SHARK BOY, SHARK GIRL, WE'RE GOING TO TAKE YOU OUT OF THIS WORLD


CAROLYN NIKODYM / carolyn@vueweekly.com

In the time that you spent at work today, some 60 000 sharks have been killed—about 30 have been killed in the time it took you to read this sentence. But it isn’t even stats like this that make Rob Stewart’s documentary Sharkwater both stunning and horrifying. The first-time director and long-time underwater photographer takes on the task of altering the wide-spread belief that sharks are the scourge of every ocean-loving human.

Beginning with some downright silly informational American military films from black and white film days—informing us that if we are in the water with sharks we should shout into the water and tear up paper into bits and throw them around us (?!)—Stewart takes us by the hand to see what he sees in sharks. Not only are they beautiful, they are also necessary to life on solid ground. And our collective belief in their penchant for human flesh is highly bloated—death by shark, for instance, is not even in the same league as death by car accident.

The footage of Stewart being some sort of shark-whisperer drifts into stunning ocean life, but before long we are on the Sea Shepherd with Canadian eco-pirate Paul Watson, heading down to Costa Rica and the Galapogos. And this is where the film—getting a strong, over 20-screen release in Canada—surprises.
The crew of the Sea Shepherd uses water cannons to deter shark poachers and rams into long-lining (the ocean equivalent to clear-cut logging, where everything in our path dies) vessels that are capturing sharks, their crews cutting off the fins and tossing the bloody, soon-to-be-dead shark back into the sea.

In Costa Rica, Stewart manages to get into some “shark-fin mafia” territory to capture footage of the sheer number of fins—thousands—that are being prepped for the discerning palates of shark-fin soup eaters. At some several hundred dollars per pound, shark fins are a delicacy. And like with any lucrative mob business, many higher-echelon palms have to be greased to make it happen.

While Stewart can offer no proof that Watson was in Costa Rican waters at the behest of that country’s authorities, there is little doubt that the kind of shark-fishing practices he uncovers are in any way sustainable. And it’s pretty easy to buy into his sentiment that sharks—with their bad man-eating rap—are very low on the conservation-list chain.

But as he and the other ocean biologists he interviews see it, extinct sharks make for too many plankton eaters, which makes for less oxygen on Earth. We may take or leave sharks, but oxygen is another matter. V

Opens Fri, Mar 23
Sharkwater | Written & directed by Rob Stewart

Review Sharkwater