The Island may not have done the box office of Jaws and The Deep but Michael Caine gave a credible performance. Why haven’t we seen Beast or White Shark rolled out for the big screen?»Both have been on the small screen. Beast was sold to Universal as a feature, but, after receiving scripts from both me and John Carpenter, the studio deemed it too expensive – around $30 million, which doesn’t seem like much today, when the average movie costs something like $74 million to make and market, but it stopped them back then. It ended up as a two-part miniseries on NBC in 1996, and I gather it got good ratings. White Shark was optioned for a feature in 1994, but, again, various studios thought it would be too expensive. So it languished for a while and was finally made into a miniseries for ABC. Were the producers faithful to the book? Why, certainly: they kept everything but the title (it was renamed Creature), the location, the good guys, the bad guys, the monster and the story. I don’t remember what year it was broadcast, but I heard that it did okay. It starred Craig T. Nelson and Kim Cattrall – long before her Sex And The City triumph. Your latest book, Shark Trouble, might be interpreted as something of a mea culpa.
You’ve spent a lot of time in recent years working to better educate the public about the need for shark conservation and helping to bring some reality to the discussion of sharks as predators of man. How did you feel about the sensationalized stories last summer about shark attacks?»Shark Trouble was not intended at all as a mea culpa, for several reasons. I don’t feel a bit of guilt about Jaws. The book made use of the best information that was available 30 years ago. It was as realistic as I could make it. Great White sharks had done every single thing that happened in the book, though not all at once and certainly not one single shark. Over the years, Jaws has brought a great deal of positive attention to the plight of sharks and the ocean. I still get about a thousand letters a year from kids who weren’t alive when the book was published or the movie released, and they all express fascination and adoration for sharks. The conservation work I’ve done since – and do still – is the result of education and growth: mine. I’ve grown up with the environmental movement, and with what I – we all – know now, I couldn’t possibly write Jaws today. Last summer’s hysteria was dumb, hideous and downright wrong! I campaigned against it all summer, and in the fall it became the genesis of Shark Trouble. I wanted to write something that set the record straight and pointed out how the Internet makes us all vulnerable to distortions, wild exaggerations, and outright lies.
Are you and your family still active divers?»Oh yes. My two grown kids work in New York and don’t have much chance to dive, but Wendy and I and 15-year-old Christopher dive as often as we can. We three took long trips to Polynesia and Galapagos for the Geographic, and Christopher has learned from Teddy Tucker how to be a discerning bottle collector. His favorite pastime is diving for old bottles in Bermuda. What are your favorite places to dive?»That depends on what we’re looking for. For White sharks: South Africa. For shipwrecks: Bermuda. For sheer beauty: the Barrier Reef. I’ve never, though, been to the Philippines, which I hear is spectacular. For variety, beauty and WWII relics: New Guinea. For pristine wildlife and (relatively) untouched reefs in this hemisphere: The Gardens of the Queen, off the southeast coast of Cuba. Any bad encounters with sharks yourself?»I’ve had some exciting encounters – all detailed in Shark Trouble – but I’ve never been bitten nor witnessed anyone being bitten. I repeat: I feel awkward even speaking about shark problems in your presence. Your ghastly day near St. Croix is worse than anything I can imagine.
Do you think that sharks are getting a better reputation from the efforts of those like yourself who can use celebrity as a bully pulpit?»I hope so, I think so, but it’s hard to know for sure. Certainly, the devastation that’s happening to shark populations has nothing to do with fear of sharks: it’s all due to human greed. How do you feel about Florida’s ban on shark feeding for divers?»I think it’s overkill. Some sharkfeeding enterprises – most, in fact – are well run, safe and genuinely educational for the public. A few aren’t. I don’t think the entire industry needed to be shut down. What marine life do you find most fascinating?» Since I don’t take photographs and thus don’t know much about the macro creatures that David Doubilet and Stan and others know so well, I still gravitate toward big animals. Sharks are endlessly fascinating to me. What more should we be doing to further the conservation efforts for sharks and other marine species?»It sounds banal, but the answers really are: education and lobbying. I recently spent a day in Washington, lobbying four Senators and two Congressmen on issues like IFQs (Individual Fishing Quotas) and MPAs (Marine Protected Areas), which, in my opinion, are the best solutions currently available to the problem of depletion of species. Pardon me, but I have to ask, were you involved in the later movie editions in the Jaws series? They weren’t exactly Citizen Kane material.»I had nothing to do with any of the sequels. I didn’t even see them. I took my fee for each one, and ran like a rabbit.