Aug 20 2014


The summer of 1916 is noted for the deadly heat wave which drove the general populace to the seashores for refreshing swims, and also the polio epidemic. What makes that summer unforgettable in the human memory is the series of shark attacks which occurred that year between the July 1st 1916 and the July 12th of that year.

Up until that time, much of what is known about sharks was conjecture and speculation. Sharks were viewed by scientists as largely harmless, or at the very least timid until when provoked. Unprovoked shark attacks were almost totally unheard of.


map-jersey-shore-attacksThe attack began on the 1st of the month with 25 year-old Charles Vansant who was vacationing with his family at a beach resort.

He went swimming with his dog and encountered a shark and was badly mauled.  Though he was rescued, he died of loss of blood and shock shortly after.

6th July 1916: The next victim was 27 year-old bellhop Charles Bruder, who was attacked 45 miles away from the site of the first attack, in Spring Lake.

His belly was ripped open and lost both his legs.  A woman who saw the commotion from the sea shore reportedly shouted that a “red boat” had capsized; not realizing that the red she saw was his blood.

He lived long enough to describe his attacker to his rescuers, and then lapsed into a coma from which he didn’t waken.

These series of attacks were the ultimate inspiration for the series of hit movies Jaws. Although the movie “Jaws” was based around a large great white shark, the Jersey Shore shark attacks were believed to be Bull Sharks.


The Jersey Shore Shark Attacks Inspired the Hit Movie Series “Jaws”


12th July 1916: the day of the final three attacks, two of which took place in the Matawan Creek near the town of Keyport.

These attacks put paid to the popular belief that sharks cannot wander into creeks. The shark had been sighted by a former sea captain and he did what he could to warn the general public, but no one believed him.

11 year-old epileptic Lester Stillwell, who had been skinny-deeping with his friends, was attacked and killed. The other boys ran into town stark naked and alerted residents, and in the rescue effort, Watson Stanley Fisher, 24, was also attacked by the shark, and though he was rescued, died of blood loss shortly after.

Killer Shark Caught

Michael Schleisser Catches Great White

Barely 30 minutes later about a half-mile away, the monster made its final attack of the day and of that sequence on 14 year-old Joseph Dunn who was rescued by his brother and friend after a vicious tug of war.

He lost a leg in the catastrophe, but he was the only survivor of the attacks.

A man called Michael Schleisser, on the 14th July, caught a young great white shark, near the Creek  and managed to kill it, and when it’s belly was opened, the remains of what was certified as human flesh by scientists was found in it, thereby bringing to an end the shark’s reign of terror.

The 1916 attacks forever revolutionized the way sharks had been viewed. Up until that time scientists and ichthyologists (those who study fish) based most of what was know about sharks on theories and speculations. The attacks prompted more focused research on sharks and their behaviour, and it opened up a field of study which is still on-going today.

It can be said that the Jersey shore attacks of 1916 is the genesis of the notoriety of sharks.


Learn Why this Shark is so Dangerous