Monday 11 April 2011

Film Review: Sharkwater

A few weeks ago I was talking to my friend about Oscar winning documentary The Cove. I think it is the greatest documentary I have ever seen. The smooth filming, clever editing and exciting chase scenes mean that The Cove was able to bring an animal rights issue to the masses. Ric O’Barry is a fantastic campaigner, he is passionate, inspiring and unafraid of taking dangerous risks – a great main character for a film. If you haven’t seen The Cove, I really strongly recommend it. Unlike most animal rights documentaries, it’s not gory and so it’s easy to watch (although of course it is upsetting).

Anyway, my friend recommend a documentary called Sharkwater. I put it on my LoveFilm and it arrived this week, so I thought I’d share my thoughts about it.

Released in 2008, Sharkwater  exposes the international shark finning trade, a trade which until the release of this film was largely unheard of. Sharkwater didn’t reach international acclaim (like The Cove), but it did force this issue into the public sphere and onto the international political agenda.

Shark fins are a delicacy, eaten with soup or used for ‘medicinal purposes’. Many people believe that sharks don't get cancer, and so thousands of people purchase shark fin products in the hope of becoming immune to cancers. Not only is this ridiculous, it’s also based on a lie. Sharks do get cancers, and because of all the crap we pour into the oceans, sharks and other animals are now heavily contaminated with mercury and hazardous (carcinogenic) chemicals known as PCBs.

The film follows lifelong shark lover and filmmaker, Rob Stewart, on his journey to discover the true size of the shark finning industry. Rob Stewart has been diving with sharks for years, and there is some great footage in the film of sharks and other sea life exploring the oceans. Rob has been all over the world to swim with sharks, and in recent years he has noticed a drastic decline in shark numbers.  

I didn’t know much about sharks before this film, and I’d never been particularly interested in them. One of Rob’s bug bears in the film is the media that sharks get. They are represented as aggressive merciless killers and most people and afraid of them. Rob shows the audience why this is an undeserved stereotype.
Sharks have been around for over 400 million years. They have survived all five of the mass extinctions, but now they're facing their biggest threat yet: man. Shark specialists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, annually. It takes up to 25 years for sharks to reach sexual maturity and they cannot breed fast enough to replenish numbers lost due to shark finning. It is estimated that 90 per cent of all shark species will be lost within the next decade.

Sharks are the top dogs of the ocean, and they control the populations of animals below them in the food chain. Without sharks, it is impossible to predict what will happen in the oceans. Some scientists fear that algae-eating fish populations will grow out of control and deplete algae reserves. 70 per cent of the world’s oxygen comes from algae. Algae breaks down carbon dioxide, without it there would be more carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas). The environmental importance of the oceans is often underestimated. The oceans are so vast, and out of mind, that we, the general public, rarely stop to consider them.  We don’t see shark finning, but it is happening and it is threatening the planet.

I don’t want to give much of the film away, but Rob teams up with Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson. For those who aren’t aware of Sea Shepherd’s work, they use “ innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. “
Sea Shepherd are the organisation who actively attempt to prevent illegal whaling, I’m sure you’ll have seen them on the news. Rob joins Paul Watson and the team aboard the Sea Shepherd boat in an attempt to prevent the illegal shark finning in Guatemalan waters. They uncover the overwhelming corruption in Guatemala, and go on to discover the shocking amount of money in the shark finning trade.

I don’t want to ruin the film for you, so I’ll leave it there. I’d heard of shark finning before watching this film, but I had no idea of the scale of the problem.

Sharks are dragged onto fishing boats, their fins are cut off and then they’re thrown back into the sea where they sink to the bottom.  Finning is a slow death, it can take over 24 hours. The shark then either starves to death, is eaten alive by other fish, or suffocates. Unable to swim, the shark’s gills cannot extract oxygen from the water.

Sharks are amazing animals. After watching this film, I did some online research and was really hoping that you would be unable to buy shark fin in the UK. Wishful thinking. There are six restaurants in Manchester alone that sell this barbaric delicacy.

Please get involved in the campaign against shark finning.

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