It burst from the deep with terrifying rows of razor-sharp teeth leaving bodies everywhere, a lot of blood, and a generation terrified of ever going in the water again.

Next year marks 50 years since Peter Benchley’s thriller Jaws arrived on bookshelves – closely followed by the gruesome film with its horrifying shark attacks and the bloodlust race to hunt down and slaughter the great white responsible.

It helped seal an image of sharks as evil predators that craved human flesh, leading to their numbers being decimated and film director Steven Spielberg to speak of his regret at the “feeding frenzy of crazy sword fishermen” it sparked.

Now, however, new Scottish-based research has turned the grisly story of Jaws its head, and revealed fishermen actually have an unexpected soft spot for sharks.

Rather than wanting to hunt and kill them, they are more likely to want to help protect them and to aid researchers as they try to learn more about the ocean’s most misunderstood creatures.

The research was led by Dr Sarah Marley, a senior lecturer in ecology at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) as part of an effort to untangle how sharks are really perceived by those who encounter them most often.

While previous international studies have suggested fear and even a lingering hatred towards sharks  motivated anglers to chase them down, it found that in the UK at least, there is instead a deep willingness among the fishing community to look after them.

The study’s findings will now be used to help develop UK conservation and research projects, potentially involving fishermen and anglers who can use their close encounters of the shark kind to help build knowledge of the species that live in and pass through UK waters.


The Herald: Attack great white shark. (28137955)

The research also highlights the existing shark angling industry in some parts of the UK, where chartered boats carrying up to 10 anglers can charge around £630 per day and have been known to catch and release up to 40 blue sharks in a single outing.

The research focused on exploring attitudes towards sharks among recreational anglers in England and Wales where recreational fishing for shark is far more common than in Scotland. However, it has implications here as warmer seas encourage greater movement of species into new water.

There are also growing signs that deep sea angling tourism in Scotland may be on the edge of a new era: the first commercially caught Atlantic bluefin tuna for decades were netted recently off the Outer Hebrides, echoing days when fishing for tuna off UK waters was a massive sport.

Read more: 

Which sharks can be found in Scotland? More than you might imagine

Groups there have been looking at how to develop a new tuna fishing sector, with plans to visit fishing communities in Boston where deep sea fishing for species like bluefin tuna and blue sharks is a major tourism draw for ‘big game anglers’.

The SRUC research looked at attitudes towards blue sharks, the most commonly caught shark in UK water and which have sustained declines of more than 50% over the last three generations.

It found all anglers questioned had respect for sharks, while all angling tour operators and 80% of anglers said wanted to take part in research projects.

Around 40 species of shark of varying sizes can be found in UK waters. Some remain here all the time, and others, such as blue sharks which travel thousands of miles around the Atlantic and pass through during the summer months, are seasonal visitors.

Dr Marley said: “Blue shark have been commercially fished in the past, while at the moment shark recreational tours in Wales and England see people pay to go out and catch them.

“Once they catch them, they tend to release them, which is good.



The Herald: Basking shark. Picture by Andrew Pearson

“But we wanted to look at whether there is concern about this recreational fishing which is not always looked at in fishing policies, and understand the relations recreational fishers have with blue sharks and if there are opportunities to get them involved in shark research and conservation.

“Other studies in the US and Australia have suggested the motive behind shark fishing was fear and hatred towards sharks - Jaws has a lot to answer for, and there are a lot of fishing tours and clubs dedicated to hunting them.

“But we found that wasn’t the opinion here at all. The tour operators, tourists and recreational anglers all had a lot of respect for sharks, they want to use technology to reduce stress and are keen to release them safely back into the water afterwards.

“While tour operators actually said they think the recreation shark fishing industry has a responsibility to support health shark populations.

“That was not what we expected.”

Blue sharks can grow more than 12ft in length and as part of its annual migration can be found in offshore areas to the west of Scotland, including the Solway Firth, during the summer months.

While Porbeagle sharks, also often targeted by recreational anglers, can reach  more than 10ft long and weigh up to 300lbs and can be found all around the British Isles in the warm summer months.

For many, however, the most recognisable shark in Scottish waters, is the basking shark. It feeds only on plankton, can grow up to 32ft in length and weigh several tonnes. Its numbers are thought to have declined by up to 80% in recent years.

Feared great white sharks - the stars of Jaws movies - prefer warmer waters: the closest confirmed sighting to the UK was one seen in the Bay of Biscay in 1977. 

Dr Marley said the research has helped better understand attitudes to sharks in UK waters by the angling community, which gives hope that they can play an active role in projects to monitor various species and help better inform policies surrounding how they are fished.

“Sharks are important part of the ecosystem,” she added. “We know them as they are portrayed, but it’s through their activity that we have healthy oceans.


The Herald: Shark

“If you have plenty of sharks it’s a good indicator that the ocean is doing well.

“For blue sharks, we don’t know much about them or where they go. They are quite elusive, tending to occur around 10 miles or so offshore – so you’re not going to come across them when you’re out paddling.

“But we want to know more about them, what population is, where they breed, what is their life story.

“It’s hard for us to go offshore and do the research, but anglers and tour companies are out on water, right up close to animals we would come.

“This study shows that contrary to what expected, shark fishermen respect sharks and see the value of research and conservation and want to help with it.

“This gives us opportunity to work closely with people out there seeing these species up close, and working together.”