'Shark Week' to 'Sharknado': Why We're Obsessed With Sharks

PHOTO: Richard Dreyfuss, left, and Robert Shaw in a scene from the film Jaws directed by Steven Spielberg, 1975.

Long before Steven Spielberg created the summer blockbuster "Jaws," Americans have been obsessing about the sharks creeping beneath the surface along our shores. Here are some of the milestones that spawned the cultural phenomenon surrounding sharks.

1916: New Jersey Shark Attacks

PHOTO: A series of shark attacks occurred along the New Jersey shore in 1916.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHOTO: A series of shark attacks occurred along the New Jersey shore in 1916.

The country's fear and fascination with sharks has often been credited to a series of shark attacks in 1916 in New Jersey that saw four people killed and one injured during a two-week period. The attacks led to widespread panic over sharks and a wave of shark hunts.

1974: "Jaws," the novel by Peter Benchley

PHOTO: Jaws the novel was first released in 1974.
Amazon
PHOTO: "Jaws" the novel was first released in 1974.

Sixty years after the attacks, novelist Peter Benchley wrote a novel loosely based on the events of 1916 and the story of a fisherman from Long Island who was determined to hunt down the killer shark. He set his novel in the fictional seaside resort town of Amity, Long Island, and the book rocketed to the top of the bestseller list.

1975: "Jaws," the movie by Steven Spielberg

PHOTO: Jaws the movie premiered in 1975.
Amazon
PHOTO: "Jaws" the movie premiered in 1975.

Spielberg directed "Jaws" the movie and, with its release in 1975, created the summer blockbuster film. The movie followed local officials and fishermen as they tried to hunt down the giant shark terrorizing the summer crowds on Amity's beaches, and left America looking below the surface every time they swam.

1988: The First "Shark Week"

PHOTO: The first Shark Week aired on the Discovery Channel in 1988.
Discovery Channel
PHOTO: The first "Shark Week" aired on the Discovery Channel in 1988.

The Discovery Channel premiered its first "Shark Week" in 1988 with a documentary called "Caged in Fear" about the development of shark cages. Its popularity showed America still had an appetite for all things sharks, and "Shark Week" has continue uninterrupted for 26 years.

2013: "Shark Week" Gets Biggest Audience: 30+ Million People

PHOTO: 30 million viewers watched Shark Week in 2013, making it the biggest audience yet.
Discovery Channel
PHOTO: 30 million viewers watched "Shark Week" in 2013, making it the biggest audience yet.

By 2013, "Shark Week" had become a full-blown phenomenon, with merchandise, celebrity hosts, drinking games and references in hit TV shows, including "30 Rock."

2013: Premiere of "Sharknado," a Movie About a Tornado Filled With Sharks

PHOTO: 2013: Sharknado, a Movie About a Shark Tornado, Premieres
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Syfy
PHOTO: 2013: Sharknado, a Movie About a Shark Tornado, Premieres

As if anyone could forget this moment in shark history, this made-for-TV-movie that premiered on the Syfy channel in 2013 showed what could (probably never) happen if a tornado swept up man-eating sharks and deposited them in a major city. It was followed up in 2014 by "Sharknado 2: The Second One."

2014: "Shark by Tara" Perfume Available

PHOTO: The perfume Shark by Tara was released in 2014.
tarareid.com
PHOTO: The perfume "Shark by Tara" was released in 2014.

"Sharknado" star Tara Reid launched her signature perfume, Shark by Tara. And America's obsession with sharks continued, unabated.

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