The global shark population is in crisis, as its numbers have dwindled at extreme rates over the course of the past three decades. The reason for this is not because of disease, or another predator of the oceans devouring them, it is because of humanity, or certain elements of us who insist on eating the creatures in enormous volume. Despite many countries banning shark fishing, they do not necessarily ban imports of the meat - shark fin soup is considered a delicacy - and the trade is fuelled by criminal organisations who harvest the fish, resulting in their near-extinction; this can be reversed if one photographer and campaigner can get the message out about this awful situation.
Sadly, that one campaigner was Rob Stewart, the director of this documentary, who did not live to see it completed. With filming almost over on this, effectively his third shark film, he suffered a diving accident which killed him, a fact that was not milked by this effort, as it abided by Rob's wishes and placed the plight of the sharks front and centre. Indeed, though his death was well-publicised in 2017 it is not mentioned until the last ten minutes or so of this, which preferred to mix startlingly beautiful footage of the fish in question with far more brutal imagery of them captured, chopped up and packed into refrigerated containers to be shipped around the world.
More than once Stewart points out that in the last thirty years previous to this film, shark populations had been reduced by ninety percent, and all because of a culture that saw eating them as a desirable, weirdly macho pursuit. Yes, sharks are the apex predator of the seas, but for a person to eat them puts the creatures in their place, and that bullshit attitude was ruining the oceans, not least because a healthy ecosystem desperately needs them to exist to feed across the globe. Another thing highlighted was that pollution was rife in the water, and that affected the sharks as well, not to mentioning poisoning the meat that they were made into with such toxic elements as lead.
Therefore it was by far in our best interests not to catch and slaughter sharks, yet there was so much money in the trade, billions of dollars we are told, that there were too many not understanding the extent of the harm they were carrying out by funding said trade. And worse, there were those well aware of the damage they were doing but did it anyway out of sheer greed: the common twenty-first century narrative of humankind walking willingly off a cliff because they did not like to be told what to do, or even that they were seriously wrong, was present and correct in Sharkwater Extinction. The idea that it was only the Chinese consuming sharks was blown out of the water as well: if you eat fish, you may be eating mislabelled shark anyway, without being aware of it.
Shark is also in pet food, livestock feed, even cosmetics, which begins to put into perspective the degree of how dire the crisis was without many in the world being aware of it. Stewart made it his mission in life to change all that, as after all if the demand falls away, the supply will no longer be needed, and the shark numbers will begin to increase. He remained optimistic, though, as it was his experience that once people were told about what was happening, not solely with sharks but with the whole environment, they tended to do something about it to improve things: especially kids, whose future was looking perilous if the huge danger to ecology was not addressed. This was not a particularly brilliantly made documentary, Stewart's obvious skill with recording the sea life excepted, but its message was so sincere, so important, that it was well worth watching and talking about, not merely to pay tribute to its goodhearted creator, but to make sure we as the human race didn't end up as dead as he was. Music by Jonathan Goldsmith.