Last Fatal East Coast Shark Attack Was In My Hometown, Mattapoisett

YouTube – Jaws (1975) TV Spot

Okay, this is not exactly news since it took place in 1936. But there’s been so much buzz recently about Great Whites that I couldn’t resist. Capt. Tom’s Guide to New England Sharks has a thorough account of it.

An attitude of "shark attacks can’t happen up here" would have been prevalent along the beaches of New England in 1936. Hardly anyone would have known about the 1830 attack on Mr. Blaney in Massachusetts Bay. For that matter most people wouldn’t have knowledge of the fatal July 1916 shark attacks in New Jersey either.

In 1936 Joseph Troy Jr. was 16 years old and living in the Dorchester section of Boston. He went to visit his uncle Fred, who had a summer home in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts on Buzzards Bay. On July 25th Troy and Walter Stiles, a friend of Troy’s uncle. were swimming off Hollywood Beach, Mattapoisett, near Aucoot Cove, about 150 yards offshore in 10- 15 feet of water.

Between 3 and 4 PM, Stiles saw a shark suddenly appear next to Troy.  The shark grabbed Troy by the left leg and pulled him underwater. Stiles was about 10 feet away and went to Troys assistance; diving down to try to help him.  Ultimately he was able to get hold of Troy when the unconscious boy surfaced in a pool of blood.

Stiles started towing Troy to shore while shouting for help. It appeared at first that people thought it was a hoax. Then they realized something was wrong, and thinking it was a possible drowning they telephoned for a local doctor. A shark attack is the last thing any bystander would expect to have happened.

Mr. Herbert Fisher responded to Stiles cries for help, and rowed over to assist him.  Fisher and Stiles got a good close-up look at the shark, which was still there just a few yards away in the bloody water.  Their descriptive testimony to Dr. Hugh Smith, who investigated the attack, would later determine the size- and the attacking specie. Fisher helped Stiles in getting Troy into the boat, and rowed them to shore. Dr. Irving Tilden arrived; put Joseph in a car, and rushed him to St. Lukes Hospital in New Bedford, about 12 miles away. The femoral artery had not been severed, but Troy’s left leg was mangled.  A surgeon had finished amputating Troy’s leg; when Joseph’s condition worsened. Joseph passed away about 8:30 PM that evening.

Since this attack happened on the south side of Cape Cod, the usual suspects would be a white, or possibly, but not likely, a tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier. 

Walter Stiles, who was swimming with Troy, and Herbert Fisher who rowed over to help them, both told Dr. Hugh Smith that the shark was about 10-12 feet long. That established the length of the shark.
Stiles said the white sides abruptly changed to the top color, and the shark had an almost symmetrical tail. (Both of those observations are characteristics of a white shark.) Dr. Irving Tilden who transported Troy to the hospital, testified that the victims "skin edges were serrated as if cut off by a toothed object."

Dr. Hugh M. Smith concluded the shark involved was: "a man-eater (Carcharodon carcharias)".

From Capt. Tom’s Guide to New England Sharks

Fast forward to 2009, Great Whites have recently been sighted and tagged off Chatham on Cape Cod.

YouTube – Great White Shark Sighting Confirmed

In case you’ve never seen the movie, here’s a good 60 second synopsis. Enjoy but don’t go in the water!

YouTube – ‘Jaws’ in 60 Seconds