The book “Close to Shore” ,by Michael Capuzzo, is about historical accounts of a series of shark attacks in the summer of 1916 when a rogue great white shark started hunting swimmers along the jersey shore. These attacks caused mass hysteria and fear of the ocean and ignited one of largest shark hunts in history.
The book begins with people not knowing much about great white sharks, only hearing stories about them being man eating monsters. Most people thought they weren’t real, they were only something you’d hear in stories like Moby Dick which told of giant white sharks or in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea which told of a “man eating fish” which “persisted in the machine age”. The sharks that most people knew about were smaller and usually didn’t harm humans. Many people were completely unaware of these sharks, they were just out for a summer day at the beach and were completely unaware of sharks.
The first attack killed Charles Vasant, many people did not know what killed him. The local fisherman thought it was a “giant sea turtle” and said that it was impossible for a shark to do that much damage. The attack was downplayed and was only reported in local newspapers and only got a four page report somewhere in the middle of the newspaper that stated it was “a mysterious attack at sea”. The New York Times only had a brief four paragraph story about the event stating that a Vansant “dies after attack by fish”. None of the newspapers that reported the incident stated the speculations of the baymen that it was a sea turtle or a shark. Nobody knew what fish was capable of tearing a man apart.
The next attack was an attack on a man named Bruder. The attack killed Bruder by tearing off part of his torso and his legs. A doctor was called in who had experience in fish attacks and in his autopsy report stated it was a shark attack which was the first ever medical report of a shark attack. Some denied it was a shark attack, “Old time fisherman insisted a shark attack was too far fetched to believe”(pg153). The ichthyologist, Dr. Nichols, suspected it was a killer whale because Bruder’s legs had been torn off in “dull, jagged cuts”(pg159). Whatever animal it was people were in disbelief at what it can do to a person. Reports of the attacks spread mass hysteria and left people in horror of the animal so badly that nobody wanted to go in the water anymore. People started locking themselves in their rooms or going in the pool instead of the ocean, “the pool at the bath and tennis club grew uncomfortably overcrowded”(pg167).
By this time the beaches were empty and some even closed down. Some beach resorts tried to justify why people should still swim in the ocean by putting up nets around the beach to stop sharks from getting in the swimming area. Others said that the water was too shallow to be attacked by a shark, although most shark attacks occur in shallow waters. Some people wanted to hunt the shark. The doctor who examined Bruders body was starting to create plans to organize a patrol with armed men and a fleet of boats to protect swimmers. The mayor and a member of the Asbury Park Fishing Club said they would “tow the carcasses of horses and cows to a remote area a quarter mile off of Sandy Hook”(pg190). Many sport fishermen were eager to try and catch the monster shark while members of the gun club were going to try and “eradicate all the man-eaters in the sea”. For many people the shark scare had become a reality.
The news of Bruder’s death had spread from local news to all along the east coast very quickly. Instead of just getting a small section of the paper, shark attacks now got entire pages and cover stories. When a large shark was swimming towards the shore to a group of people it was spotted and shot at by a police officer which caused it to swim away past the Robbins Reef Lighthouse. The news spread along the beach quickly and many people decided to quit swimming. Despite the heat the beaches were empty. An essay written by Annette Kellerman told about how people in Australia reacted to sharks and that “The shark to an Australian child occupies the same position as the bogeyman does to American children”(pg194).
During high tide the shark swam into a creek in a town called Matawan, killed two people and injured another. One of them was Stanley Fisher who was said to be the strongest man in the town and the other was a young boy. They set up a fence around the entrance to the creek so the shark couldn’t get out. People felt that it was personal because of how many people the shark hurt in so little time that after they heard that Stanley Fisher died the mayor set a bounty of $100 on the shark. The people “had no place to put fear into rage”(pg253). Soon everyone reported sharks swimming up the creek, attracted by all the dead fish and the splashing from the dynamite. A few days later a large hole was discovered in the wire fence and all the bait was gone. After this, shark hunting became one of the most popular pastimes of the summer. Many sharks were killed and their stomachs were slit open but the only thing that came out was fish, no human flesh.
The US Coast Guard had called its war off on sharks because they figured out it was only a single great white shark, as did John T. Nichols and Robert Cushman Murphy. Both of them loved the sea and neither of them was “disposed by nature to pursue the oceans largest and fiercest predator. Schleisser caught a shark and when he cut its stomach open he found bones that looked like human bones. Over the next few years sharks still scared people out of the water whenever a fin was spotted, by the end of the summer shark attacks had stopped going on the front pages and news about World War One had replaced it. People returned to the beaches, shark hunts stopped and as people became more educated they did not fear sharks anymore.