Obituary: Ron Taylor / Shark expert arranged cage scene in 'Jaws'

March 8, 1934 - Sept. 9, 2012

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In 1974, Ron Taylor was building a thriving documentary business filming sharks when he got a call asking if he would like to work on a Steven Spielberg movie called "Jaws."

He agreed, and his contributions resulted in some of the most terrifying moments in American film, as a scientist played by Richard Dreyfuss, suspended in an iron cage in New England waters, was attacked by a 26-foot Great White that bent the cage wide open.

The scene, though supposedly taking place off Martha's Vineyard, was actually filmed in Mr. Taylor's native Australia, using a small cage and a very short stuntman to make the 14-foot shark look bigger. (Large mechanical sharks were used in other scenes.) The sequence made Mr. Taylor, who worked with his wife, Valerie, a much sought-after producer of shark footage.

He died Sunday at 78 in Sydney. The cause was leukemia, a family friend told The Associated Press.

Although Mr. Taylor worked on other movies, including "Orca," a 1977 horror film, and "Sky Pirates," a 1986 adventure film, he was proudest of the documentary work. One series for National Geographic called "Blue Wilderness" (1992) involved filming white pointer sharks off South Africa without the protection of a cage.

As he and his wife became dedicated conservationists, he expressed concern that "Jaws," a 1975 blockbuster about a murderous giant shark that terrorized Martha's Vineyard, had hurt the image of a creature he had come to respect.

"It did a lot of damage for sharks," Mr. Taylor said on Australian television in 2005. "People went out with a vendetta to kill sharks because they believed that sharks were really like that."

Ron Josiah Taylor was born March 8, 1934, in Sydney. An avid swimmer and spear fisherman, his interest in film grew after outfitting his father's 8-millimeter home-movie camera for underwater use.

Mr. Taylor first attracted wide attention in 1963, when he sold a documentary to NBC called "Shark Hunters." (He was one himself: In 1961 he reported that he and a partner killed 50 sharks over a weekend using spears with hypodermic needles filled with poisons.)

Mr. Taylor met his wife, a champion swimmer and spear fishing enthusiast, at the St. George Spear Fishing Club. She proposed, and they were married in 1963, beginning an enduring partnership that centered on their love of the ocean. She is his only immediate survivor.

Mrs. Taylor was always an equal player. Once, her husband custom-ordered a $2,000 chain-mail suit to wear in a documentary exploring how it felt to be bitten by a shark. When it arrived, he couldn't fit into it, so Valerie Taylor took his place.

"It's a real thrill to sit down there and have a wild animal trying to chew your arm off," she said in the television interview.

In his later years, Mr. Taylor concentrated on marine conservation projects. In 2003, he was named a member of the Order of Australia for this work.


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