As you can imagine, news of the string of attacks sparked mass hysteria, on a national level, although it was not immediate. After the first incident, the state fish commissioner of Pennsylvania wrote in the Philadelphia Public Ledger:
After the second incident however, the news made front page of major national newspapers including the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times, and Boston Herald. The result was an approximated $250K decline in tourism which amounts to over $5 million dollars at 2015 rates. Resort towns enclosed their beaches with steel nets but that did little to reassure the public.
The ensuing shark hunt was sanctioned by local governments all the way up to the federal level, in many cases offering significant rewards. Hundreds of sharks were captured and killed along the east cost in what has been described as the greatest shark hunt in history.
Mystery remains whether there was a single rogue shark responsible for the string of attacks, or if there were several animals involved. The two most likely culprits are the Great White Shark and the Bull Shark. Many believe that a great white was responsible, but since the final attacks all occurred in Matawan creek miles from the ocean where salinity levels are low, others feel it had to be a bull shark.
On July 14th, 2016, just days after the final attacks, a shark that was later identified as a great white, was captured in Raritan Bay, just a few miles from Matawan Creek. Michael Schleisser offered a heroic tale of the battle with the 7.5 foot shark, stating that it nearly sunk his boat before he was able to beat it to death with a broken oar. After getting the shark back to shore, the animal was identified as a great white shark and the contents of it’s stomach included “suspicious fleshy material and bones,” later found to be human remains. After this catch, there were no more attacks and the media proclaimed that the rogue shark had been killed. The only surviving photo of that shark is from the Bronx Home News.
There is likely to be continued debate over the number of sharks and species responsible for the incident. The International Shark Attack File officially reports the great white as the responsible shark. It’s director, George Burgess states:
The incident, now nearly 100 years old, single handedly changed the nations attitude toward sharks. Before the fatal shark attacks of 1916, it was not believed that sharks could or would attack healthy bathers near shore. In fact, some felt it attacks were more likely the result of a large sea turtle. Much has changed in public perception and scientific knowledge, and this incident had a major impact on that.