Sharkwater: on the other side of the ocean copyright 2011 by the author, Frania Shelley-Grielen
Sharkwater is an amazing movie about the things we cannot know or care about in the oceans and in the world unless we are there. Released in 2007 to critical acclaim, this hauntingly beautiful HD film takes us into the deep with filmmaker and biologist, Rob Stewart. Stewart loves sharks and his passion for them leads him to initially set out to make a movie about the natural history of sharks and why we too should love and not fear these magnificent creatures. What happens during the making of this movie becomes about how we need to fear us and not them.
Sharkwater is an achingly gorgeous piece. The marine world Stewart shares with his viewers is lushly colored in deep translucence, populated by beings that live in a way diametrically opposed to ours. In this world of others we are the explorers, the interlopers, the sometime friend or sometime barbarian. This is also a movie about the world we do not see, the world underwater and just how connected we all are on this planet. When Stewart swims next to hammerhead sharks he focuses on maintaining a level heartbeat because these shy creatures are prone to fleeing if they “sense” excitement. When fishermen are filmed bringing up a tortoise in their nets their slaughter of their victim cannot be completed without rendering the creature sightless, as if they, themselves, cannot bear the witness to what they are doing.
Along the way to demystifying sharks: how very rare shark attacks actually are, that sharks do not hunt or swallow humans, etc., Stewart finds hundreds of dying sharks caught on illegal long lines (stretching over 60 miles) in the protected sanctuary waters of the Galapagos Islands. This incident precedes the discovery of what may be the largest existing shark finning operation off the coast of Costa Rica. (Finning is the practice of amputating the fins of an animal. The animal is usually alive while the fins are cut off, after which, mortally wounded, the shark is discarded in the ocean unable to move.)
Long line fishing and shark finning are both highly regulated in this area. Resources and practices of enforcement are severely limited and do little to deter the fin trade which is thought globally to traffic in between 26 and 73 million sharks a year. Shark finning is a highly profitable practice which is growing exponentially. The practice of consuming shark fins has long been regarded as a sign of wealth in China. Until the 1980’s the “elitist” consumption of shark fin soup was discouraged, today views have changed along with a booming Chinese economy which has turned shark fin soup into an everyday pleasure further escalating the demand for shark fins.
The movie turns from documentary to action thriller with espionage, piracy, police and boat chases entering the mix.
ICUN notes that over the last 50 years more than nine separate shark populations have declined over 80 percent and Wildaid that ”Sharks are likely to be in the first round of marine extinctions caused by human activity”. Without a doubt we are severely altering marine ecoystems. Without sharks, these large prehistoric predators, the balance of marine life shifts irrevocably in the oceans.
This is also a movie about what we do see and what we do once we have seen it.
For more info: the film's website offers a wealth of information on the subject as well as lengthy clips from the film and other media sources: http://www.sharkwater.com/
"This is also a movie about the world we do not see, the world underwater and just how connected we all are on this planet. When Stewart swims next to hammerhead sharks he focuses on maintaining a level heartbeat because these shy creatures are prone to fleeing if they “sense” excitement. When fishermen are filmed bringing up a tortoise in their nets their slaughter of their victim cannot be completed without rendering the creature sightless, as if they, themselves, cannot bear the witness to what they are doing".
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copyright 2011 Frania Shelley-Grielen
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