Sharkwater DVD

Documentary: Sharkwater

Sharkwater DVD
Sharkwater DVD

Rob Stewart is an underwater still photographer who decided to make this film at the tender age of 22. The original plan was to produce a documentary of “pretty pictures of sharks.” He spent the next four years on the road, filming sharks and getting mixed up with Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (like Greenpeace but with weapons, they attempt to enforce international conservation laws in international waters – using tactics which range from throwing acid, ramming and sinking other ships, to damaging fishing gear, and direct confrontation).

The documentary is thus a blend of beautiful images of sharks in their natural habitat, and drama on land and on board the Sea Shepherd vessel that Stewart hitches a ride on. In Costa Rica they uncover a massive shark finning operation to which the government is turning a blind eye, and are arrested thanks to corrupt officials paid off by the long line fishermen they encounter and harrass offshore. Stewart travels to the Galapagos Islands – thought at one stage to be a safe haven for sharks – too, and the images of the wildlife there are astonishing.

This is an upsetting film. Unlike Disney’s Oceans, the footage of shark finning is real and horrifying. There are several scenes of seals and turtles being killed, and one image in particular, of the beak being removed from a living turtle, kept me from sleeping the night after I watched this. The murderous extravagance of fishing tactics such as long lining are shown here in some detail, and at times I could understand wanting to go out and sink a Norwegian whaling ship (Sea Shepherd sank a whole fleet of them, once!) or ramming a poacher’s boat to put a stop to this kind of activity.

Stewart doesn’t offer any concrete solutions – his film is more a call to action than a manifesto for change. Solving the issues of poaching, shark finning and long lining require changes not just in individual behaviour, but – in several cases – cultural mores and preferences. A brief interview with a young Asian bride – clearly educated – who says that she refuses to serve shark fin soup at her wedding (despite the prestige attached to this dish), is hopeful. Conservation is only possible after addressing the issues of poverty that force (or seem to force) coastal populations into plundering the ocean without regard to conservation status and the livelihood of future generations.

This is a beautifully filmed and heartfelt documentary effort that juxtaposes the beauty of the underwater environment with the ugliness of many of those who benefit from its wealth. Stewart loves sharks, he loves to photograph them, and for those who do not share his love, he repeatedly emphasises their role in the ecosystem as top predators. Their presence throughout the existence of complex life on earth has shaped behaviours present in creatures lower down the food web, such as schooling and camouflage.

The DVD is available here for South Africans, otherwise from here. There is also a book of photos from the documentary available. The official website for the documentary is here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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