I just watched Sharkwater: Extinction (2018) a documentary that stars shark and ocean conservationist Rob Stewart. It’s the sequel to Sharkwater, which came out in 2007. According to the Sharkwater.com biography on Rob, his documentaries along with his activism, has saved 1/3 of the world’s sharks.
But sadly, I learned that 150 million sharks are killed a year, double the 73 million sharks a year number I heard many years ago. Sharks are killed not just for the shark fin trade anymore—shark can be found in cosmetics as squalene or squalane, in pet food or livestock feed and in the “fish” sold in stores and restaurants. Much of the fish in sold in stores is mislabeled, or in the case of shark intentionally mislabeled (maybe by the distributor or fisherman) so consumers will buy the product. It’s dangerous to eat shark because they are full of toxins like mercury. It’s recommended that pregnant women and children don’t eat shark because of that.
Rob and his cameraman got great footage of two sharks still alive in a gill net, but about to meet certain death. They were not able to save the sharks, but their footage helped convince legislators in California to ban gill nets in 2018. Gill nets can be miles long and are made of a clear monofilament that practically disappears underwater. Large animals such as sea turtles, sharks, whales and seabirds swim into the net and get stuck. All the above animals, except most sharks that need to keep swimming to get oxygen, need air to breathe. These caught animals drown before the fishermen pull the nets up.
Gill nets are used in target fisheries, such as for swordfish. Anything not a swordfish is considered bycatch. According to Oceana, an ocean conservation non-profit, up to 63 billion pounds of bycatch is caught every year and thrown back into the ocean. When Rob made Sharkwater: Extinction in 2016, it was only estimated to be 54 billion pounds. Sadly bycatch numbers are up. As is the sobering possibility that by 2050, there will be more plastic and trash in the ocean than fish.
It’s a sad documentary to watch in general, because much of the documentary is footage of shark fins or dead sharks. But there is enough footage of Rob swimming with sharks to be inspiring. The end is sad because Rob passed away before the documentary was complete, and his death completed it. He had been using a rebreather, which is advanced diving, while scuba diving off of Florida. He was looking to film a sawfish in the wild. A rebreather is great for filming wildlife because it produces no bubbles. Instead the carbon dioxide you breathe out is scrubbed out and you breathe in clean oxygen.
The ending montage made me cry, and not just because Rob had died. It’s his moving words that are inspiring. Thanks to his documentaries, his legacy will live on in shark conservationists worldwide. Please visit Sharkwater.com and read, 10 Easy Ways to Save Sharks and watch on Amazon Prime for free (if you’re a subscriber).
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