At work today I met a World War Two veteran of the US Navy who told me a story about a 25 foot Great White Shark his ship tried to catch near Guam. Of course I was reminded of the classic movie Jaws (1975). I went home and just finished watching the film for the umpteenth time.
For this blog, I will touch on several interesting ethical aspects of the movie in relation to my Christian views on the proper treatment of animals. In this case, man-eating sharks…
I am somewhat serious, and somewhat “tongue – in – cheek” for this essay.
The main theme of humans hunting Jaws to kill her is commendable. [I read the books, which is why I know the shark was female: that is not in the movie] According to Genesis 9 and the Mosaic law, any animal that kills a human must be executed. This particular shark killed at least four humans and a Black Labrador named Pippin before the humans agreed to hunt Jaws.
You can make a possible case for NOT executing a particular animal based on extenuating circumstances. For instance, several people have been killed by animals in zoos or marine mammal parks when the morons jumped fences to play with the lions or killer whales, and died for their stupidity. I propose that the biblical principle is based on protecting humans from dangerous animals; perhaps not for animals killing dangerous humans in defense of their own space.
As much as I enjoyed Robert Shaw’s performance as Captain Quint, we cannot justify his character and work. Certainly, Captain Quint was a parallel of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. Though Quint did not spend his life pursuing Jaws in particular for revenge over a personal harm, the man did pursue the entire shark species for revenge for his horrible time surrounded by man-eaters when the USS Indianapolis sank in 1945.
We might also take Captain Quint as a “type” of the frightened viewers of the film itself. One unfortunate side-effect of the action-horror theme of Jaws was the building of human hatred for the sea animals we call sharks. The writer, Peter Benchley, and the director, Steven Spielberg, both recognized (later) the unintended maligning of the Great White shark species. This problem comes from irrational human fear, and utter ignorance. Humans naturally fear being eaten by any predator. Sharks are some of the most frightful looking predators on Earth. And yet, very few humans are killed by sharks. Crocodiles, cobras, hippos, and jellyfish are far more dangerous to humans than sharks.
Captain Quint apparently ran a Shark Souvenir shoppe where he boiled shark jaws to sell. Since shark meat is not popular, he was killing shark for strictly personal and economic reasons. Neither is proper. Killing an animal to eat is proper, for the most part. Selling the jawbones and teeth for profit while discarding the rest of the animal is not proper. The Asian delicacy of Shark Fin Soup is made with horrible cruelty. Sharks are captured, their fins are cut off, and the rest of the living animal is tossed into the ocean for other sharks to eat. These fishermen are cruel in not killing the animal; and wasteful in not using the animal; and greedy in profiting from evil-doing. Quint did basically the same thing.
The ruthless lifestyle of Captain Quint, however, was to be exploited by the town of Amity who would use his vast experience in killing of lesser sharks to kill the one monster Jaws. Like Ahab, however, he was instead killed by his intended target. As the Proverbs say, the digger of a pit may be harmed by falling into it himself.
Captain Quint was not alone in over-reacting to the depredations of the Jaws shark.
The grieving mother of eaten-boy Alex Kintner offered a large cash reward for the killing of the offending beast. That in itself might not be wicked, per se, since she sought to enforce God’s demanded penalty on the man-eater. But the adding of cash as an incentive to the enforcement of God’s law did badly affect the community. Rather than allowing a somewhat reasoned or planned approach to dealing with the offending animal, perhaps by specialists… her advertisements brought out hundreds of wackos hoping to collect a reward with luck. Boneheads tossing dynamite into the ocean would not harm a large shark but simply killed innocent sea life. Dozens of fishermen probably killed lots of inoffensive sharks while seeking the larger quarry. One large unoffending Tiger Shark was strung up by the tail and mouth for newspaper photographs… executed unjustly by a lynch mob.
Baiting the Monster
Chief Brody [Roy Scheider] had the unenviable job of chumming. Chumming, for you fishing novices, is tossing large amounts of blood and offal into the water to attract predator fish like sharks.
Sharks, like most animals, are not much attracted to humans as food. But sharks are mesmerized by the smell of blood, which they can detect miles away. Once thus enticed, they have no “self-control.” Sharks also have very poor eyesight. So when they smell blood and simultaneously cannot clearly see that bleeding homo sapiens is not a fish, they may attack.
Ethically, the question is, just how much blood and fish is permissible in trying to attract the larger prey species? In other words, isn’t it very wasteful to try to attract a sport fish (shark) by killing dozens of other fish for the bait? If we are seeking to kill the dangerous man-eater, as God desired, are we justified in the means? Captain Quint brought several barrels of chum on his vessel the “Orca”. Let’s estimate that as equivalent to a hundred dead fish. Is killing one man-eater shark worth killing a hundred other animals?
My guess is that Captain Quint kept some of the dead shark bodies, economically used for his jaw boiling collection, as chum for catching other sharks. Sharks eat sharks, happily enough. They are cannibalistic. If it bleeds, it is dinner. So there was no wastage going on. Quint was already culpable for wrongly killing sharks, and these chum pieces were not killed specifically for the chumming of Jaws herself. So his intention was not to fulfill God’s command for execution of Jaws. His interest was strictly monetary ($10,000 plus $200 a day plus a case of Apricot Brandy), and vengefulness.
Is encouraging predation a sin in itself? We civilized humans pass laws against cockfighting and dogfighting. These are blood sports where dogs or chickens are pitted against each other in fights to the death. We oppose these because they cause needless injury and death to animals only for human entertainment. Is it then also wrong to feed predators?
Not if you want to keep your pets alive. While you may think you are providing kibbles and bits to your cats and dogs, you are giving them meat. A few vegans do feed vegetarian foods to their pets, but most pet food is meat-based. Predators generally need meat. Predation is not a sin. It is a consequence of the Curse and the Fall of Man from Genesis 2-3. So animals killing animals as food is not sin. Animals have no law, and cannot offend God. It was Adam, the representative head of all life on earth, whose failure lead to animal predation and death, just as it lead to human predation and death.
Jaws herself, in fact, committed no sin, per se, in eating Chrissie or Alex or Pippin. She did not know that humans (or their pets) are off limits as food. However, in order to show respect for God’s gift of dominion to humans, Jaws must be executed for violating “the image of God” in humans. We hunt Jaws not for revenge but for order. If God’s will is to be honored, we must base our societies on His commands. Jaw’s consumption of man-flesh violates God’s will and civilization is maintained by keeping even the animal kingdom in order when necessary. Fortunately, it is rarely necessary to execute animals for such violations.
We must consider also whether Jaws was self-motivated or inspired by external forces.
Animals are rarely attracted to eat the bland flesh of humans. There have been a few rare cases in history when a single creature becomes a famous man-eater and killed hundreds of humans by itself. In the early twentieth century, British hunter Jim Corbett tracked and executed several maneaters, including a tiger that had killed at least 400 people. He found that in many cases, these animals suffered from old gunshot wounds or painful porcupine quills or serious diseases. The Champawat Tiger had broken teeth and could no longer kill or catch normal prey. Humans are much easier to kill than deer or pigs.
We do know from the Bible that demons can possess animals. Jesus allowed the demons called “Legion” to leave a man and enter a herd of pigs. If you take the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a real snake or animal, you can posit that Satan possessed the serpent so that it could speak to deceive Eve and Adam.
Jaws certainly exhibited many behaviors and abilities that are not normal in a shark. Not only did she eat humans, but seemed to toy with them. That huge mouth could devour a person quickly, but she preferred slinging Chrissy the skinny dipper back and forth for a good long while. The unnamed boater in the “Pond” was sliced into limb sized pieces perhaps for sport. And Jaws seemed to take special relish in chomping her species-nemesis Captain Quint.
Jaws repeatedly rammed the side of the Orca vessel. She crashed through its windows to reach Chief Brody, who escaped. She seemed to be motivated by revenge, perhaps for having three giant barrels harpooned into her dorsal fin. I can imagine true “Killer Whales” pursuing revenge: they are not even whales, they are giant dolphins. They are very intelligent. But sharks? Not so much, it seems.
On the other hand, I don’t like the idea that when Jaws had her head blown off by an exploding oxygen canister, the demon found another host. What would be next? A giant squid? Watch out Captain Nemo.
Sharks glorify God. Like most predators, they help to control populations of smaller animals. This Earth would be overrun with mice and rats and rabbits if we had no raptors, dogs, and cats. The oceans are becoming overrun with jellyfish and stingrays because humans have been wrongly killing sharks.
The movie Jaws was good entertainment. Don’t take your own fears as reason to wrongly hate sharks. They are pretty neat animals, designed personally by Jesus Christ. If a twenty five foot Great White Shark exists, Jesus cares about it.