April 21, 2008

Sharkwater Review

Pirates of the Carrib- err - Cocos Islands.


Length: 89 min

The Truth Will Surface.
You’ll never look at sharks the same way again.

Précis: Exciting ‘grass-roots’ documentary about sharks and the profit-hungry world that is destroying marine ecosystems.

Review by Matt:

Beware of sharks! But not because they’re looking to take a chomp out of you. They’re not. Beware of sharks because they’re under threat and they’re a key part of our crucial ocean ecosystems. In fact our entire oceans – which feed people, balance our climate, and support Earth’s beautiful marine biodiversity – are in serious trouble. In the documentary Sharkwater (which debuted in 2006 but has since been touring in limited release around the world), Canadian underwater photographer and self confessed shark-lover Rob Stewart takes a passionate look at these issues, with a particular focus on illegal and unsustainable fishing practices. Stewart spent eight years making his film, starting out with a simple project documenting sharks in their habitat. But as he discovered more about the “illegal fishing mafia” and the criminal trade in shark fins, his film unexpectedly took a turn. Soon he had gone from filming underwater, to filming the underworld. Stewart’s conservationist ethic also led him to team up with Paul Watson and his rebel environmentalist group “Sea Shepherd” – who gained particular notoriety in Australia in 2008 following clashes in the Southern Ocean with Japanese whalers (activists boarded a Japanese vessel and Paul Watson also claimed to have been shot by the Japanese coastguard). Stewart’s Sharkwater is both a tale of adventures and clashes on the high seas, as well as an educative picture about sharks and the oceans.

Sharkwater begins by dispelling some myths about sharks, the so-called “monsters of the deep”. Stewart’s narration tells us that death-by-shark is actually very rare compared to humans dying from skirmishes with other beasts, such as tigers, elephants and soda machines. Throughout the film, Stewart validates this by constantly swimming with – and occasionally hugging – his shark friends. Beautiful footage of sharks and other rich marine ecosystems is juxtaposed with disturbing facts about humankind’s efforts to destroy them as fast as possible with practices such as long-line fishing and “shark finning – a brutal and wasteful practice in which the fins are cut from a shark and it is dumped, often alive, back into the ocean. Sharkwater swells in act two as Stewart’s project collides with the perpetrators of these marine crimes. Literally – for he tours with Sea Shepherd and their “can opener”-equipped battle ship off the coast of Costa Rica, where he clashes with illegal fishers, authorities, and even the frightening “shark fin mafia”.

Sharkwater is a luscious spectacle, taking us to exotic locations such as the Galapagos and Cocos Islands to see the beautiful and rare creatures there. Unfortunately, this is also a film about irresponsible greed, so sensitive viewers be warned that it has a “wildlife warning”: it shows these beautiful creatures suffering as well. Our filmmaker’s adventures are also interspersed with other bits and pieces about sharks and fishing, such as interviews with eco-activists and a Chinese shark fin distributor. Technically, Sharkwater is not brilliantly made. It is a bit fragmentary, occasionally repetitive, and it could have been more lucid in parts. But this hardly detracts from the experience of the film; there is a lot of great stuff to see and learn in there.

Sharkwater does get out its key ecological message clearly. Shark populations have been depleted by 90%, marine ecosystems are under threat, and destructive fishing continues. There’s a legitimate debate to be had about whether the tactics of Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd are the best way to combat these ecological crimes (the magnificent ocean-defenders Greenpeace, for example, don’t condone Sea Shepherd’s tactics, themselves committed to non-violent direct action only), but there’s no doubting that we need to take some serious action. There’s also no doubting the passion and commitment of Rob Stewart, who gave so much time and braved a lot of danger (the poachers, not just the sharks!) to bring us this exciting and revealing documentary. It is basically a one-man, grassroots documentary and it would be better if more films like this were distributed. Sharkwater is definitely worth seeing, both for those who are interested in ocean ecology and especially for those who need some inspiration to get out and do something for our planet.



  1. WoW, Rod Stewart!!! Man I loved that song he did with Brian Adams and Sting!! “Let’s make it aaaaaaaalllll for one, and all for looooooovvvveeee” Wait, ROB Stewart… Oh. Does he sing with the sharks?

  2. my teacher showed me the movie and i thought it was really sad that they do that to sharks.. i honestly am not terrified by them but i know many people that are… i think that they should stop killing the sharks and i am up to helping with the support they need…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: