World War II Spawned America’s Shark Obsession

Are Americans obsessed with sharks? Well, in 1975, Jaws defined what we now call the summer blockbuster. And Shark Week still draws audiences more than 30 years after it began. But the real obsession with sharks began earlier, when Americans were put in real danger from sharks. That wasn’t their greatest danger, because we’re talking about World War II. But it was the time that millions of Americans were introduced to ship travel in the armed forces, where surviving an enemy attack could lead to yet more danger.

Local newspapers across the country transfixed civilians and servicemen alike with frequent stories of bombed ships and aircraft in the open ocean. Journalists consistently described imperiled servicemen who were rescued or dying in “shark-infested waters.”

Whether sharks were visibly present or not, these news articles magnified a growing cultural anxiety of ubiquitous monsters lurking and poised to kill.

The naval officer and marine scientist H. David Baldridge reported that fear of sharks was a leading cause of poor morale among servicemen in the Pacific theater. General George Kenney enthusiastically supported the adoption of the P-38 fighter plane in the Pacific because its twin engines and long range diminished the chances of a single-engine aircraft failure or an empty fuel tank: “You look down from the cockpit and you can see schools of sharks swimming around. They never look healthy to a man flying over them.”

There were some fairly terrifying incidents of ship attack survivors being eaten by sharks, drawn by the blood of the wounded and the dead. Read about the rise of shark fear and how it lingers all these years later at The Conversation. -via Damn Interesting

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Source: neatorama

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