Sharkwater is a gutsy, provocative, and at times irritating documentary which focuses upon the plight of sharks, those fascinating and wondrous inhabitants of the deep blue sea who have managed to survive for over 400 million, all the while drawing fear and awe from us humans who have almost brought the revered species to the brink of extinction.
The film could be seen in three parts: the first attempts to debunk the myths surrounding sharks, as throughout the film various statistics (such as shark attacks have only resulted in an average of 5 deaths per year, and that vending machines kill more people per year than sharks) are accompanied by hilarious and often disturbing footage, such as a mind boggling U.S. Navy military exercise from the 1960’s, and an interview with Australian shark hunter Vic Hislop, whose claims that sharks will kill anyone who approaches them is cheekily countered by presenter/writer/director Rob Stewart swimming in shark infested waters with only his trunks on. However, I could not help but think how game Stewart would be to swim with a Tiger Shark or a Great White?
The second part of Sharkwater takes an unflinching look at the extermination of the shark species and other marine life. Stewart alleges that a major factor in the millions of shark deaths per year is due to the high demand for shark fins with Asian countries, with shark fin soup bringing a sign of wealth and respect to any who slurp up the tasteless froth.
Throughout his investigation Stewart finds rampant corruption brought on by the Taiwanese mafia who bankroll the shark fin industry in Costa Rica. Accompanying Stewart’s narration is unflinching footage of the slaughter of sharks, whales, turtles, and seals, as well as the impact that long line fishing has in the once shark protected waters of the Galapagos Islands.
Things start to get icky, however, when Stewart is joined by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society led by Captain Paul Watson, who have made a name for themselves in Australia for standing up to the Japanese whaling fleets who has planned to slaughter thousands of whales for “scientific research”. Watson is shown – under the orders of the Costa Rican government – using his large vessel to put a stop to illegal long line fishing, often with violent means as his ship rams fishing boats till they give up. It is an equally interesting, thrilling, and appalling thing to watch as he slams his ship into smaller fishing vessels in an attempt to halt their mission. Supposedly the risk of human deaths at his hand does not register as an equally absurd offence to nature, as is the taking of marine life at the hands of fisherman.
Just as interesting is Watson’s contradictory and atheistic inspired comments which slams the human race as madmen with self descried aspirations of divinity, and then goes on to praise those within his organization as eco-warriors who play the role of martyr for mother nature.
The third part of Sharkwater focuses on the life story of Stewart, a passionate conservative, marine biologist, and deft wildlife photographer who provides gorgeous underwater photography of the alien world which is the ocean. Yet his presence - imagine Tom Cruise meets Derrick Zoolander – distracts rather than enhances the film, and while his passion is commendable, his screen persona does not do the film - which could have been the An Inconvenient Truth of marine documentaries - any favours.
An important documentary, Sharkwater would have been much more effective and educational viewing experience had Stewart taken himself out of the picture, and focused his attention instead – and deservedly so – to the creatures he loves so dearly.