It's not just ‘Shark Week’— sharks are everywhere

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Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear.

And he shows them, not just on the Discovery Channel's famous Shark Week (July 23 to 29, streamable on Max and Discovery+) but all over the place. If it's sharks you're looking for, you'll find them everywhere in the coming days: on walking tours, on pleasure cruises, on the New York stage. "Shark Week" is just the beginning of the feeding frenzy.

A Great White poses for the Discovery Channel's cameras
A Great White poses for the Discovery Channel's cameras

What, you may well ask, could be as thrilling as Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa (this year's "Shark Week" host) presenting such edifying programs as "Belly of the Beast: Feeding Frenzy" (8 p.m. Sunday July 23), "Alien Sharks: Strange New Worlds" (10 p.m. Monday July 24), "Raiders of the Lost Shark" (9 p.m. Tuesday July 25), and "Shark vs Snake: Battle of the Bites" (10 p.m. Thursday July 27)?

“Shark Week” may have originated as a marketing campaign to get you to watch TV in the doldrums of summer. But the shark's habitat is not confined to your set.

New Jersey, for instance, is a very sharky state. It's where the late Peter Benchley, author of "Jaws" lived (Princeton), and where the in infamous 1916 shark attacks that inspired "Jaws" went down (Beach Haven, Spring Lake, Matawan).

The Shark Tunnel, Matawan
The Shark Tunnel, Matawan

It's also the state that's home to The Shark Research Institute (Princeton), the country's oldest shark science and conservation organization, founded 1991, where the 50 or more experts on staff have mixed feelings about Discovery's annual sharkapalooza — a TV fixture since 1988.

"Some of the shows are excellent," said Marie Levine, executive director and founder. "We just don't mention the dumb things. 'Megalodon' and all that stuff."

Sharks are, of course, sensationalized in the media ("Sharknado," anyone?).

But the widespread interest in the toothsome creatures, ever since "Jaws" scared us all out of the water in 1975, has also led to new understanding, new appreciation — even new sympathy for these majestic animals who mostly aren't interested in taking a bite out of you. Shark attacks are rare.

"People are concerned about sharks when they go into the ocean," Levine said. "But currents and riptides are more dangerous."

If you're looking to go on a sharkspedition in the coming weeks, here's some places to go, and things to do.

Sunset & Wildlife Watching Cruises

The conservation-minded non-profit Save Coastal Wildlife gives "wildlife tours" of local waters. Sharks are not specifically on the agenda. Nor, for that matter, are whales, or any other animal per se. But people do see them, said director Joe Reynolds.

"There are several active nursery grounds for several species of sharks in the New York-New Jersey area," Reynolds said. "The ocean is wilderness. It's is not your backyard pool. There is life in the ocean."

The next tours are July 21 ($65; departing from Belmar) and August 13 ($41, departing from Atlantic Highlands) at 6 p.m. Arrive one-half hour early.

Matawan madness

First one swimmer is killed by a shark. Then, five days later, another. Then the shark swims up an estuary — where no shark could be expected to go — kills two more, and injures a third. Way to celebrate the 4th of July!

We all know the story. "Jaws," right? Wrong. It's the famous 1916 New Jersey shark attacks that inspired Peter Benchley's bestseller, and the classic 1975 movie based on it.

After the first two attacks, in Beach Haven and Spring Lake — 45 miles apart — the 1916 saga climaxed in Matawan Creek, a brackish stream where 11-year-old swimmer Lester Stillwell thought he saw a log. The log moved. It came after him, killed him. Then it killed Stanley Fisher, a local businessman who dove in to recover his corpse. After injuring another boy, 12-year-old Joseph Dunn, the shark disappeared — leaving tragedy, mystery, and an American obsession with sharks in its wake.

After suppressing the painful episode for a century, Matawan has come to embrace this dark part of its past — with an emphasis on the heroism of the locals, and the questions that linger. What kind of shark was it? Why did it behave like that?

"People are extremely interested in this, always have been," said Cathy Zavorskas, president of the Matawan Historical Society. "We've had walking tours of 200, at least."

The town's annual July 12 "Sharkfest" is now past, but you can take your own self-guided tour of some of the key sites.

If you stop on the Aberdeen Road bridge over Matawan Creek, you can see a ghoulishly apt shark mural that someone has painted onto a train bridge.

In Veteran's Park, on Broad and Main Streets, you can see the 2016 monument to shark victims Stillwell and Fisher. At Rose Hill Cemetery on Ravine Drive, you can see their graves.

And if you go just east of South Atlantic and Lower Main Street, you'll see (with some difficulty) a turnoff to Dock Street — ending at the waterfront site where they were killed. There's a plaque there, too. For more information, visit the Historical Society's web site.

Fossil records

Sharks don't have bones. That's why they're such terrific dancers (remember Left Shark?).

But they do have cartilage. And they have teeth — which sometimes live on, long after the fish in question has gone down to its watery grave.

Fossilized shark teeth are among the prehistoric delights that have turned up, from time to time, at Big Brook Preserve, 95 Hillsdale Rd, Colts Neck, and Ramanessin Brook Greenway Nature Trail, 67 McCampbell Rd, Holmdel.

These would date, according to, from the Late Cretaceous — 100.5 to 66 million years ago. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

Bruce. The other Bruce

In Jersey, there's only once Bruce we care about. But in 1975, the same year as "Born to Run," there was another Bruce.

Bruce the mechanical shark — as the filmmakers of "Jaws" nicknamed him — was the most troublesome aspect of a troublesome shoot. Much of the time he didn't work at all. When he did, he looked so unconvincing that director Steven Spielberg decided to keep his appearances to a minimum. The very thing, it turned out, that made "Jaws" an artistic and box office triumph: the offscreen shark was far more terrifying than any special effect.

The whole soggy saga of "Jaws," which everyone expected to bomb until it became a monster hit, is retold in a new play, "The Shark is Broken," opening Aug. 10 at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. Alex Brightman ("Beetlejuice") plays Richard Dreyfuss, Colin Donnell ("Anything Goes") is Roy Scheider, and Ian Shaw plays his father, Robert Shaw.

Traffic in the tunnel

At Adventure Aquarium in Camden, the bridge and tunnel traffic is almost as terrifying as anything in North Jersey.

Adventure Aquarium
Adventure Aquarium

The "Shark Realm" features sandbar sharks, sand tiger sharks and nurse sharks. They swirl over and around you, gliding through 550,000 gallons of water, in a "Shark Tunnel." A "Shark Bridge" (suspension), meanwhile, allows you to walk directly over the little nippers. There's also a "Touch-A-Shark" exhibit which, unlike touching a piece of velvet, is probably not soothing.

Adventure Aquarium, formerly the Thomas H. Kean New Jersey State Aquarium, is located at 1 Riverside Dr, Camden. 844-474-3474.

This article originally appeared on ‘Shark Week’ is just the start: check out these shark-y attractions