Watch the World’s First Underwater Film Footage, Which Features a Shark and a Dead Horse
An eerie video recently unearthed by Popular Science senior video producer Tom McNamara pretty much proves that people have been obsessed with shark attacks since long before Discovery Channel launched Shark Week in 1988.
The short clip below is the climax of an hour-long documentary filmed by J.E. Williamson in 1914 and presumed lost until McNamara discovered it in the Netherlands’s EYE Filmmuseum collection. In the video, a dead horse is suspended in chains below the ocean surface, a shark approaches, and Williamson stabs it with a knife. He recounts the entire endeavor in his memoir 20 Years Under the Sea, which provides more background as to how Williamson, originally a journalist, came to film the dramatic scene.
In the early 1900s, Williamson’s father, a sea captain, built an underwater windowed chamber that he could climb into through an iron tube and better observe opportunities for deep sea scavenging. Williamson improved the design, which he called a “photosphere,” by enlarging the chamber and adding a lamp, enabling him to sit in it with a video camera.
To fund his ventures, Williamson promised investors that he would capture an underwater battle between a man and a shark on film. He then set sail for the Bahamas on a barge named the Jules Verne. The plan was never for Williamson himself to fight the shark: He paid a number of experienced divers to accompany him on the barge, and, after the dead horse had successfully lured hungry sharks into the territory, two divers each attempted to kill one. The first triumphed—but off-camera. The second diver panicked when a shark approached and he hid behind the massive horse carcass. “As a shark fighter he was an utter wash-out, but as a comedian he was a riot,” Williamson wrote. “But we wanted to film drama, not comedy.”
Williamson decided he’d have to duke it out with a “sea tiger” himself, without any protection or even a shirt. Against all odds, as you can see in the video, it actually worked. People came to know the film as Terrors of the Deep, though it was originally called Thirty Leagues Under the Sea (you’re probably sensing a theme here). Williamson would even go on to shoot underwater footage for the film adaptation of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1916.
For more shark-tastic stories and trivia, check out this episode of The List Show.
[h/t Popular Science]