Investigating the 1916 Jersey Shark Attacks

The shark attacks along the New Jersey Shore during the hot summer of 1916 are by far the most written about and studied shark incidents in history. So much has been written that I hesitated to add to the fray. But, with all that has been written much crucial evidence has been left out or ignored. I don’t feel any work on the subjects definitively answers the simple questions I have always asked myself. Was it one shark or more? What species was involved? What caused the attacks? And most of all will it happen again?

Much of the evidence is over a hundred years in the past and lost forever. As a trained forensic biologist, I approach the subject as a cold case. I am in effect investigating a multiple homicide perpetrated over a series of days. In a series of blogs we will follow this evidence train. Where will the evidence take us? Join me and see.

4 thoughts on “Investigating the 1916 Jersey Shark Attacks

  1. Hi Robert.

    Have you ever came across wounds inflicted by a Bull Shark similar to Joseph Dunn’s injury?
    The injury was described as this
    “the front and side of the boy’s lower left leg were cut to
    ribbons from knee to the ankle. The bones
    were not crushed and the main arteries in the
    calf of the leg were not cut”
    I’ve never heard of wounds from a Bull Shark similar to that.

    Ribbon type cuts from a porbeagle .

    George Burgess, former director of the International Shark Attack File claims the description of Dunn’s wound is similar to injuries inflicted by white sharks.


  2. Hi, Yes I have seen very similar wounds, though non fatal from a very serious attack that took place on a New York City policeman’s son. It was just off a dock where the Javitis Center now stands in Manhattan. At the time there was a slaughterhouse there. There is a full account of the attack in my book coming out next April called the Shark Attacks in New York Waters. Also if you look at Ganges River shark attack victim’s wounds you will see very similar wound patterns. But, yes I know what George is referring too with the ribbon wounds. They are found in White Shark and Bull Shark victims. I haven’t spoken with him in a while, but he was always convinced the attacks were from a Great White. I think when you look at all the 1916 attacks including the one the day before the Beach Haven Attack, the one in Sea Bright and the very well witnessed ones in New York that followed the Matawan attacks it points to the Bull Shark. But, the jury is still out and I am still investigating. I have a several page timeline I have developed from June to August 1916 and there are many things as of yet unpublished. Sooner or later there will be a smoking gun. Right now the evidence is tipped to the Bull but that could change.


    1. Interesting. I’ve never seen reports of Bull sharks leaving wounds like that with their teeth being so close together. They usually tear chunks and saw like Tiger Sharks.
      Was the shark caught in the Manhattan attack ? And is there evidence it was a Bull Shark?.

      As far as a Bull Shark being the culprit in the Matawan attacks, I’ve read a few interesting papers on Bull sharks and water temps. They sure like their warm waters. I can’t see a bull shark up in New Jersey in early summer, especially 100 years ago with much cooler water temps/climate.
      In Fernicola’s book, records of water temps on the shore attacks at the first of July were mid/low 60’s. Would that be unprecedented water temps for Bull sharks? I believe it may be. I’ve read the coolest water temp for a Tiger Shark was 63 F.
      When Bull Sharks are caught in the Chesapeake Bay, it’s always mid/ late summer. The study in Pamlico Sound, none came in until water temps hit 22 C. The University of Florida study with tracked Bull Sharks, they didn’t migrate to mid Florida until temps hit 75 F.


  3. I have seen raking in attacks from several species, but if there was a diagram or drawing it could be determined if the teeth were close together or spaced more as a great white. Yes there are many records of Bull Sharks here that early. Check the historical records of the Asbury Park Fishing Club and you will find the stories of the Takanassee Tigers. They were common in early July and were there in 1916. Bulls enter the rivers to pup early in the summer. As 1916 was pretty warm all June there were likely many around.


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