1) Blood thirsty Man Eater is the common perception for what a shark is - through your documentary, how did you persuade the audience, in why they should change their misconception about sharks? Do you blame the film Jaws for all these wrong ideas about the SHARK!
Sharks have been portrayed as monsters for as long as the media has referred to them. The word Shark comes from the Anglo Saxon words “villain” and “cut”, demonstrating how poorly sharks have been set up in our minds. A fraction of the planet has the opportunity to go underwater and experience the ocean, so a public that largely fears sharks is wholly logical considering the media’s portrayal of them. A dangerous “man eater” sells more “shark attack” headlines than the reality…. usually that a shark bit a human, realized it’s mistake, and let go. Films like Jaws united the public even further with a wholly false view of sharks - that they’re out there hunting man.
In Sharkwater, we use simple facts - that a mere 5 people are killed by sharks each year for example, that flesh is very rarely removed in shark bites, and that if sharks were predators of people, the oceans would be a very very dangerous place. We also show a totally new relationship with sharks, portraying the reality of sharks as beautiful creatures that are pinnacles in the evolution of the seas. You have to see Sharkwater to truly understand it.
2) What have you found out regarding why are sharks being killed left and right?
Sharks are being killed largely to fuel the growing demand for shark fin soup in Asia. Shark fin soup is a status symbol, served as a sign of respect and a symbol of wealth. When China began wide scale trade with the rest of the world in the late 80’s, the opportunity to consume shark fin soup opened up to hundreds of millions of people, resulting in the price of fins skyrocketing to between $200-400 USD per pound. The word is now out that shark fins mean money, and humans now kill 100 million sharks a year to fuel the demand for fins. Many of these sharks are finned - where their fins are cut off the dying shark and its body is discarded, wasting over 95% of the animal. It’s like killing an elephant for ivory or a rhinoceros for its horn, and because of this, shark populations have dropped 90% in the last 30 years.
3) Sharks have become prey to shark poachers. It looks awful and sad. I’m sure this has caused some sort of imbalance of the ecology?
Sharks sit atop oceanic food chains, controlling the populations of animals below them as they have for over 400 million years. Life on earth depends on life in the sea which sits below sharks in the food chain. Phytoplankton (tiny plants) are the greatest consumer of carbon dioxide (global warming gas) on earth, turning it into oxygen, providing us with 70% of the oxygen we breathe. Removing sharks is cutting off the head of the most important ecosystem for our own survival on earth. The biggest issue in any global warming debate is life in the oceans that allows life on land to exist, yet it’s never spoken of… all we hear about is industry and carbon footprints.
4) Your film has shown yourself and organizations that have started to help protect the shark population. Pls explain what are the different efforts being done?
There are organizations protecting sharks on every front. Organizations like Sea Shepherd enforce conservation law on the high seas, and draw attention to the issues. Wildaid is working in Asia with celebrities such as Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh to promote shark fin soup becoming a tacky dish. The Ocean Conservancy and Ocean are working to garner new regulations for shark fisheries, and international protection. The Shark Research Institute is conducting and supporting research proving the importance of sharks to ecosystems, and gaining knowledge necessary for protection. Our company, Diatribe Pictures is using the most powerful media forms in the world to bring these issues to light. If 10-15% of the world knew that shark populations have dropped 90% in the last 30 years, that we waste 54 billion pounds of fish each year while 8 million people die of starvation, that every single fishery will be gone by 2048, and that we need 6 planet earths to sustain life…. everything could be turned around just as it has for whales and holes in the ozone layer. Bringing people these messages is difficult, that’s why we’re making intelligent, engaging, funny and moving films and series, so people would watch them for entertainment even if they weren’t learning something in the process. We’re trying to make conservation cool.
5) You, as a filmmaker, have put yourself on the line as filming under is a dangerous endeavor? What precautionary measures did you and your crew to ensure that an accident like what happened to Steve Irwin could not happen to you guys?
Filming underwater was actually the safest part of making Sharkwater. We filmed underwater 200 days a year for 4 years while making Sharkwater without incident. I’ve spent thousands of hours underwater without issue…. I’ve been stung by all sorts of things underwater, but they’re all pretty mild. I’m a scuba instructor trainer, so I teach all of our crew how to use rebreathers, diving with mixed gasses, and diving deeper and longer than recreational divers can.
On land while making Sharkwater though, we were shot at, charged with attempted murder, chased by the coast guard, the mafia… and I was hospitalized a couple times. One for flesh eating disease, and another for Dengue Fever, West Nile Virus and Tuberculosis all at the same time.
6) Can you describe to us the technical aspects of how you shot this film? Are there special equipments that you emply to finish this project?
We shot Sharkwater in High Definition, starting very early on in HD. We used many different housings to take the cameras underwater, some we built, and others built by companies specializing in underwater housings. We also used rebreathers, which are apparatuses that recirculate the air that you breathe so you don’t make bubbles underwater. Many animals, especially sharks, are afraid of bubbles.
7) I know that sharks have been killed as medicine or as delicacy or as a promising homeopathic cancer treatment… what has been done around the world in not overharvesting sharks to extinction?
People have erroneously believed sharks to hold some magical properties because they are large powerful and resilliant animals. The consumption of sharks has never been proven to do anything beneficial. These beliefs are of the same variety that believe that because rhino’s have horns, if you eat rhino horn, your horn will grow. Sharks have been over-harvested in every ocean, and very little has been done to protect them.
Have you shown this film to marine biologists, Shark poachers, the academe, politicians …. and what were their reactions?
Yes. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The Canadian environment minister decided to champion sharks, academics and shark biologists are excited that someone has finally brought this issue to light. We’ll see what shark poachers have to say.
9) What can the audience do to protect the shark from being extinct?
The audience can encourage others to see Sharkwater. As long as the issue remains in the dark, there will be no protection for sharks and the ocean. The oceans are in deep trouble, which inherently means we’re in deep trouble as well. Awakening the public to the plight of the oceans is our only hope to gain protection. Some shark species have dropped as much as 99%, yet they’re not protected because the public doesn’t know.
10) Because the shark is not as cute and charismatic like the dolphin, have you found difficulty in persuading some of the audience in participating in shark protection movements?
Once people see Sharkwater, they have a new view of sharks, and garnering their support is much easier. The ecological significance of loosing sharks far outweighs any cute factor as our own existence hangs in that balance.
11) What is the future of the shark as far as you know? Is there hope in the near future or does it look bleak?
There is hope in humanity. In a species so highly evolved that it can destroy the natural world upon which it depends, or evolve and live in balance with it. We are the hope, and our ability to have compassion for future generations of humans is what can bring us out of this. Sharks have been on the planet for over 400 million years, surviving 5 major extinctions that wiped 95% of life from this planet. We’re now causing the extinction of more species than have gone extinct in the last 65 million years. We’re now in the midst of another major extinction, yet the planet, and sharks in general will be fine. There is 2.5 billion years of life on earth, and sharks in the deepest darkest trenches of the ocean far out of reach of humans. The only question now is how many future generations of humans will live in lack and starvation and crisis because we’ve failed to wake up in time. Now, our survival is in jeopardy.
12) Has global warming affected the shark population and their activity?
Some sharks are now extinct from many areas. Much of the Caribbean is devoid of sharks thought to be because of increasing fishing and water temperatures. Any change in the environment will affect species, some adversely, and some positively. The problem with humans is how brief our existence on this planet is…. we simply don’t know what will happen as a result of our impact on the planet.
13) What is next for Rob Stewart as a filmmaker and in your pursuit in protecting the shark of the world?
The most important thing is making conservation cool and accessible to everyone. There’s nothing cooler than saving species instead of destroying them… than perpetuating human life instead of limiting it. Conservation is cool, we’re just trying to repackage it so everyone is on board. To do that we’re using the media.
14) Do you have any advice to future documentary filmmakers in how to pursue their careers?
Get out there and make movies. Cameras are cheap, audio is available online and you can edit from a laptop. There are phenomenally important stories that need to be told. Stories that if told can eliminate suffering, destruction, hate and fear. Stories that can bring beauty, life and happiness. Read every book there is on story and script writing. This is the most powerful medium to effect change. Jump in with everything you have, get in over your head, learn, teach, manifest, grow, soften, have fun and let the experience change you as a human being.