"That's one of the things I still fear," Spielberg confessed. "Not to get eaten by a shark, but that sharks are somehow mad at me for the feeding frenzy of crazy sport fishermen that happened after 1975, which I truly, and to this day, regret the decimation of the shark population because of the book and the film. I really truly regret that."
"Jaws" told the story of a vengeful great white shark that terrorized a small coastal town celebrating the July 4th holiday with a string of violent attacks and deaths. The movie starred Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss and went on to win three Academy Awards.
Back in 2006, the late author of the 1974 novel that became the basis of the movie, Peter Benchley, expressed the same sentiments about the book and how it made villains out of sharks. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Benchley even became a shark conservationist due to his regrets portraying the animals as killing machines.
"Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today. Sharks don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges," he said at the time.
He later wrote his 2002 nonfiction book “Shark Trouble” as a way to make amends for the shark hysteria his previous novels had caused. In the years before his death, Benchley became an advocate for sharks. He lectured on marine conservation and even traveled the world to make documentaries that featured him swimming with sharks and whales alike.
Towards the end of his life, he told the Daily Express, "I hope that 'Jaws' will have brought sharks into the public interest at a time when we desperately need to reevaluate our care for the environment."
Mongabay, a news site dedicated to conservation and environmental science, looked into a 2021 study of 109 shark movies released between 1958-2021 and found that only one film, "Finding Dory" in 2016, did not portray sharks as human threats.
"What we found is that it was really consistent to how the news media portrays sharks. All of the films, apart from one, had sharks that were scary, that were biting people, or people fearing sharks. That was the really prominent thing: that sharks were scary," the article read. "... Some people just think, 'Why bother conserving sharks if they can harm us.' But what it also does is it makes people more likely to want potentially lethal mitigation techniques."