Documentary: The End of the Line

The End of the Line
The End of the Line

It’s been almost a year since I finished reading journalist Charles Clover’s book The End of the Line, and the DVD of the documentary based on his book has been lying in our living room for I don’t know how long, waiting to be watched. Tony and I finally got around to viewing it recently – we were spurred on somewhat by the knowledge that some of the documentary was filmed in Malta. While we were in Malta in August we met a beautiful bluefin tuna on a dive, and also saw lots of tuna farms along the Maltese coast.

The End of the Line is about fishing, and how we’ve reduced the ocean’s fish stocks by something like 90% during the last half century. Where have all those fish gone, you ask? Well, we ate them. Incredible improvements in fishing technology – massive, factory-sized vessels that flash-freeze the fish while still at sea, huge nets, bottom trawlers – and insatiable demand for fish have conspired to produce what is literally an extinction event for many fish species. Having exhausted the stocks of continental shelf-dwelling fish such as codfish (do yourself a favour and read about the Grand Banks cod fishery in Canada and weep), fishing pressure has moved to deep water species. These species live in oxygen and light-poor environments, so they grow very slowly, live for up to 100 years, and only start reproducing in middle age. They simply cannot withstand the fishing pressure that we are able to exert on their populations, and soon they will be gone too.

The film’s director, Rupert Murray, had this to say on the DVD sleeve (an environmentally friendly cardboard folder):

Many natural history films about the oceans contain incredible footage and inspire passion for the natural world but we felt angry that more often than not they perpetuate a myth about the seas, that they exist in a perfect pristine bubble untouched by humankind. Now man’s destructive influence extends to every previously hidden canyon and crevice. Fishing has even induced evolutionary changes in fish. We are consuming every level of the food chain and the future looks deeply uncertain. We wanted to tell the true story of what is happening to our oceans by focusing on the most efficient predator operating in the system, man. It’s a fascinating and intriguing story that many people haven’t heard before and we felt it needed to be told because ocean issues are not on the agenda as much as they need to be. This problem affects 70% of our planet and the livelihoods of a billion people but The End of the Line is ultimately a story of hope because there is light at the end of the tunnel. Thankfully the solutions to such a seemingly massive and universal problem are stunningly simple. All we have to do now is make them happen.

There is more here than destruction of species and alteration of ocean ecosystems. One of the things that has struck me and Tony as we’ve watched several seasons of Deadliest Catch, about crab fishermen in Alaska, is that in many communities fishing is a family business that has been passed from father to son for generations. These “artisanal” fishermen (even though in the first world many of them use big boats now) are standing to lose their livelihood, but also a part of their identity. That loss of a heritage can’t be quantified. The End of the Line highlighted foreign fishing boats stripping the coast of Senegal while local fishermen using traditional methods struggle to find any more fish, but this problem is not unique to Senegal, or even to Africa. (As an aside, our suspicions about how well-regulated the Alaskan crab fishery is – it’s a shining example of attempts at sustainability – and the role of the US Coastguard in policing the fishing grounds and chasing out illegal fishing vessels, were confirmed. Nice job, Alaska!)

Dietary recommendations are that we consume fish at least one to three times per week. It’s important to balance the health benefits of a seafood-rich diet with an approach that preserves ocean resources so that we can still eat fish in the future. I firmly believe that by moving responsibility for making good seafood choices up the supply chain, to retailers and restauranteurs, a very significant difference can be made to the future of fishing.

Some restaurants are already ensuring that the only options they offer to consumers are environmentally friendly ones, but Charles Clover (author of The End of the Line and featured in this documentary) found in an informal survey of the world’s most influential seafood chefs that the industry is divided, with many restaurants continuing to serve juvenile fish or endangered species (and sometimes both). The fact remains that, until we can be sure that the seafood on offer in restaurants isn’t from a species that we wouldn’t, in good conscience, want to eat, the responsibility for making right choices lies with us, as final consumers of seafood.

The solutions that you can apply are these:

  • only buy seafood that is not from an endangered species, that is caught in a responsible manner, and that is sustainably fished. A list of retailers stocking only seafood from the SASSI green and orange list can be found here. Boycott the rest.
  • only eat at restaurants that serve food from the SASSI green and orange list, and choose to eat from the green list (I know, it means forgoing sole and prawns… very hard to say no!) Boycott the rest. In Europe there is a campaign called Fish2Fork which rates restaurants that serve sustainable seafood.
  • get hold of a SASSI information card, keep it in your wallet, and evangelise on its use to your dining companions. Read and understand the charter that seafood retailers who affiliate with SASSI must adhere to. There’s also a smartphone app from the Monterey Bay Aquarium called Seafood Watch but my concern with it is that regional names for fish and availability of species can differ between the US and South Africa, so take care.
  • be educated about the issues and take responsiblity for the future health of our oceans – as an inhabitant of planet earth, they belong to you, and you shouldn’t be cool with governments allowing them to be plundered in the name of short-term financial gain. Don’t pretend it’s not your problem. It is. Do some googling – this article and this article are a good start. Watch this documentary – local foodie Dax was appalled by how empty the cinema was when he watched it on circuit, but rent or buy the DVD (or just watch all the videos on this page) and expand your mind.
  • eat smaller fish: herring, sardines, mackerel. These fish are used in fish farming – they are fed to the tuna and salmon at the farms. Estimates are that it takes 5 kilograms of wild fish to raise 1 kilogram of farmed fish. This doesn’t make sense, and it’s wasteful. Besides, the omega 3’s and 6’s are abundant in those little chaps, and they are low on the food chain meaning there’s no danger of mercury poisoning as there is with tuna, which has absorbed the mercury from the entire food pyramid below it.
  • come diving, see fish in the wild, and appreciate that they are not just food… They are beautiful living creatures in their own right, and deserve our respect and protection.

The DVD release of The End of the Line contains several short films as bonus features. You can see some of that material here. You can get the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not.

Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite…


Documentary: Blue Water White Death

Blue Water White Death
Blue Water White Death

It’s hard to believe that this film was made in 1969, but one is periodically reminded by the ridculously short and embarrassingly tight shorts favoured by the men, and the odd bouffant hairstyle sported by a lady. The quality is fantastic given that it was made over 40 years ago – Tony’s laptop (our favoured DVD-watching device, since we don’t have a television) wouldn’t play it full screen, and I only realised half way through that this is probably a function of the size and quality of the film on which it was shot.

I had a bit of a head start on this movie, having read Blue Meridian, which describes the entire filmmaking process from the point of view of a relative outsider, Peter Matthiessen. The premise of the movie is to find and film great white sharks underwater; the actual results take a long time to achieve, but are quite spectacular.

The intial parts of the film show the crew setting out from Durban to film the sharks that eat the whales harpooned off the KZN coast. Tony got very nostalgic seeing his hometown as it looked when he was a boy, and pointing out the places he and his friends used to hang out (no doubt also sporting ridiculously short shorts, though on my husband I don’t mind) near the harbour and on the Bluff.

The Durban whaling station only closed in 1975 – the footage of sperm whales being pursued and shot is horrifying and very upsetting. It’s a completely barbaric activity – you should read Sylvia Earle on the subject, and Willard Price for a surprisingly accurate depiction of how the whaling process worked (and still works, in some cases – I’m looking at you, Norway and Japan). There’s some later footage – almost equally upsetting – one of the team riding a turtle by holding onto its shell.

It’s dispiriting to see how little seems to have been learned about the movements of great whites since 1969 – the filmmakers did not sound any less authoritative or sure about where to look for the sharks or what their habits are, than anyone today seems to be. Their footage of great whites, filmed in South Australia, was the first of its kind in the world, and is quite spectacular given the state of underwater camera equipment forty years ago.

The shark cages they used were designed by Peter Gimbel (who dived the Andrea Doria the day after it sank), and float independently of the boat with compressed air devices to raise and lower them in the water column. I can’t say I would feel terribly comfortable being untethered from the boat when there’s a 5 metre great white in the water with me… When the stills photographer gets stuck in a cage while one of the sharks is attempting to detach a large piece of horse meat that was wisely tied to the bars of the cage, he’s tossed about like a leaf and the cage is bent and broken beyond recognition. He eventually manages to cut the piece of meat free and thus get rid of the shark, but if he hadn’t the shark would have persisted until either the cage broke open or he swallowed the meat and the rope and whatever was attached to it.

You can get the DVD here. It’s stood up really, really well with the passage of time.

Documentary: Oceans

Oceans from Disney
Oceans from Disney

This is a French film by Jaques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud. There is a Disney version that is 20 minutes shorter, narrated by Pierce Brosnan, and aimed at young American audiences. Tony and I watched with the French narration and English subtitles.

The narration is sparse, nonsensical, and hard to follow. Fortunately it probably amounts to a page or two of text, and is scattered between large sequences of footage with only the sounds of the sea or a light musical accompaniment. Unlike the BBC Blue Planet documentary, none of the animals on screen are idenfied, nor is their behaviour explained.

Tony and I spent a lot of time wondering how some of the underwater sequences were filmed. State of the art cameras and filming techniques were used, and it shows.

There is incredible footage of marine iguanas, whales of multiple varieties, battling (or mating?) spider crabs, dancing dolphins, schools of gorgeous jellyfish, and a hilarious night sequence involving a grumpy mantis shrimp. I was amazed to see a huge whale swimming over a sandy bottom with only a foot or two to spare under his belly – imagine having such a big body, AND knowing where all of it is at one time! I love the manatee vacuuming the ocean floor, and the cuddling sea lions. There’s a breathtaking sequence showing a diver in scuba swimming along right next to a 4 metre great white shark. The clarity of the water hints that it wasn’t filmed here…

I loved the sequence towards the end of the film, showing various ships engaged in battling colossal waves. The power of the waves is very apparent. The narrative arc, such as it is, is very mixed and patchy, but the images are so compelling this hardly matters.

The film touches on the damage done by purse seine fishing, long-lining and shark finning – that footage in particular is horribly upsetting. From what I can understand from the credits (French) and my googling, this footage was staged and no animals were actually harmed, but this doesn’t detract from how awful it is.

You can order the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise on

Documentary: Air Jaws

Air Jaws
Air Jaws

I got a bee in my bonnet about watching this after subscribing to the Apex Predators newsletter and being impressed with the level of detail provided about shark and marine mammal movements in False Bay. The lack of publicly available research on sharks is one of Tony’s (and my) bugbears, and to see a for-profit operator providing such a level of disclosure, and demonstrating such an obvious passion for the work, was fascinating and very encouraging. If academics won’t cough up the facts, at least the commercial operators will.

Air Jaws was produced for the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week. Shark Week has been slammed for its sensational treatment of sharks and shark attacks, but we were pleasantly surprised by both Air Jaws documentaries.

Pleasantly surprised is actually an understatement – Tony and I were totally blown away. The footage of breaching sharks and frantically twisting and turning seals, filmed at Seal Island in the middle of False Bay, was breathtaking. We found ourselves cheering for the seals, and simultaneously stunned by the raw strength and power of the sharks as they fling their entire bodies from the water. This is a documentary – there is no mention of attacks on humans, no alarmist talk, and a fair amount of science. Even though it’s American, it’s measured and balanced.

The second Air Jaws follows a research team to Australia and California, to see whether the great whites breach there, and if not, why not. There are some gaps, and it’s not as visceral as the first production, but it’s still very interesting.

We were interested to see how the sharks will go after a decoy seal made of Hollywood prop materials that wouldn’t smell, move or give off any electrical signals like a real seal.

You can get the DVDs from or Apex Predators. Drop them an email if there isn’t a link on the website, or visit their store in Simon’s Town.

Gift ideas for Christmas

Anyone who’s had the misfortune to set foot in a shopping mall lately will be aware that Christmas decorations are out, and Christmas shopping is in full swing.

If you have a diver, or potential diver, in your life, getting them something to do with their hobby as a Christmas or Hannukah gift is a good idea. Lucky for you, Learn to Dive Today has suggestions for all budgets!

Under R300

Check out the bookshelf category for book ideas, and the movies and documentaries categories for DVD gift ideas.

Under R1000

What about a Discover Scuba Diving gift voucher from Learn to Dive Today? The Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) experience is designed for people who have never dived before, and want to try it out – perhaps before committing to a full Open Water course, or perhaps just for the experience.

Discover Scuba Diving voucher
Discover Scuba Diving voucher

You’ll meet at the beach, have a short briefing explaining the gear and basic dive principles and safety, and then go in the water. Tony will teach you a couple of essential skills – very basic things like mask clearing – and then you go for a dive. That way you get to experience what it’s like to be a diver, first hand, to see if the bug bites!

If you enjoy the dive and want to take it further, you can get the cost of the DSD credited towards your Open Water course.

If you want to order a voucher, email Tony.

Over R1000

Can I get on your Christmas list?! You might find possible gifts in the Gadgets and Gear category – from dive gear to cameras…

Any budget

Have you considered making a donation to the organisation of your choice – Reach for  a Dream, the NSRI, or SANCCOB for example – on behalf of your gift recipient? This is a very special gift that has the potential to do a lot of good in this world that so badly needs it, and impacts more than just the people giving and receiving the gift.

Documentary: Oceans (BBC)

Oceans - a BBC production

I was hoping this documentary would be as good as The Blue Planet (also from the BBC). It’s interesting, but not as engrossing and not as slickly produced. It features an explorer, an environmentalist (we are reminded fifty or sixty times per episode that he is the grandson of Jacques Cousteau), a maritime archaeologist, and an oceanographer/marine biologist with an incredibly annoying voice and lots of piercings.

Unlike The Blue Planet, this series is about the people and their reactions to the ecosystems and relics they encounter, rather than about the ecosystems themselves. The program is poorer for it, as none of the presenters are particularly articulate or (it seems) deep thinkers. There’s a lot of “Wow! That was amazing! Oh my God!” and similar verbiage.

In an attempt to add drama, there’s a “crisis” of some sort in each episode – the weather turns, or a diver’s air runs low, or a dangerous predator makes an appearance, and “expedition leader and explorer Paul Rose is WORRIED.” Once he’s gotten over that and unfurrowed his brow, everything turns out to be fine.

All that said, for the ocean addict, this is a fascinating production. Tony and I were insanely jealous of the boat that the cast and crew used to get around, and the footage of the crew actually doing various dives was very interesting. There are some incredibly huge octopus, which really thrilled me, and some cool wrecks and reefs. In all I would recommend it, but only if you already own The Blue Planet and are forewarned of the difference in format.

You can get the DVD box set here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here. The official website for the production is here.

Documentary: Nature’s Great Events (BBC)

This is another BBC production, beautifully produced and made in the same format as The Blue Planet (no visible “presenters” or other fame-hungry wombats getting in the way of the actual spectacle of the natural events).

Nature's Great Events
Nature's Great Events - a BBC production

This series covers six spectacular natural events. As a diver, the most thrilling one for me was the sardine run off South Africa’s south coast. The camera work is unbelievable. It was filmed over a few years – ordinarily one wouldn’t be so lucky as to see this much all in one season. Tony and I recently attended a slideshow of photographs taken at this year’s sardine run, followed by the showing of a short (seven minute) film clip by Mark van Coller of Earth Photos. The photographs were spectacular, but that little film clip totally stole the show, and gave a glimpse of the speed and the drama of the event. Film definitely seems to be the best medium to capture the dynamism of this spectacle.

The salmon spawning in Alaska and the ice melt in the Arctic are beautiful, but it’s the plankton bloom in Alaska that also really captured my imagination. You see groups of whales feeding on the organisms, as well as sea lions and killer whales attracted to the feast.

Also included is the flooding of the Okovango Delta, and the animal migration in the Serengeti. As one has come to expect from the BBC, the camera work is impeccable, it’s seamlessly edited, and the narration is professional, non-intrusive, and adds to the overall production.

The official BBC site for this show is here. You can buy the DVD set at or

Documentary: The Blue Planet (BBC)

The Blue Planet
The Blue Planet - a BBC production

This BBC documentary is an exploration of the world’s oceans, from tropical to beneath the ice. It provides insight into the fragile ecosystems, the tides and currents that influence and sustain them, and the unseen behaviour of the creatures and organisms inhabiting the seas. The camera work is incredible (Tony and I spent a LOT of time trying to figure out whether scuba divers or remote cameras were used at certain points) and there is a special feature on how they filmed the series.

There is footage of blue whales (I nearly fell out of my chair), breeding coral, bioluminescent creatures, and everything in between. If this series doesn’t make you want to be a scuba diver, I don’t know what will!

As with Sylvia Earle’s magnificent Ocean atlas, we were left amazed by how little of the ocean has been thoroughly explored, and totally impressed with the diversity of life in the parts we have managed to get to!

It’s wonderful viewing for when you’re sick in bed, want to dive but can’t, or just need something beautiful and soothing (mostly – the killer whale bits aren’t soothing) to feed your soul. The official BBC site for the documentary is here.

You can get the DVD box set here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.

Documentaries: By subject

Here’s a summary of the documentaries we’ve posted about, categorised loosely by subject.


Nature’s Great Events
South Pacific
The Blue Planet
Wreck Detectives


The End of the Line
March of the Penguins
Saving the Ocean

Discovery Channel

Underwater Universe

National Geographic

Blue Holes – Diving the Labyrinth

Reality shows

Deadliest Catch, Season 1
Deadliest Catch, Season 2
Deadliest Catch, Season 3
Deadliest Catch, Season 4
Deadliest Catch, Season 5
Deadliest Catch, Season 6
Deadliest Catch, Season 7
Deadliest Catch, Season 8
Deadliest Catch, Season 9
Deadliest Catch, Season 10

Deadliest Catch – Tuna Wranglers
Deadliest Catch – Lobster Wars

Trawlermen, Season 1

Whale Wars, Season 1
Whale Wars, Season 2
Whale Wars, Season 3
Whale Wars, Season 4


Air Jaws
Blue Water White Death
Shark Week featuring Mythbusters – Jaws Special
Shark Men, Season 1
Shark Men, Season 2
Shark Men, Season 3


Wreck Detectives
Treasure Quest
Treasure Quest – HMS Victory Special
Ghosts of the Abyss