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The New Jersey Man Eater

The New Jersey Man Eater might be a single shark, or it might be many different sharks. Either way, they were responsible for five attacks between July 1st and 12th, 1916.  These attacks resulted in four deaths and one injury.

Summer at the Jersey Shore in 1916 was a hot one, with temperatures hitting over ninety degrees, forcing droves of people to to the cool ocean waters. On July 1st, Charles Van Sant, a 23-year-old on vacation from Philadelphia, went for a swim, going out about one hundred yards. Other swimmers saw a shadow approaching and called ou in warning, but Van Sant was unable to hear them. When he was about 50 feet fromt he shore, something grabbed at his legs, which caught the notice of Alexander Ott, a former Olympic swimmer. Ott dove out to help Van Sant, and carried him back to the shore, but it was too late for the young man. Both of his legs were badly mangled and he died on the shore. This was the first reported Shark Attack in New Jersey history.

July 6th, 1916. Charles Bruder, a 27-year-old bellboy, goes for a swim on his day off. A woman on shores shouts that a man is in distress, but by the time rescuers make it out to him there was nearly nothing left from the waist down. The death of Bruder is the true beginning of the panic. Some communities install wire nets, others patrol the shore in boats with shotguns. But little did they know that the remaining three attacks would take place in a body of water they least expected.
Bull Shark (Image Source

Wednesday, July 12th. Lester Stillwell, an 11-year-old boy, decides to go for a swim with friends in Matawan Creek, sixteen miles inland. The boys see a fin and scramble out of the water. Stillwell doesn't make it and is pulled under. The boys run into town, seeking help. Watson Stanley FIsher,a  24-year-old business owner, is one of those who answer the call. He dives into the creek, looking for Stillwell's body. He too is attacked. Fisher is rushed to the hospital, but dies from shock and loss of blood a few hours later. A half mile and 30 minutes after the Fisher/Stillwell attack, 14-year-old Joseph Dunn is also hit. His brothers and friends play tug-of-war with the shark, who eventually lets go. Dunn survives with the loss of his leg.

After the attack on Dunn the New Jersey Man Eater seemed to be at rest. On July 14th, an 8.5 foot White Shark was caught a few miles from Matawan Creek. Human bones were found in its stomach that matched the size of the victims. Everyone believed that this was the Man Eater, but six days after the attacks, a 7 foot Bull Shark was caught in the creek itself. Numerous studies have been done on the identity of the shark that caused so much terror. Many have been skeptical that the White Shark was  responsible; they are rare in New Jersey waters and almost never travel inland to brackish waters. Bull Sharks, on the other hand, have been known to travel upstream, and are far more common to the New Jersey area.

It is also likely the the attacks were caused by more than one animal, perhaps by sharks to separate species. We will probably never know for sure what caused these attacks, which were an incredibly rare occurance. The summer of 1916 attacks inspired several studies, books, and documentaries, including a 2009 Shark Week special titled Blood in the Water.


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