|BL. Tell us about the first time you saw a shark.
|RS. I was a kid. I was free diving with just a mask
and a snorkel. I had wanted to see a shark my whole life.
I had read about them in books. I'd watched them on television
and I thought they were the coolest animals on earth.
As I swam around the corner of a reef, I saw a shark.
I was just amazed because it was so cool to see something
so big and so powerful and so perfect.
|BL. Why save sharks? What makes them so important?
|RS. Species evolving in the oceans over the last 400
million years, have been shaped by their predators, the
sharks, giving rise to schooling behavior, camoflage,
speed, size and communication. They have survived five
major extinctions and now they are being fished out. Many
countries have no sharks left because they are being illegally
harvested for their fins and poachers are now fishing
sharks from other countries, countries that depend on
sharks for food. But no one wants to save sharks, people
are afraid of them.
|BL. Do specials proclaiming it the "summer of the shark"
because of attacks and the JAWS perception upset you?
|RS. It really pisses me off. You understand where they're
coming from because a dangerous shark makes money and
sells papers. If they tell you a shark is beautiful and
perfect and wonderful and won't attack you that's only
going to make news once. But if they tell you "Shark attack.
Shark attack." That's news every time. It's ridiculous,
but you know they are doing it just to play off people's
fears. The reality is totally different. Half the time
it is a small shark that accidentally bites someone's
foot. You could have gotten the same injury from stepping
on a piece of glass. It's crazy how the media approaches
it and they've given sharks such a bad rap. It's ludicrous
because so few people get bit.
|BL. When did you begin thinking about making a documentary?
|RS. I was working as a wildlife photographer and I
had done a bunch of different articles in some really
big magazines on what was happening to sharks around the
world after I discovered illegal shark fishing in the
Galapagos. We set up a little fund where people reading
the articles could donate money towards a patrol boat
in the Galapagos islands. We received virtually no money.
I realized there's got to be a better way to reach people.
Print clearly wasn't the most powerful medium I could
be using. And then I figured "okay what if I make a movie
about it?" I had never shot a video camera before. I just
sort of decided I was going to make a movie. I found some
people that would loan me some money to rent some cameras
and I got started.
|BL. Tell us about shooting the film.
|RS. The movie's gone in every different direction imaginable.
When we started, I knew nothing about movies or how to
shoot them. So I started just thinking about making a
beautiful underwater movie about sharks. And then when
I was on this trip with the Sea Shepherd organization
and world-renown conservationist Paul Watson, everything
that could go wrong, did go wrong. We collided with a
shark-fishing boat in Guatemala that was chasing us out
of Costa Rica. I never got into the water the first month
there. So my underwater documentary dreams were vastly
diminished. Then I sort of decided this was a really cool
story, and decided to film everything that was going on.
|BL. Tell us about shark-finning.
|RS. Sharks are caught for their fins. Poachers cut
off the fins and dump the bodies overboard. The fins are
sold for shark fin soup and though many countries have
banned shark-finning, millions of sharks are illegally
harvested each year. When we arrived in Costa Rica, the
crew of the Sea Shepherd was arrested for attempted murder
for the crash, despite the fact the president of the country
invited us there. Everyone else involved was wondering
why the whole judicial system was attacking us. While
onshore, we had a chance to find out more about the sharkfinning
Sharkfinning is illegal in Costa Rica but shark fins were
showing up all over Asia that came from Costa Rica. We
figured there had to be some deeper meaning to all of
this. We met someone who believed there was a connection
between the Taiwanese mafia and all the shark fins turning
up in Asia. We started checking it out and this guy had
a few places where he knew we would find fins. We started
investigating and there were fins everywhere. There were
miles of fin operations with thousands of fins drying
on rooftops, people bringing in fins. We quickly figured
out there was an enormous amount of money coming into
the country and there was this whole underground multi-billion
| BL. Were you nervous?
|RS. Absolutely. We ran at some point. The operators
came at us with guns. And we had to run. I wish we could
have stayed. I wish I had the balls to stay, to keep filming.
We had to hop in cars and leave. Our guide later told
us the shark-fin "mafia" was on the lookout for us and
it would not be a good idea to walk around town.
|BL. You also caught the flesh-eating disease.
|RS. Exactly how I got that I'm not sure. I had cuts
all over my feet and something must have gotten in and
infected my lymphatic system. The only way I knew I had
it was my lymph glands were swollen. I went to hospital
a few times in the Galapagos and they just gave me anti-inflammatories.
A few days later I went to a doctor who spoke a tiny bit
of English who looked at my leg. He took blood tests and
said you're staying here. You may lose your leg.
|BL. Was there any point during the filming you thought
about throwing in the towel?
|RS. This was close. This was the ultimate low. Everything
had gone wrong. We'd been kicked out of virtually all
the countries we had been to. I would have been arrested
if I went back to Costa Rica, and at the end of all this,
I had not shot anything underwater. I had come to shoot
an underwater documentary and instead shot all this human
drama. And now I was possibly going to lose my leg. The
situation sucked and I had a girlfriend in Toronto going
crazy and my parents were wondering what was going on
and I couldn't tell everybody what exactly was happening
cause it would make it worse for me. The only thing I
could do in the situation was laugh about it. I also made
the decision that I hadn't made the movie I wanted to
make yet, or gotten back underwater with sharks. So much
was left to be done. It would have been crazy to give
up at that point. So I stayed there [in the hospital)
for a week and eventually the infection cleared up and
off I went again.
|BL. What are you ultimately hoping people will take
away from your film?
|RS. There are a few things. The simplest one is that
people view sharks differently. They're not dangerous.
They're not mindless killers. They don't eat people and
I think, as long as people view them as dangerous predators,
people aren't going to care about them. They're not going
to want them to survive on the planet. They want to get
rid of something they're afraid of. I hope that it helps
to start reversing the way the media has portrayed sharks
and gives people information and the tools they need to
make better decisions to be able to say "okay, I'm not
going to be afraid of that" or "I'm not going to listen
to this headline." In order for humans to survive on this
planet, to have such an irrational fear of sharks is not
a good thing.
The other thing is that we've been in this few thousand-year
trend of destruction. It hasn't been cool to conserve,
to promote sustainable use the environment, of the oceans.
But I think people are going to start realizing that if
were going to survive on this planet as a species, we
need to conserve it and protect it.