Opening 10 Apr 2008
Canadian photographer and director Rob Stewart documents the worldwide demise of sharks. He effectively makes his case that sharks have been on earth more than 400,000 years, longer than dinosaurs and much longer than humans. But there is no lobby to save these shy animals, contrary to pandas, elephants, tigers or even crocodiles. Dramatic headlines about tourists dying on the beaches of Florida and successful movies like Jaws give the impression that sharks are ferocious and deserve to die. In reality, five people die annually from shark bites compared to 100 from elephants or tigers. As a result, 90% of the shark population is already extinct. This trend can seriously influence the balance of life in the seas. Sharks feed on small fish which eat plankton. Plankton changes carbon dioxide to life-giving oxygen. An uncontrolled destruction of plankton will affect mankind’s existence.
Many of the remaining sharks live near Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. Here fishermen use the long-line technique, feeding out into the sea mile-long lines of hooks. Indiscriminately, they haul in whatever is hanging on the hooks. In the case of sharks, they cut off the fins (called shark finning) and throw the whole fish back to die. Especially the Chinese pay high prices – here Taiwan was mentioned – for fins and put great faith in the special healing powers of shark fin soup.
Stewart joins the ship of Captain Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace and founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, as it attempts to drive fishermen away from Costa Rica. Dr. Erich Ritter of the University of Zurich and Boris Worm, Dalhousie University in Halifax, add their opinions as do others. Now, sixteen countries forbid shark finning. The experts repeat that no social changes such as the abolition of slavery or voting rights for women ever originated with a government. It’s up to the individual to make a change.
The underwater photography is outstanding. Stewart literally swims with the sharks without fear. If I had one teeny complaint it would be that Stewart puts himself into the limelight too often. He lets others photograph him taking photos and swimming in his little bikini briefs. Don’t get me wrong, he is a beautiful person who could be a star in his own right. He just doesn’t need to star in this film, when it is so necessary to put the emphasis where it belongs: on protection of the remaining shark population. See also www.seashepherd.org or www.sharktrust.org. (Becky Tan)