LORAIN — Thanks, “Jaws.”
Taylor Chapple and fellow marine scientists and researchers continue to cringe over the bad rap sharks keep getting, thanks in large part to the entertaining but misleading 1975 blockbuster “Jaws,” which left millions of people petrified of sharks.
“Yes, they’re predators,” the Lorain native said. “That is their lifestyle, which helps them to survive. But it doesn’t have to turn them into a subject of fear for us.”
Shark attacks are still an extremely rare event — occurring about 10 times per year around the globe.
“Most are a case of mistaken identity,” Chapple said. “They’re out there feeding, but they’re not attacking us.”
A post-doctoral scholar at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station and 1997 graduate of Lorain Catholic High School, Chapple, 33, has been studying sharks since 2005.
He’ll make his first appearance on the Discovery Channel’s popular “Shark Week” at 9 p.m. Thursday on an episode titled “Great White Highway,” which details the research being done by teams of scientists, including Chapple, to track and study behaviors of great whites in the waters of the Pacific Ocean off the San Francisco coastline.
A good deal of the data on sharks is being gathered via electronic tags attached to the sharks.
When those sharks swim by buoys outfitted with sensors that listen for signals emitted by the tags, a sequence transmits data to a satellite, which is sent to computers.
Researchers have been able to amass considerable data this way on a variety of sharks, including the 26-year-old “Tom Johnson,” so named for the photographer who first caught the creature on film in 1987.
A good deal of their work is to demonstrate that there is a lot more to sharks than the terror depicted by “Jaws” and similar movies.
“They’re much more complex than that,” Chapple said. “They’re a charismatic species. They have amazing personalities.”
Researchers also study whales, sea turtles and other ocean predators as part of the ecosystem found off the California coast.
“We try and study the movements and behaviors of the whole system,” Chapple said. “Sharks are just one component of that giant system. There are hundreds of other predators and thousands of creatures. This is a huge interactive ecosystem right in our backyard.”
Sharks and all predators are a vital part of that ecosystem.
“They help maintain the balance to keep the system healthy,” Chapple said. “If you take predators out of the system, it begins to fall apart, and that in turn affects us.”
Karen Chapple, Taylor’s mother, credits his growing up in Lorain with helping to spark his lifelong passion for nature and the world’s oceans.
“Lorain was a great place for him to appreciate nature and the water, and that had an impact on his desire to work with sharks and conserve our natural resources,” said Karen Chapple, who works at Invacare Corp. in Elyria.
“Taylor realizes how we have to respect nature and keep a balance of elements that will work together,” she said. “He’s a great kid. I’m so very proud of him.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or email@example.com.