It’s Shark Week!

Echo underway, posted Monday, August 2, 2010

The mere mention of the words “shark week” brings work to a stop at the Connecticut Humanities Council. Really! Your ‘umble author even heard someone humming “Mack the Knife” in the hallway. (“Oh, the shark bites/With its teeth dear….”)

Why sharks have become a national obsession in recent years may be chalked up to the 1975 blockbuster film, Jaws, directed by a then-unknown Steven Spielberg. Based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, the film made ocean swimmers think twice about their daily dips. Benchley wrote parts of the novel during summers spent in Stonington, where he had a writing office in a converted turkey coop. Little did the sand tiger sharks swimming in Long Island Sound know.

Humans’ fascination with the superorder of fish called Selachimorpha, however, probably dates back to the first unfortunate—and undocumented—meeting of man and shark. Such meetings, we are told, are rare, but the dangers are real, making such sensational events newsworthy in today’s 24-7 media climate.

Team ECHO has found, though, that the fixation with sharks—of all sorts—goes back a long way in the Land of Steady Habits. So steady the tiller and sail with us this week with some historical shark snark.

On second thought, don’t go near the water. But check back this week for more Connecticut shark tales.

P.S. Little was understood about sharks when Peter Benchley penned Jaws (1974). The novel and the film, however, mark the beginning of a sustained period of research into these “wolves of the sea.” When Benchley published White Shark (1995), he had become a committed environmentalist. The novel, about a genetically engineered shark that had escaped from a sunken Nazi U-boat and was menacing a Connecticut shore community, was criticized for being too “preachy.” Bentley stood by his sermons, pointing out to interviewers what had been learned about these creatures.