The boy was dead. Fisher died a few hours later. For John Nichols, Fisher's death isn't just fact -- it's family. Stanley was Nichol's great-uncle, and something more. "He's a man in your family who died a hero," said Werner.
"He probably was a hero. But I think he also was a man of his times," said Nichols. "He knew the boys well -- he was a member of the community."
And the community (and all of America, it seemed) wanted revenge.
Crowds descended on New Jersey to hunt the shark. "They set up bounty rewards for sharks," said Fernicola. "They used dynamite and took old spears and pitchforks and rifles and other weapons to try to hunt the shark. It was absolutely a frenzy.
"Sharks became public enemy number one."
And to this day, random shark attacks are always front-page news. Although they're extremely rare, there were a record 98 attacks worldwide in 2015, including six fatalities. Last month, sharks bit swimmers off the coasts of Florida and California.
But the experts say the fact of the matter is that humans are the real threats to sharks, with some 100 million killed every year, primarily for shark fin soup.
- Video: Technology tries to track sharks ("CBS This Morning," 05/31/16)
- Conservation body bolsters shark fin trade regulations (03/11/13)
- Long Island tradition changes to save the sharks ("CBS Evening News," 07/29/13)
- Shark fin soup demand feeding extinctions (03/06/10)
Shark educators, like Nikki Grandinetti at the Adventure Aquarium outside of Philadelphia, work to convince people that sharks -- if not exactly our friends -- are a vital part of the ecosystem.
"What I really want people to understand is to learn to love the underwater world and the oceans, to understand that sharks are out there to be revered and not feared, to understand how wonderful they are, that they make up an important part of the food chain and they're not these killing machines that are out there to eat humans or interact with humans," Grandinetti said. "We are not on their menu!"
And there's no better way to convince us of that, than to enter the shark tank.
The sand tiger and sandbar sharks were curious, and came a little too close for Werner's comfort, but the truth is, these are not known for attacking humans -- a far cry from the killer (or killers) a century ago.
The 1916 Jersey Shore shark attacks ended soon after they began. While a great white shark was captured near Matawan Creek, the debate continues as to the culprit. Was it that great white? Was it a bull shark, which can swim in fresh water? Or was it several sharks?
"They still believe they stand out among shark attacks, perhaps even worldwide, as the Titanic of shark attacks," said Fernicola, "because of their frequency, their ferocity, the scientific context."
At Stanley Fisher's gravesite, John Nichols pays his respects to the relative he never met but grew to know and admire. "He just was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Nichols said. "A bizarre set of circumstances that will never be repeated again."
As for the perpetrator, Nichols holds no hard feelings. "I don't blame the shark," he said. "It was a collision course. And I don't hold any animosity toward that shark, or sharks in general."
And if he doesn't, maybe we shouldn't, either.
For more info:
- "Twelve Days of Terror: Inside the Shocking 1916 New Jersey Shark Attacks" by Richard G. Fernicola, M.D. (Lyons Press)
- Adventure Aquarium, Camden, N.J.
- Shark Advocate International
- Shark Savers
- Shark Foundation
- "Jaws" on Blu-ray and DVD; also available via Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu
- jawsmovie.com (fan site)