Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Sharkwater is an excellent film about the death of many sharks as they get tangled in fishing nets and the massive extermination for the delicacy, shark-fin soup. Warning - it's a very gruesome film (for what they do to the sharks). I'd be cautious about the students I show it to. To tell you the truth, my knees get weak at the silhouette of sharks above me in the water. I mean, photographs from that angle - not that I might actually be in the water with sharks. The film wasn't able to completely unbrainwash me from the grip of Jaws. I sometimes show it in Challenge and Change or in Civics.

I happened to catch the movie at the theatre the night Rob Stewart was speaking about how he made the film. He told us he was a cinematographer, not a film maker. He got a ride to a shark habitat on an anti-whaling boat, but got arrested before he ever made his destination. He kept the cameras rolling, and this film is the result.

He mentions that Paul Watson is commanding the Sea Shepherd. Paul Watson was an original member of Greenpeace, but separated, according to some, for tactics that were even too controversial by Greenpeace standards. Giving students the whole story there makes the film even more interesting.

Here's the handout I use to start discussion:

(Rob Stewart, 2007, 90 min.)


Sharks were here before the dinosaurs when there were only two continents. Killing them (90% reduction in the past 20 years) cuts off the head of the ecosystem. They are an important controlling agent. Plankton creates 70% of the oxygen of the planet. If sharks die, then the fish they would eat, the ones that feed on plankton, will flourish, and our oxygen will be affected. Life on land depends on life in the ocean.

Media and Money

People make money off sharks being dangerous; it’s good TV. We all love monsters because we love to hate. More people are killed each year by pop machines than by sharks. (And by crocodiles, elephants, cars, and starvation.)

Only the drug trade rivals shark fins for money. The Taiwan Mafia is wealthy enough to own private docks and buildings, and an entire neighbourhood in Puntarenas (the largest province in Costa Rica).

Paul Watson was a founder of Greenpeace. He left after conflict about his methods which include ramming into whaling and shark boats.

The UN has no rule-making authority over international waters. Nobody does.


Activists are necessary in order to stop letting people get away with things, or at least making them do their crimes in the light of day. Unless people devote their lives to solving the problems, nothing’s going to change. But we only need 5-7% of the population to make a difference.

We don’t understand what we are, conceited naked apes. In our minds we’re a divine legend, some sort of God who can decide who lives and who dies. The fact is, we’re just a bunch of primitives out of control. We’re in the midst of the third world war. The enemy is ourselves. The objective is to save us from ourselves.

"Social change comes from the passionate interests of a small group of individuals. Every major shift in the world, slavery, votes for women, civil rights, apartheid…, always from individuals with passion and energy to get involved. Individuals in non-governmental organizations passionately involved in protecting the ecosystems – that’s where I see some optimism. That’s where I see some things happening."

No species survives by ignoring the laws of ecology. We know what we’re during, and yet we’re allowing ourselves to do it.


1. Why do you think some people are willing to risk their lives to save others people or animals or the environment? What factors in a life might produce that kind of selflessness?

2. Why don’t governments stop shark killings internationally?

3. People get such joy in having power over those less powerful than we are. Domination feels good. Who could you have power over if you chose to, and can you restrain yourself from enjoying that type of domination? What’s more rewarding to you than the great feeling you could get from exercising power?

4. Comment on any other aspect of the film.

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