It’s been 12 years since Toronto-born filmmaker Rob Stewart released Sharkwater. The award-winning documentary exposed worldwide practices of shark-finning. It was an industry threatening to drive sharks to extinction. Sharkwater also addressed the public’s fearful opinion of sharks–one fueled by Hollywood and the media. Sharks are not monsters, Stewart said, but vital animals worthy of our respect and protection. Over 100 countries have banned shark finning since the film’s release. Problem solved, right?
The plight of sharks didn’t end with the public’s new awareness; instead it went underground (or rather, underwater). 150 million sharks are killed by humans annually. But why?
Sharkwater: Extinction is Stewart’s follow-up to his 2006 film. The documentary picks up where Sharkwater left off. It seeks to expose continued incidents of shark finning in countries that have banned the practice, but not the importation of shark fins themselves. The film brings to light other human threats to sharks, such as drift nets, trophy fishing and the use of sharks in everyday products.
Although over 100 countries–including Canada–have made shark finning illegal, the importation and exportation of shark products, including fins, is not. That means that a crew caught directly finning sharks would be arrested, but that transferring shark fins and carcasses to a shipping vessel would render their transportation and sale legal.
The film posits that additional legislation banning the importation and exportation of shark products and closer monitoring of shipping cargo are required to put an end to the practice of shark finning once and for all.
In a particularly heartbreaking piece of footage, Sharkwater: Extinction shows how unsustainable fishing practices such as the use of drift nets are hurting sharks. These nets, nicknamed “death nets,” are stretched across a kilometre of open ocean, reaching as deep as 100 feet, in order to indiscriminately catch large fish such as swordfish. However, the nets also end up ensnaring other species, including sharks, who eventually drown when they are unable to swim free.
Another upsetting reality presented by the film is that of trophy fishing, whereby tourists pay local fishermen to help them hook and photograph so-called “dangerous” catches like hammerheads and bull sharks. While many of these sharks are released after the trophy photo is taken, most don’t survive the stress of their time out of the water, or live the rest of their lives with imbedded fishing hooks or lines.
USE OF SHARKS IN FOOD AND MAKEUP
The most shocking discovery for me while watching Sharkwater: Extinction was that shark is commonly used off-label in a number of the grocery and beauty products that we purchase every day. The mislabeling of seafood–for example, when a grocery store or restaurant labels a low-quality fish as a higher-quality fish in order to sell it for more money–is a huge problem. Seafood fraud can cause health problems, undermine sustainable fishing efforts and cost individual consumers hundreds of dollars annually.
Sharkwater: Extinction goes further, proving that a number of common grocery store items, including pet food, lipstick and fish purchased from the fresh seafood section, tested positive for ingredients made from shark. It is evident that shark fishing is fueling a greater industry than just shark fin soup.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Sharks are a vital part of the ocean’s health. As top predators, their health and vitality ensures that ocean food webs stay balanced. In fact, studies have shown shark populations help manage the negative effects of climate change by controlling populations of algae-eating fish. Algae, as you know is an important consumer of carbon dioxide. The loss of sharks is directly related to how well oceans are able to navigate climate change.
ROB STEWART WAS A HERO FOR SHARKS
Tragically, Rob Stewart passed away in a diving accident while filming Sharkwater: Extinction.
He saw the problems facing his beloved sharks and used his voice and his talents to do something about it. With his passing the world lost a passionate advocate for sharks and our oceans–someone who dedicated his life to convincing us that sharks are worthy of our love and respect, and to exposing the atrocities that they are suffering at human hands.
As Educators here at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, we work with 13 different species of sharks. We know first-hand how impressive and charismatic these species are, and that they are not the monsters depicted in movies and news reels. We strive to educate aquarium guests about our sharks–to help them see what we see and what Rob Stewart saw in them–and the rate at which we are driving them toward extinction.
SPEAK UP FOR SHARKS
Sharkwater: Extinction is an important film for anyone concerned about the state of our oceans and its top predators. The first step in advocating change is to become better educated about these issues, whether here at the aquarium, by reading articles like those posted in our Deep Sea Diary blog or in a movie theatre. The documentary goes on to encourage its viewers to act on behalf of the sharks, like Rob Stewart did.
HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO
—Educate yourself about the products you use in your everyday life–ensure that your groceries and health and beauty products are #sharkfree.
—Eat sustainable seafood–not only is sustainable seafood better for the health of fish populations and the ocean, but ethical providers of seafood will be able to tell you exactly what you are eating, where it came from and how it was caught
—Use your voice–educate your friends and family about these issues, and let them know what they can do to help. Consider contacting your local or national politicians to let them know that you care about sharks and want to see better governmental control of the shark trade and the use of harmful fishing practices
Sharkwater: Extinction premieres in Canada on October 19, 2018.