Shark mania rolls into town and not a fishing rod in sight

Andrew Shaw wrestles his dinner to the plate. — Photo courtesy of Tiger Shaw

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Oak Bluffs, “JAWSFEST The Tribute” arrives on Martha’s Vineyard.

JAWSFEST is four days of shark and movie marketing hype with conservation, education and poetry ladled into the celebrity chum slick for good measure. It is timed to coincide with “Shark Week” programming on cable’s Discovery Channel.

The fishermen who participated in the Oak Bluffs monster shark tournament made no pretensions about what they were here to do. They were here to catch sharks.

As near as I can tell, the JAWS event hopes to cash in on the continuing fascination some people continue to hold for a 35-year-old movie that scared the hell out of them, and the willingness of those connected to the movie, no matter how small their role, to keep talking about it.

I put Jaws movie buffs in the same category as Star Trek fans. The advantage, I suppose, is that Jaws fin’atics do not have to learn the Klingon language. But Islanders can expect to see lots of people wearing shark head hats.

And livin’ the dream does not come cheap. VIP bracelets, which provide access to all events, cost $295. For $20, you can see the movie in Ocean Park and gain access to the “sharks, arts and conservation” exhibit.

The four-day event will feature several Hollywood types associated with the movie, and a group of aging Island extras talking about the movie. But is there really anything left to say or dissect?

I guess so, judging by a lineup that includes several autograph sessions and events at the Whaling Church titled, “How JAWS changed our lives,” and “The Women of Jaws, Susan Backlinie, Lee Fierro, Edith Blake and Susan Murphy share the making of Jaws from a women’s perspective.”

The latter three women are Islanders who had bit parts in the movie. Ms. Backlinie, now 65 and living in Southern California, played the doomed swimmer — her name was Chrissie Watkins, don’t ya know — according to the Boston Globe.

Chrissie’s severed arm, complete with rings on the fingers and sufficient gore, will be on display. It is just one of the props that effects artist Greg Nicotero of “The Walking Dead” has re-created for a “Behind the Screams” exhibit. Perhaps Mr. Nicotero would be willing to lend his talents to the monster shark tournament organizers next year.

Greg Skomal, a Division of Marine Fisheries biologist and the state’s shark expert, is scheduled to talk about shark biology and conservation. A member of the Bass and Bluefish Derby committee and a former Island resident, Greg has been tagging white sharks off the Cape.

He provides a fascinating presentation. I suspect Greg is going to feel like he like he walked on stage at a Beach Boys nostalgia concert.

Last week, Greg was making the rounds of the news casts and talk shows commenting on what is confirmed to be the first documented attack by a white shark on a human in Massachusetts waters since 1936.

In recent years, any shark sighting near the Cape or islands has generated breathless summer news coverage. An actual shark attack was too good to be true — unless you were Chris Meyers, the guy from Colorado who a white shark decided to taste.

For those of you who missed the story, Mr. Meyers was swimming out to a sandbar with his teenage son J.J. through deep water when a shark bit him across both legs below the knee.

ABC’s Good Morning America morning talk show hosts scored an exclusive interview with Mr. Meyers, “the man who barely survived” what is believed to be a great white shark attack in the waters off Cape Cod.

The interview was fun to watch. I could not help but shout answers to the box.

The earnest morning host asked the kid, “When did you understand what had just happened to your father?”

Gee, maybe when that big gray dorsal fin broke the surface, I yelled.

The kid said, “I heard him scream and turned around, and saw the back and the fin of the shark up out of water. At that point it hit me when it was happening. But at the same time, I thought that none if it was real. It really seemed like a movie. None of it seemed real until I was on the beach.”

Like a movie… hmmm.

The host asked, “How did the two of you get back to shore?”

What do you think, reader? Here are the choices: A. submarine B. walked C. swam like hell.

“We really didn’t have a lot of options,” Chris Myers told ABC. “We were motivated, so we swam, hard. I was thinking as I was swimming, my lungs were fine, my kick was fine, I was starting to feel kind of dizzy and wondering if I was losing blood. My concern was that I wouldn’t make it back to shore, but we were able to do it.”

Of course, the go-to guy whenever state officials must feed the media beast is Greg, who by the way, will tell anyone that will listen that “great” is a media add-on.

Reached not long after the attack, “Dr. Greg Skomal, Massachusetts’ top shark scientist,” said it was most likely a great white, ABC reported.

ABC quoted Greg: “Given what we know about the other species in the area…, it’s not likely to be a blue or a mako, or any of those other coastal sharks. All this adds up to the white shark being a candidate.”

I will admit I felt left out of the excitement until I received a call from Gail Farrish of Edgartown. She said her son-in-law, Tiger Shaw of Hanover, New Hampshire, had an interesting fish story.

“My brother (Andrew Shaw of Burlington, N.H.) and I were with our families at Squibnocket last Saturday night,” Tiger said in an email to me. “We saw a fish floating in the water and my brother waded in to catch it. As he grabbed it by the tail, it thrashed about and was very much still alive, but clearly injured. He wrestled it into shore.

“Since the fish was clearly dying due to its mouth wound, we kept the fish and ate it a few days later. It was a 30 inch striper.”

After reading the email, I knew I needed to follow up. Inspired by JAWS Fest and the interview techniques of the ABC morning host, I emailed Tiger several questions.

How did you know it was a striped bass and not a great white shark,? I asked

“The lack of a large, non-retracting dorsal fin was a dead giveaway that this was not a shark. Plus, we weren’t that close to Skiff or Muskeget Island, though we had spotted a seal only 30 minutes earlier in the same spot,” Tiger answered.

People often rush injured dogs and cats to the vet. Did you ever consider rushing the fish to the new England Aquarium?

“The Aquarium crossed my mind, especially since I work right next to it and am currently looking at it. But I though the better of it – too far to rush the fish there.”

Does Andrew possess a Mass. saltwater fishing license (I will not tell, not sure if grappling is considered fishing)?

“I will remain silent on the Mass. fishing license. We were also wondering if it applied. Did you know you can hunt deer on your own property in Vermont without a hunting license? Not that we own Squibby, but would like to but can’t afford it.”

Have you been contacted by People Magazine? What about reality show producers?

“Have not spoken to People Magazine, but would be open to it.”