“Every year we have this immense cross section of people. Some famous, some people you’ve never heard of, but all of them equally important when it comes to working on their issues for the ocean.” ~ Wendy Benchley
Few movies have had the iconic impact that Jaws has had. Though the movie created a great deal of interest in sharks, it also led to the formation of a myth that, despite contrary evidence, still stands: the rogue shark. However, it may come as a surprise to some that the creator of the illustrious great white was actually very fond of the ocean and, just like most other ocean lovers, wanted to share this marvel with others.
As Wendy Benchley recalls, her husband Peter thoroughly researched his subject while working on Jaws, the novel on which the movie was based. Peter was very much against the portrayal of the shark in the movie as a ‘rogue shark,’ or a shark that attacks humans repeatedly and deliberately. This is a myth, of course, which Wendy believes should not come as a surprise: “Only within the last hundred years have people been swimming and beginning to use the ocean as a playground. We are interacting with sharks in the ocean: it’s their place, it’s their world […] and we are inserting ourselves into it by huge numbers. So of course the number of shark attacks are going to go up.”
We owe it to the sharks and to ourselves to educate ourselves
Wendy believes we owe it to the sharks and to ourselves to educate ourselves, as there are ways in which the risk of shark attacks can be reduced. Even after Peter’s passing, Wendy continues to be an ocean activist, championing not only for shark preservation but for the ocean and the marine environment as a whole.
Co-founder of the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, Wendy Benchley has shepherded this annual event into the ‘Academy Awards of the Ocean’. The awards are named in celebration of the life and legacy of her husband, late author of ‘Jaws’ and lifelong marine conservationist Peter Benchley. The awards serve as a valuable platform to bring together world leaders, scientists, and policymakers to elevate the marine conservation conversation on the global agenda and move it forward.
As Wendy explains, “when Peter and I talked about [the awards], it was with that thought in mind, that people need to be nourished and supported. Then they find new energy and new ways to go back to their work.”
“We need smarter, stronger marine conservation policies”
Wendy Benchley is a renowned voice for protecting sharks and safeguarding our seas. As a scuba diver for more than forty years, she has witnessed dramatic changes to our ocean’s marine life and its habitats. This has motivated her vigorous efforts to address today’s ocean issues and help shape smarter, stronger environmental and marine policies with government officials, NGOs and other civic leaders.
Wendy was President of the Board of Shark Savers and was instrumental in helping to merge the organization into WildAid, a widely respected global non-profit solely focused on reducing demand for illegal wildlife products, including ivory, rhino horn and shark fins. Wendy is the 2014 recipient of the International SeaKeepers Award, which is given annually to an individual or an organization that has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to ocean conservation.
Find out about Ocean Awards, Wild Aid and Shark Savers
Another of our Blue Ocean Summit speakers Stiv Wilson lives on a boat and wears flip flops. When this mid-west native found plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes, he said “This makes no sense!” and thus began an environmental crusade with the organization “The Story of Stuff” to get these toxin-filled dots out of our drains, watersheds, and the marine food chain. The dive industry is a small, dispersed group of mostly independent operators, but Stiv is here to unite and empower us! Read more about Stiv’s crusade to rid our marine environment of plastic pollution at Ocean Profiles: Stiv Wilson.