As we look back on the life of Peter Benchley, let us not only recall his facility with language and storytelling, but also his passion for ocean conservation. Benchley himself worked throughout his life to remind us that sharks are a vital part of our ecosystem and should be treated with respect. Most shark species are long-lived, are late to reach reproductive maturity, have long gestational periods, and often produce few pups. These characteristics make it difficult for an impaired population to rebound, and make sharks highly vulnerable to human attack. He spoke out against shark finning, a practice that has grown with the increasing demand for shark fin soup, a delicacy in Asia. Most often, fishermen capture the shark, sever all of its fins and toss it back to the ocean where it dies on the ocean floor. This is cruel punishment for a creature that is essential to maintaining the equilibrium of the marine food chain.
In 2000, the USA banned shark finning. We must extend the same protection for these magnificent creatures to the other countries around the world in whose waters this carnage still takes place. Some shark species should be designated for total protection as their populations are especially vulnerable to collapse.
While Benchley’s novel, “Jaws,” may have raised the level of panic on beaches for a time, it also made the world aware of sharks and tied our cultural memory closer to this marine species than practically any other animal on Earth.