As I was going through my old posts, I found the below interview with Rob Stewart. I enjoyed chatting with him and was saddened to hear of his untimely passing.
If you haven’t seen the documentary SHARKWATER, it is now on DVD and I highly recommend checking it out. It follows photographer and marine biologist Rob Stewart and his quest to save sharks from extinction. This isn’t your dry, boring PBS type of documentary though. It is also a human drama and a thriller as well. It really opens your eyes and makes a passionate case for awareness of what is happening in our oceans around the world. Millions of sharks are being slaughtered as the result of a fishing process called “finning” where a shark is pulled out of the ocean, it’s fins are sliced off and then it is tossed back in the water to die. This has resulted in a devastating loss of the shark population and threatens to upset the entire ecological balance of the ocean. I have always loved sharks and I managed to get Warner Bros. Home Video to set me up with an interview with the Rob Stewart. In addition to being the photographer and marine biologist, he also wrote, directed and produced this film. In speaking to him, I found him to be incredibly mature, well spoken and wise far beyond his years.
When did you see your first shark in real life?
I was 9 in the Cayman Islands. I met sharks before that when I had been fishing, but it wasn’t as impactful for me. Instead of eating me, the shark was actually afraid of me. As a young impressionable kid who didn’t want to be afraid of things, it was really impactful.
Have you ever done a dive with Great White Sharks?
Were you in a cage at the time?
No. Everybody that films doesn’t use cages. When you see a cage on TV, there is someone outside the cage filming.
How did that feel?
Being underwater with sharks is one of the coolest experiences you can imagine. To have those around you is really cool. When you see the animals that the myth has been perpetuated through for decades it all turns out to be false.
How do you approach them?
As long as you have something between you and them, you’re cool. Most of the sharks that bite people don’t eat them. The intention of the shark isn’t to do human harm. Usually when they bite someone, they realize it isn’t something they like and let go of it. If it knows what you are, then it will leave you alone. They are very skittish and afraid. The shark doesn’t want to risk getting injured. If a shark gets injured, then it can’t get food and then it is screwed.
How do you feel about shark tours? I understand that those have become a popular cottage industry.
Those are actually pretty safe. I think there is one fatality in the history of diving with sharks. The only people who are afraid of sharks are only people who have met them underwater. Many inlands have discovered that sharks are worth more money alive in the water than they are dead. People get to see the world’s most deadly predator and they see how they are amazing creatures and not at all how they are portrayed in the media.
Do you think the film JAWS has done a lot of damage in terms of giving people the wrong impression about sharks?
It did. It came at a time when people knew nothing about sharks. The film became fact and this predator of people became such a man hunter. After it came out, people began killing sharks.
How did you manage to keep so calm during the many problems that plagued the shoot?
Yeah, to be honest I just jumped into this not knowing anything. I was banking on my ability to take still pictures and everything went catastrophically wrong. The hardest part the hospital scene was the fact that I was laughing and smiling at the hospital scene. It was wild. I have always known things to work out well and they always do. When I get negative, I wait for the positive to come around and it usually does. We stumbled upon a cool formula, take a conservation message and find a way to make it younger, hipper and find a way to get people on the mission. That formula works because it delivers the messages you want in a more palatable way.
What is your next project?
Making a movie about how humans are going to survive the next 100 years. We’re screwed as a species unless we change dramatically. There is a critical mass of things that happen in any revolution.
If you look at the world from an outside perspective, our society, economy and industry is dependent on the destruction of the natural world.
What other projects would you like to tackle in the future?
We are doing a TV series based on ocean conservation where each episode is about conservation where people follow us on a different issue. I made Sharkwater because it is the most important issue I could think of making. In 2010 when the next movie is done it might be a different situation.
What can the average person do to help save sharks?
The biggest facing the oceans is awareness. No one knows what is going on and we waste 54 billion pounds of fish a year while 8 million people die of starvation. Fisheries waste 85% of what they kill and it is thrown back in the ocean. Every single fishery will have collapsed by 2048. If people KNEW what was going on and if they realized we need to preserve the ecosystem and if they realized the gravity of the situation….
Besides awareness, is there something more concrete that people can do?
Joining Greenpeace or joining another environmental organization, sign petitions. There is no policy without public pressure. The Monterey Bay Aquarium prints up these cards that can inform you about this. Vote with your dollars.
View the SHARKWATER Official Website and learn more about how you can get involved!