Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles (intense music) (water splashing) - [Narrator] This can be scary, and rightfully so. Sharks have patrolled the waters for over 400 million years. And while they are powerful creatures, our stories have given them the reputation of being vengeful killers. Hollywood says so. - You're gonna need a bigger boat. - [Narrator] So does the media. - [Reporter] A life or death struggle with one of the ocean's most dangerous predators. - [Narrator] But are sharks really the human hunters? - [Announcer] Terror of all men who enter the ocean. - [Narrator] Or the hunted? - [Reporter] Well, it's going to be a beautiful sunny day today. You might want to do some of those outdoor activities. (upbeat surf music) - I think the reason that sharks are feared by the general public is pretty self-explanatory. (whistle tweeting) They frickin' bite people sometimes. - [Narrator] This is Jess Cramp, Nat Geo explorer and founder of Sharks Pacific. She also lives near a lot of roosters, so you might hear this. (rooster crowing) But back to the shark bites. - It's unfortunate that it happens, but it does happen, so trying to avoid that fact, I feel like is a bit futile at this stage. - [Narrator] These rare bites typically stem from curiosity or mistaken identity, yet how we feel about sharks versus the data, that's a different story. Like a really different story. We think all sharks look like this, and do this. But actually. - Sharks are an incredibly diverse group of fish. Some sharks live most of their lives in a really small radius, just within a few coral heads, and others will swim around the planet. They range from whale sharks, which are the largest shark species, and they get to be about 40 feet long, down to the dwarf lantern shark, which is about eight inches. - [Narrator] That's cool, but when did they become the bad guys? Let's ask one of the people behind the International Shark Attack File, George Burgess. - [George] As long as humans entered the sea or floated upon it, the inevitable conflict between humans and sharks was present. - [Narrator] From the Greeks, Romans, and Spanish explorers, tales were written about battles with sharks, but fast forward to when leisure time became a thing, and Americans started going to beaches. The shark attacks from those ancient tales, they weren't really happening. - [George] It became obvious that shark attack certainly wasn't as common as people were saying it was. So the pendulum had swung from one side to the other. - [Narrator] And this millionaire was so convinced shark attacks weren't a thing, he offered a $500 reward to anyone who could prove him wrong, wild dude. As in, would jump into the water with a real shark at parties wild, yeah. Also, many scientists at the time agreed. Until this happened. - [George] When 1916 came around, and there was a series of attacks that occurred on the New Jersey coastline, suddenly the real world slapped everybody across the face. (slapping) - [Narrator] Starting on July 1st and spanning two weeks' time, the coastline of New Jersey witnessed five shark attacks resulting in four deaths. People were spooked. Locals even attempted to fight back by throwing dynamite into the water, seriously. (upbeat jazzy music) - [George] Because the New Jersey coastline was a popular vacation place for the elite, including the president, there was immediate concern and action that we had to get this taken care of because I got a vacation already planned later this summer. - [Narrator] The White House agreed to give federal aid to "drive away all the ferocious man-eating sharks which have been making prey of bathers." Eventually they put the blame on an eight-foot juvenile great white, but by then it was front page news. The damage was done. While 1916 played its role on sharks' reputation, it was a fictional story that really did a number. Yup. You guessed it. - [George] The book and the movie "Jaws," as in any good cinema or any good book, if you can get the reader, the viewer fully immersed, then you've done your job. (dramatic music) - [Narrator] Consider the audience immersed. The novel by Peter Benchley spent 44 weeks as a bestseller, and the movie became the largest grossing film at the time. It essentially created the summer blockbuster. - [George] People believed every last bit of that was fact, even though it took great liberties with facts, some knowingly, and some just because we know more now than what we knew then. - [Narrator] One such belief was that sharks are vengeful human hunters, which in turn led to a surge in humans hunting them. - [George] Shortly after the movie came out, there was a great influx in shark fishing tournaments up and down the East coast of the United States. As a result, shark population began to decline. - [Narrator] Today, scientists estimate a staggering 100 million sharks are killed every year around the world. And to make matters worse, sharks are specially vulnerable because they take longer to mature and typically produce their young at a slower rate. - So sharks are in trouble. While habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change are definitely problems for sharks, our biggest impact is through fisheries. - [Narrator] Overfishing of sharks is predominantly led by the demand for their fins, meat, and liver oil, and the lack of management to ensure shark fisheries are sustainable. - The way that we can make the most impact for sharks is actually through working with fishing agencies, with fishermen, also spatial protections on important critical habitat for them to try to reduce mortality and create a few more safe havens where they can actually hang out and repopulate. (soft marimba music) - [Narrator] The common narrative of sharks will likely continue to be on rare attacks, but in reality, the species are in need. Even Peter Benchley came to this truth as he later focused his efforts on shark conservation. - [Peter] If there's one thing I know for dead certain, it's that I couldn't possibly write "Jaws" today. I could not turn this beautiful beast into a villain. - Shark conservation is not a one size fits all. It's a multipronged problem, but they are fixable, and that's the one thing that I think is really important for people to know is that these are problems that while we may have created them, they are fixable.