Lifelong diver Rob Stewart set out to create a wildlife film about the group of animals he is most passionate about – sharks. His intention was to dispell the myths surrounding these wonders of evolution and to educate viewers about how slight the risk of being attacked by sharks really is. In doing so he hoped to reduce the unwarranted persecution these shy animals suffer right around the globe.
His filming trip took him around the world to capture sharks in some of the most breath-taking natural environments including places like Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. However it was these two particular biodiversity hotspots that the whole project began to change beyond all recognition…
In Costa Rica Rob Stewart uncovered fishermen operating illegally within the protected marine park, using long-line fishing to catch not just fish for food but of course a variety of other types of marine life thanks to this wasteful, non-specific way of capturing fish. Some of their capture included his precious sharks.
Digging deeper, Sharkwater changes from a pure wildlife documentary to a detective hunt and adventure movie as Stewart discovers more and more fishermen catching sharks – and realizes to his surprise that many of them are deliberately targeting these endangered sharks for their fins.
Shark fin soup has apparently grown in popularity tremendously over the last few decades and it seen as a sign of wealth in China. Whilst the fin provides no real flavour – just texture – shark fin is becoming an ever-more valuable commodity. And with it’s value comes corruption, and protection from some unlikely places.
Through the course of the film we follow Stewart’s investigations and he tries to learn more about the trade. He films undercover. He gets involved with organized crime and crooked governments and at one point even has to outrun the machine-gun toting Costa Rican police as they try to arrest him for his investigations during a hair-raising boat chase in true James Bond style.
While many of us are aware of the basic issues surrounding sharks being caught for their fins this film does an excellent job of explaining not only how much of it is illegal but also just how barbaric the process really is. Watching a fisherman drag a shark onto his boat with a huge hook through it’s mouth, cutting it’s fins off while the creature is still alive and then throwing it back into the sea, finless, unable to swim and just waiting to drown is one of the most moving pieces of footage I have seen in a long time. To see an alpha predator like this reduced to nothing was truly shocking so be prepared if you’re of a sensitive disposition.
That said, I felt this film managed to be many things. Moving, certainly. But also fascinating, exciting and beautiful at the same time. For anyone who cares about the marine environment and the creatures that live there Sharkwater is a movie well worth getting your hands on.