and weather patterns linked to climate change.
  • Vital Marine Protected Areas (ocean wilderness parks) were created off Argentina, the UK and elsewhere but Australia’s new conservative government rolled back its MPA protections while plans for an international agreement to protect the Antarctic’s Ross Sea were blocked by Russia and Ukraine.
  • Arctic 30 busted and released: The Greenpeace activists trying to stop Russian oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean were jailed for months, faced years in prison on piracy and hooliganism charges and then were suddenly released as part of President Putin’s Olympics PR amnesties.
  • Science on ocean acidification keeps getting scarier. New studies suggested that if the present rate of fossil fuel burning continues, the ocean will be more acidic by the end of this century than it has been in 20 million years. Not only will this make it harder on shell forming creatures already being impacted, it will reduce the dissolved oxygen content of the ocean.
  • 2013 Benchley Award winner Ed Markey was elected Senator from Massachusetts. He now joins ocean and climate champion Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Maine and Brian Schatz of Hawaii in the fight to turn the tide for a healthy ocean.
  • U.S. National Ocean Policy slowly moves towards implementation despite partisan opposition from House Republicans, led by inland representatives from eastern Washington and Waco, Texas.
  • The Chinese government promised to stop serving shark fin soup at state banquets, indicating the growing impact of the global shark conservation movement. Shark fin consumption kills tens of millions of these top predators every year.
  • Mystery dolphin and sea star deaths in 2013 still puzzle scientists while leaving wildlife populations impacted in the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean.
  • The European Union began to cut back on subsidies for its overcapitalized fishing fleet in order to reduce overfishing. The EU also targeted illegal fishing nations that may account for a third of the world’s catch, both important first steps.
  • 2013 Ocean Health Index scores the state of our seas at 65 out of a possible 100, up a mere 0.4 percent from the first annual report card in 2012. This is still a D for the Ocean (or more accurately the humans who abuse it).

Peter Benchley's Favorite Novel - The Girl of the Sea of Cortez

Friends, 

I am excited to let you know that Peter's favorite novel, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, has been updated and is being released on August 20th as an eBook and paperback with some wonderful new bonus content.  And earlier this year at our sixth annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, Sylvia Earle, Her Deepness, gave "The Girl of the Sea of Cortez" a heartfelt recommendation that I thought you would enjoy seeing - https://vimeo.com/72596394

Thirty years ago Peter took a wonderfully strange ride in the deep – a once-in-a-lifetime ride on the back of a giant manta ray that would compel him to write this, his favorite novel, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez

Peter was filming an American Sportsman segment on the huge schools of hammerhead sharks that used to gather periodically in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, but the majestic manta ultimately became the center of their cinematic attention and affection.

In truth, manta rays are like floating islands, oasis sanctuaries that host a myriad of animals seeking shelter, protection and sustenance from these grand giants. But they are very shy and almost never permit human contact.

This magical encounter gave Peter the idea for an adventurous and poignant story about the tension between humanity’s ever-growing need for food and the enormous pressure that overfishing and coastal development are are putting on our oceans and its amazing creatures. 

The fate of these beautiful mantas is in serious jeopardy. Because of their particular anatomy and the fact that mantas can’t swim backwards, they are prone to getting entangled in fishing lines and nets. As a result, they often turn up as incidental fishing "by-catch" or, worse, they are deliberately hunted down by frustrated fisherman who have lost too many nets.  In the past five years there has been an alarming rise in the use of manta gill-rakers for Chinese medicine, which is devastating manta populations globally and putting them at risk of extinction.

The Girl of the Sea of Cortez reminds us that the sea, like everything else on Earth, is finite and fragile.  I hope you and your family enjoy reading it as much as Sylvia! The Girl of the Sea of Cortez

Enjoy!

Wendy     

 

 

6th Annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards Celebration

On May 15th we honored eight heroes in national stewardship, science, policy, media, grassroots activism and the promise of youth to offer us solutions and hope. The Peter Benchley Ocean Awards are the world’s preeminent ocean awards and are unique in acknowledging outstanding achievement across many sectors of society leading to the protection of our ocean, coasts and the communities that depend on them. The awards celebrate Peter's legacy as someone who spent more than 40 years educating the public and expanding awareness of the importance of protecting sharks and ocean ecosystems.

In honoring President Macky Sall of Senegal this year we are honoring a third national leader following President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and President Anote Tong of Kiribati. These ocean heroes have come from Latin America, Oceana and Africa and reflect both a great challenge and a great hope.

The challenge is the devastating impacts of overfishing for the global seafood market, oil, plastic, chemical and nutrient pollution, loss of habitat to coastal sprawl and the global impacts of climate change. The hope is that nations like Costa Rica, Kiribati and Senegal in taking actions to restore and protect their seas can also inspire larger nations such as China, India, Brazil and the United States to enact strong policies and promote global initiatives for the betterment of our last great commons and blue frontier.

Certainly saving our seas and the people who depend on them (all of us) will require the imagination and boldness that we recognize in this year's Benchley winners. It will take the calculated risk of the explorer, the dedicated focus of the scientist, the practical statecraft of the policymaker, the communicative skills of the media worker, the impassioned idealism of youth and the inspirational leadership of both presidents and grassroots activists.

 

2013 Peter Benchley Ocean Award Honorees Named

 

What do a West African President, a pair of scientists studying life in the ocean, a twenty-year-old veteran of 4-H clubs, a Massachusetts Congressman, and two California women who spent over a decade working to create underwater parks have in common? They are among the winners of this year’s, sixth annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards.

The Benchleys are the only awards program dedicated to recognizing excellence in ocean conservation solutions across a wide range of categories including science, policy, media, youth and citizen activism.  The awards celebrate exceptional efforts leading to the protection of our ocean, coasts and the communities that depend on them.

This year’s winners were selected from among dozens of highly qualified candidates whose names were submitted to the selection committee. The awards will be presented on May 15, 2013 in Washington, D.C. during Blue Vision Summit 4.

We are please to announce the Peter Benchley Ocean Award recipients for 2013:

For Excellence in National Stewardship – President Macky Sall of Senegal
As one of his first acts after his election in 2012 President Sall rescinded all foreign fishing permits in his nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Within months of his action thousands of local fishermen were seeing their catches dramatically increased and their families and communities restored. President Sall is now moving forward with plans to assure a sustainable domestic fishery free of foreign exploitation, creating a resource management model for West Africa and the world.

For Excellence in Science – Boris Worm + Heike Lotze
Working both separately and in collaboration this husband and wife team of scientists from Dalhousie University in Canada have continued to expand on the work of the late Ransom Meyer, the first Benchley science award winner. Through their extensive body of work they have significantly increased the world’s knowledge about the changing abundance and diversity of the planet’s fish and marine wildlife populations and the impact of nutrient pollution and other human activities.

For Excellence in Policy – U.S. Representative Ed Markey

Representative Markey (D-MA) has a strong record of support for the oceans including as a critic of offshore drilling and outspoken critic of BP during its oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. He has promoted legislation to address climate change and ocean acidification, supports sustainable fishing policy and, as the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee has been a strong defender of National Ocean Policy, the Clean Water Act and other environmental protections.

For Excellence in Media – Nancy Baron + COMPASS

In 1999 leading ocean scientists and communications professionals established COMPASS to train marine scientists in communications skills needed to talk to the media, the public and policymakers about their findings. As the long-time Ocean Science Outreach Director for COMPASS Nancy Baron has played a pivotal role in establishing strong links between thousands of scientists and journalists so that changes and discoveries in our seas become news and information we can all use.

Christopher Benchley Youth Award – Sean Russell
Twenty-year-old Sean Russell became aware of the problem of marine plastic pollution as a high school intern at Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida. In response he founded the “Stow It-Don’t Throw It” project, a statewide monofilament fishing line recycling program and collaborative effort between youth and environmental groups that has since gone national. In 2011, with the help of Mote Marine Lab, Sean led the first Youth Ocean Conservation Summit held in Florida that inspired the creation of the activist Youth Ocean Conservation Team (YOCT). He has also given countless hours to community service projects while serving as a member of the Florida 4-H Program. Sean is now a senior at the University of Florida.

Hero of the Seas – Karen Garrison + Kaitilin Gaffney

They have worked together for more than a decade leading the effort to create, design and implement California’s 1999 Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) that, following a long and arduous process, has resulted in a world-class system of ocean wilderness parks. As of late 2012 these Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) cover some 16 percent of California state waters. While working for the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Ocean Conservancy Karen and Kaitilin kept their focus on grassroots organizing. In the words of California Secretary for Natural Resource’s John Laird, “They were incredibly successful in persuading others to their view because they listened to people’s concerns, and worked with them to find solutions that worked for all…their contribution to our blue ocean and to the communities that depend upon it is monumental.”

Hopefully hundreds of you will join this year’s winners at the Carnegie Institution in D.C. on the evening of May 15. The awards ceremony will be free and open to the general public. The awards dinner will be a ticketed event and not included in Blue Vision Summit 4 registration. Tickets will go on sale in February.

A Video for Jaws Fans and Peter's Legacy

Thirty-seven years after its release, Jaws remains one of the most successful and memorable films ever made.  It also created the first and lasting impression about sharks for many.

For Peter, writing Jaws was neither the beginning nor the end of his relationship with sharks. Sharks first fascinated him as a child on Nantucket. Shortly after Jaws was published in 1974, Peter and I went diving with great white sharks for the first time in South Australia with ABC's American Sportsman, Stan Waterman and Rodney Fox.  And Peter became enamored with sharks in a totally different way.

Legacy: The Words of Peter Benchley is a new short video by Shark Savers and 333 Productions that presents the shark conservation message of Peter Benchley – in his own words. For the decades after the release of Jaws, Peter devoted himself to marine conservation, with shark conservation a special concern.

Peter was the writer and I was the environmental policy wonk.  And for more than 30 years we traveled together on shark diving expeditions all over the world. Today, I am Board Chair of Shark Savers, an international non-profit organization whose sole mission is to protect sharks and mantas.

Legacy: The Words of Peter Benchley will move the Jaws fan to make the same transition as we did, from mere fascination of sharks, to respect, admiration and a strong desire to protect them.

Shark Savers has wanted to prepare a tribute to Peter for some time. In preparation for JawsFest 2012, a fan event that took place in Martha’s Vineyard in August, Shark Savers’ marine conservationist Samantha Whitcraft conceived of the idea to combine Peter's conservation message and eloquent words with the stunning imagery of white sharks filmed by the immensely talented underwater filmmaker, Joe Romeiro. Shark Savers turned to Joe and the fantastic production team led by Bill Fisher at 333 Productions, to produce Legacy with us.

White sharks are Vulnerable to extinction. Over a third of other pelagic sharks are also threatened with extinction, and shark populations throughout the world have been decimated by unsustainable demand for their fins. And yet, sharks are essential to the healthy balance of the oceans.

The message of Legacy is that we need to protect these important and magnificent animals. We hope you enjoy Legacy: The Words of Peter Benchley, and please check out all the great work Shark Savers is doing. 

Wendy Benchley - Board Chair, Shark Savers

Why JAWS Made Me Care About the Oceans

Less than 100 miles [160 kilometers] off the coast of Florida, Bimini lies low and flat on the horizon. The several islands that make up this Bahamian island chain are studded with palm trees, surrounded by sandy beaches and neatly laid out resort hotels, restaurants and marinas. A notable tourist destination for big-game fishing, this place is famous for once being home to Ernest Hemingway — and it is here that I recently found myself on both a personal and professional odyssey.

Personal, because I was there with my dear friend Wendy Benchley, together to honor her late husband and my best friend, Peter. Professional, because we were there with a Discovery Channel film crew making a documentary on how the movie “Jaws” — based on Peter’s book of the same name — changed the world. The special airs tonight as part of Shark Week — which itself probably wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for “Jaws.”

I first met Peter and Wendy about 32 years ago in Bermuda, under the guidance of a mentor we all shared: the great ocean explorer Teddy Tucker. We immediately kicked off a lifelong friendship based on the solid foundation of our passion for the ocean: they just off the fiery heels of “Jaws” mania, and me with the much lower profile of an oceanographer beginning his career.

At first we spent our time together studying whales, exploring the deep sea, night diving on seamounts, finding shipwrecks, and all manner and form of exploring the oceans, which make up over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and 95 percent of the biosphere.

But soon we began to notice fewer fish, bleached corals, pollution and many other symptoms that told us our beloved ocean was dying. The three of us then began focusing our time and careers on ocean conservation. Peter and Wendy began full-time advocacy work, making good use of their public names. I worked the NGO world, first at the New England Aquarium, but eventually running CI’s global marine program.

And now here we were in Bimini — site of some of the world’s most cutting-edge shark research — to discuss the legacy of “Jaws.” It has always been my view that while this story undoubtedly scared many people, it also had a positive impact by getting the oceans in people’s minds. It also introduced the world to a charismatic oceanographer figure in the character of Matt Hooper. He was funny, smart, a diver and totally engaged with the oceans; that character helped inspire the careers of myself and other young aspiring oceanographers.

I am hard-pressed to meet a colleague who has not been affected by this film. In addition, the public fascination with sharks spurred by “Jaws” helped lead to a dramatic uptick in shark research which has shaped how we understand the ocean today. 

As Wendy and I swam with these magnificent animals and I watched their interactions with the other reef residents, I saw for myself just how essential they are to all life in the sea and all life on Earth. Their removal from an ecosystem can have devastating effects upon the species below, as sharks help to keep these marine systems in balance. The presence of apex predators can lead to greater species diversity and density; in essence, sharks are critical to sustain the fisheries we depend on.

Yet despite their importance, around 100 million sharks are killed each year — many to meet the demand for shark fin soup, a cultural delicacy in many Asian countries that often costs as much as US$ 100 per bowl. In addition, sharks are often caught as accidental “bycatch” by commercial fishing nets which are set to catch other species — an extremely wasteful practice.

Greg Stone

Greg Stone

Today, almost 40 years after the release of biggest shark film of all time, the fate of the world’s sharks hangs in the balance. If we are to have any chance at reversing the depletion of these crucial species, we need to both reduce the demand for shark-related products and to work harder to develop and manage improved commercial fishing techniques. It won’t be easy, but as I see global discussions on ocean health gain traction, I’m optimistic that we are beginning to move the needle in the right direction.

Greg Stone is CI’s chief ocean scientist. “How ‘Jaws’ Changed the World” airs in the U.S. on Tuesday, 8/14 at 9 p.m. EST. You can celebrate Shark Week by sharing our viral whale shark video with a friend. 

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