Did trains spawn shark-phobia?

Sharks used to be considered just another fish — until 1916. As trains brought more Americans to the seaside, swimming became a popular pastime. In July 1916, four swimmers in New Jersey were killed by shark bites. Although some of the attacks occurred in rivers, and were likely caused by bull sharks, newspapers whipped up hysteria about a monstrous great white shark that was supposedly hunting beach-goers.

That’s from the American Museum of Natural History’s excellent “Sharks” exhibit. The 1914 event inspired Peter Benchley’s book Jaws, which in turn became the blockbuster film responsible for many people’s fear of sharks.

Another interesting fact from the exhibit:

A 2006 survey found that 75 percent of Chinese consumers were not aware that shark-fin soup was made from real shark fins. When they learned that millions of sharks were killed to produce the soup, the majority chose to stop buying it. In neighboring countries, however, sales are still rising.

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