Human fear and fascination with sharks probably goes back to earliest days of our existence, but one of the first instances of widespread shark fear in the United States dates to 1778, according to shark expert Ryan Orgera.
Artist John Singleton Copley's paintings of a young boy being attacked by a large shark so terrified viewers in 1778 that the artworks led to widespread fear of sharks in America, an unease that has lingered ever since. Orgera, coastal community resilience project manager at Monmouth University's Urban Coast Institute, puts the moment on his top 10 list of human-shark interactions.
Orgera explained to Discovery News that the paintings were inspired by true events. "Some 30 years prior, a young deckhand named Brook Watson lost his leg to a shark while swimming in Havana's harbor," Orgera said. "Copley painted three versions of ‘Watson and the Shark,' and the international success of the paintings, now in the National Gallery (Washington, D.C.), the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), and the Detroit Institutes of Art, was one of the first occurrences of a truly wide-spread fear of sharks in American history."