What Quint Got Wrong about USS Indianapolis

This is my favorite scene from Jaws:

There are a couple of things about this speech. First, it was not written by Peter Benchley or Carl Gottlieb. The idea for Quint having been on the USS Indianapolis came from Howard Sackler (The Great White Hope). Most of the writing of the speech itself seems to have been done by Robert Shaw himself. (John Milius has also taken substantial credit, but I don’t find that very likely, and not just because I don’t like Milius.) For the record, it is surprising that Jaws was a best-selling novel. It is not that interesting. Most of the drama in the book has to do with the infidelity of Brody’s wife.

Also, what Quint says about the sharks is not really true. Most of the men died of exposure, desquamation (skin peeling), and thirst. There were still a lot of shark attacks and undoubtedly the sharks feasted on the dead as well. The majority of the sharks were not Tiger but rather White Tip. According to one of the episodes of Planet Earth, White Tip sharks are responsible for more human deaths than any other sharks, because of attacks on survivors of downed ships and planes.

Finally, over 300 men died on board the Indianapolis, so only 880 actually went into the water. Roughly 560 died in the water. Of the 321 who were rescued, 317 survived.

Don’t go near the water!

Afterword

This is from Wikipedia and speaks to the intelligence of the Great White shark. Just to clear up what Jaws may have taught you about the shark, “Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that’s all.” Not really. Great White sharks are very complex:

Although the great white is typically regarded as an apex predator in the wild, it is in rare cases preyed upon by the larger orca (also known as the killer whale). Interspecific competition between the great white shark and the orca is probable in regions where dietary preferences of both species may overlap. An incident was documented on October 4, 1997, in the Farallon Islands off California in the United States. An estimated 4.7–5.3-metre (15–17 ft) female orca immobilized an estimated 3–4-metre (9.8–13 ft) great white shark. The orca held the shark upside down to induce the tonic immobility and kept the shark still for fifteen minutes, causing it to suffocate and then proceeded to eat the dead shark’s liver. Another similar attack apparently occurred there in 2000, but its outcome is not clear. After both attacks, the local population of about 100 great whites vanished. Following the 2000 incident, a great white with a satellite tag was found to have immediately submerged to depth of 500 m (1,600 ft) and swam to Hawaii.

3 replies on “What Quint Got Wrong about USS Indianapolis

  1. C says:

    Um the ones who died on ship also went into the water…

  2. David Zuder says:

    He also says “June the 29th, 1945”. It was July. I’m surprised no one cited that.

    • Frank Moraes says:

      This is a subject I find that a lot of people know much better than I do. People who I don’t think of as collectors of information often know a ridiculous amount about the Indianapolis. I’m actually glad. It makes me feel like less of a freak.

      Thanks for adding this! I don’t remember what I wrote, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. It is a badass speech! But it does matter in as much as the crew of the Indianapolis deserve to have its history remembered by something more than a cool speech from an awesome monster movie. Just the same: most people wouldn’t even know about the Indianapolis other than through the film.

      If you think of anything else, please add it in the comments!

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