A presentation about the New Jersey shark attacks of 1916 by the foremost authority, Dr. Richard Fernicola, an Allenhurst physician and author of Twelve Days of Terror, will headline the Marine Fisheries Lecture Series at the University of Delaware’s 25th annual Coast Day on Sunday, October 7th, at the Lewes campus. Coast Day is sponsored by UD’s Sea Grant College Program and the Graduate College of Marine Studies.
In July 1916, one or more sharks killed four swimmers and badly injured another during a period of less than two weeks off the coast of New Jersey. These attacks were unusual in that they not only occurred in close proximity to the shore, but also in Matawan Creek, a small stream over 11 miles inland from the open ocean. These shark attacks set off a wave of panic that kept visitors out of the water and threatened New Jersey’s thriving tourist economy. Although these shark attacks have been largely forgotten by many people, the attacks became the basis of Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws.
Fernicola conducted an investigation for over 20 years on the shark attacks — his research became the basis for two popular television documentaries “Legends of Killer Sharks” and “Shark Attack: 1916” that aired on the Discovery Channel and The History Channel, respectively. He recounts the attacks in his book Twelve Days of Terror, which includes numerous photographs from the period, including newspaper clippings, a honeymooner’s postcard, and a doctor’s handwritten description of one victim’s wounds and death.
In his presentation, which will begin at 2:00 p.m. in the Harbor Room of the Virden Center, Fernicola will discuss the shark attacks and provide information on the natural history and behavior of the many shark species that populate the Atlantic. His book will be available for sale after his presentation and a book signing will follow.
His presentation will be followed by a talk by Erin Rechisky from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Her talk is titled “Movements of Sandbar Sharks in Delaware Bay.” The sandbar shark, Carcharhinus plumbeus, is the most common coastal shark in the Delaware region during early spring and into late fall. Although the sandbar shark is large and commonly found in swimming areas, it has never been incriminated in a human attack.
The Marine Fisheries Lecture Series also will include the following presentations, all scheduled for the Harbor Room in the Virden Center. At 11:15, Patrick Gaffney, associate professor of marine biology-biochemistry, will kick off the lecture series with a presentation on the “Atlantic Oyster Fisheries in the 21st Century: Regional Restoration and Enhancement Efforts Play a Key Role.” Following Gaffney, at 12:15 p.m., will be Charles Epifanio, professor of marine biology-biochemistry, who will speak on “The Blue Crab Fishery: Facts, Fables, and Fiction.” And at 1:00 p.m., Robin Tyler, environmental scientist for the Division of Water Resources at Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), will present “Flounder in Delaware: The Present Status and What the Future Holds.”
In addition to the lecture series on Marine Fisheries, a lecture series on coastal hazards will be held in Room 202 of Cannon Lab. The series will begin at 11:00 a. m. with a lecture by Wendy Carey, coastal processes specialist with the Marine Advisory Service, titled “The Rip Current: A Potentially Dangerous and Deadly Ocean Force.” At 12:30 p.m., Jim Eberwine, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, will present “Hurricanes: Nature’s Greatest Storms.” Following Eberwine, at 1:30 p.m., will be Anthony Pratt, shoreline manager with DNREC who will speak about “Northeasters: Delaware’s Coastal Fury.” The Coastal Hazards Lecture Series will conclude at 3:00 p.m. with a lecture on “Coastal Flood Mitigation and the National Flood Insurance Program” by Michael Powell, coordinator of Delaware’s National Flood Insurance Program.
A number of businesses and industries are sponsoring special exhibits and events at Coast Day, including Tidewater Utilities, Motiva, Conectiv, SPI Pharma Group, and Oceanport Industries. Admission to this educational and fun-filled event is free; parking is $2. For more information, contact the UD Marine Public Education Office at (302) 831-8083 or visit the Coast Day Web site at www.ocean.udel.edu/CoastDay.