Prince Hussain Aga Khan and Sharks – the Prince’s Favourite Species – in the Context of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and the Director’s Guilt Over Making the Film

Compiled and Prepared by MALIK MERCHANT

Prince Hussain Aga Khan The living Sea in Bahrain, Barakah, News
Prince Hussain Aga Khan shared his experiences capturing diverse underwater life on camera and how he has been fascinated by sharks, learning about them, and diving with them. His exhibition The Living Sea is currently on display at the Bahrain National Museum until March 3, 2023. Photograph: The Ismaili

Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s second son, Prince Hussain, is an underwater photographer and an advocate for the environment. Over the past few years, he has exhibited his photographs of sea animals in different settings and countries around the world, showing the beauty of the underwater world as well bringing us an awareness of the harm we are doing to nature and animals in oceans. What was once a hobby for the Prince has now turned into civic action. His exhibitions of photographs are not only a work of art but, more than that, for people to get “a close look at how extraordinary these animals are and how our actions are endangering them.” Among Prince Hussain’s favourite sea animal species is the shark.

How does Prince Hussain’s encounters with sea animals and the shark in particular fit in with the blockbuster and thrilling Oscar winning film Jaws that was released in 1975? Jaws took in movie goers by storm and grossed US $235 million in domestic returns.

As I was watching the most thrilling football (soccer) world cup finals ever between France and Argentina on Sunday December 18, 2022, on my notebook, I was simultaneously eyeing on my iPad the headlines on BBC’s home page. One that caught my attention was the story “Spielberg: I regret impact of Jaws on sharks” that I later read, which has resulted in this spontaneous post.

The UK Guardian’s Miranda Bryant, reflecting on the BBC story, states that the 1975 thriller “was too effective at conjuring fear of the defamed creatures, admitting Steven Spielberg is ‘truly regretful’ for any influence he has had on the world’s rapidly shrinking shark population.” A global study in Nature magazine conducted in 2021 found out that over the past 50 years, the world’s population of oceanic sharks and rays has fallen by 71% as a result of overfishing. “I truly and to this day regret the decimation of the shark population because of the book and the film,” the American director told Desert Island Discs, in a BBC Radio 4 podcast aired on December 18, 2022. Jaws tells the story of a great white shark that attacks a US seaside town, which influenced a rise in sports fishing across America. Research has suggested the number of large sharks fell along the eastern seaboard of North America in the years following the films release. While Jaws cannot be solely blamed for the decline in the numbers of sharks, there is no doubt that the film may have had an impact in the messaging around sharks.

Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw in a scene from Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Jaws. Photograph: Universal/Allstar via The Guardian

Paul Cox, chief executive of the Shark Trust in Plymouth, is quoted on The Guardian as saying that although shark populations had shrunk dramatically since the film’s release, to put the blame on Jaws is “giving the film far too much credit.” Cox said: “It has led conversations into a bit of a trap in spending too much time talking about all the things that sharks aren’t rather than all the great things sharks are.” Cox is however grateful for the positive PR that Spielberg’s comments offer. “For someone with his celebrity to be addressing the challenge of communicating about sharks in a more positive way is very welcome.”

The Guardian also mentions Christopher Paul Jones, a Harley Street phobia specialist, who is convinced of the film’s power. Most of the people he encounters with galeophobia, or fear of sharks, go back to films such as Jaws because most people have never seen a shark except in an aquarium. In another Desert Island Discs confession, Spielberg said that film-makers should not “manipulate” audiences by playing on their emotions, but admitted that he had been guilty of it in Jaws. “A film-maker must never manipulate the audience unless every single scene has a jack-in-the-box kind of scare.” 

Sharks and Prince Hussain Aga Khan

I’ve always loved, been fascinated by, sharks. From the earliest age and at the first view of them on tv I wanted to know more about them, see them in real life and understand what they did. — Prince Hussain Aga Khan

The scare and fear that Jaws created about sharks is where I would like to present the following description and stories about Prince Hussain’s experiences with sharks and his concern for the sea animal.

Top: Tiger Shark and Lemon Shark Bottom: Scalloped Hammerhead Shark and Silky Shark. Photos: Prince Hussain Aga Khan/Focused on Nature.

“I’m convinced that the younger you are to experience something considered dangerous, the more likely you are to be ok with it and brave. I was never really afraid of snakes because my siblings and I first handled one with an adult in Sardinia when I was about 9. With sharks… it seems lucky to me that the first one, a little reef shark, swam by me when I was 14 or 15. The whole idea that sharks will most likely attack you if they see you in the water is as much of a fallacy as the idea that if you jump into the water with a pod of wild dolphins they will want to play with you.

Humans are decimating sharks at an unprecedented rate. We kill 100 to 273 million sharks a year, including those taken for their fins, which are cut off when they’re alive (the sharks are then thrown back into the water, unable to swim and left to die — Prince Hussain Aga Khan

“If one includes species that have only been seen dead or found a small number of times (Megamouth etc.), over 350 different species of shark have been identified. And of those a huge number are sharks you would never see swimming, that live at night, very deep, under ledges or on the ocean floor. Many species of sharks, which are related to rays — also cartilaginous fishes, look nothing like what you imagine a shark looks like. Some are flattened, some guitar-shaped, some look like carpets… Some just look like normal fish with big eyes, strange heads or tails. Shark size ranges from 20 centimeters for the dwarf lantern shark to 18.8 meters for the whale shark – the biggest fish in the sea. The vast majority of shark species have never been known to attack anybody. And humans are decimating sharks at an unprecedented and horrifying rate. We kill 100 to 273 million sharks a year, including those taken for their fins, which are cut off when they’re alive (the sharks are then thrown back into the water, unable to swim and left to die), those entangled in nets and taken by mistake as by-catch.”

A great white shark off the North Neptune Islands, Australia, Hussain Aga Khan, Barakah
A great white shark off the North Neptune Islands, Australia, 2015. Photograph: Prince Hussain Aga Khan/Focused on Nature.
Hussain Aga Khan, His Highness the Aga Khan and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Living Sea, Barakah
Prince Hussain presents a photograph to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa at The Living Sea photo exhibition in Lisbon. Photo: The Ismaili/Jorge Simão.

Finally, there is another sad aspect about the survival of sharks that is perhaps even more troublesome and alarming, because it is related to our own carelessness and indifference to the plight of the shark and other species in the oceans. Prince Hussain has highlighted this in his speeches. Speaking at the Living Sea exhibition held in Lisbon, the Prince said:

“With acidification, the plastic, the rubbish. Ten years ago, when I started diving, there was no plastic. Today there is not a single place where you don’t see debris. From Agadir to Egypt, from the Bahamas to Indonesia. We have to stop the plastic.”

In another piece posted on his website Focused on Nature, the Prince is quoted as saying:

“When I dive, I see plastic everywhere, absolutely everywhere. I see hooks in the mouths of sharks and other fish all the time. In the Bahamas a third of the sharks I see have hooks in their mouths even though shark fishing is prohibited there. I’ve even seen a shark with a bullet hole. It was horrible. And a couple of years ago I saw a shark of a very rare species eating aluminum foil. You can see terrifying things down there, I’ve been lucky not to see many.”

At the exhibition in Lisbon, Prince Hussain and the curator Xénia Geroulanos decided to display the shark photos between between the sea lions and the dolphins, so that visitors could realize their importance.

Prince Hussain Aga Khan Ismaili Centre opening of The Living Sea Exhibition September 2022, Barakah
Prince Hussain Aga Khan and Princess Fareen at the UK launch event for the photography exhibition The Living Sea – Fragile Beauty at The Ismaili Centre, London. Photograph: Anya Campbell/IPL

How many photographs has Prince Hussain taken during his lifetime? He says he has lost count, and that in a week he can easily take 16,000, spending about 4-5 hours in the water each day.

“What I am interested in transmitting with my photographs is the critical state of the marine habitat and the danger of extinction that threatens many species. Coral reefs are threatened, marine forests are threatened, sharks, dolphins, whales and many other animals that I see underwater are in danger. The oceans are dying, much of the life in them is dying. And on earth, the same: elephants, rhinos are in danger, orangutans, even giraffes … We have lost the 60% of wildlife in the last 40 years. And a UN report warns that, of the 8 million species of animals and plants that exist, one million is at risk of extinction because of man,” he says.

Date posted: December 18, 2022.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 300 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Also visit our two sister websites, Simerg and Simergphotos. Barakah’s editor may be reached at mmerchant@barakah.com. Please follow Malik @Facebook and @Twitter.

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