“We have a bright future if we want it. But we have to do something about it. Now.” — Rob Stewart, Canadian filmmaker and conservationist
by Sherry Marr
Rob Stewart lived his life in love with the creatures of the deep, especially sharks, whom he swam with and found beautiful, mysterious and non-threatening. He made the films Sharkwater and Sharkwater Extinction in an effort to show their beauty to the world. He also wanted to expose the shark fin trade which kills 150 million sharks a year, along with catching 54 billion other species, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles who get caught in the nets and die.
I personally believe driftnetting should be banned. Such a cruel method of over-fishing, it is wasteful and inhumane, and will soon empty the sea.
Sharks have survived five global extinctions; they have been alive for 450 million years. But in just thirty years, we have decimated their populations by 90%. Think about that. These are living, sentient beings, being massacred in the most brutal of ways. Fishermen bring them aboard, beat them, slice off their fins, then throw the sharks back into the water to die. (This makes me feel as if animals are more sentient than we. For certain, they are more just.)
“People just don’t know,” said Rob. “If they knew, their moral compass would lead them to insist the government create legislation for a more just world.” Well, we hope so, at least.
Rob died at 32, during a dive off the coast of Florida, while shooting Sharkwater Extinction, which his teammates completed after his death. The movie includes footage of Rob and the sharks swimming in a beautiful blue duet. He lived and died following his passion, while exposing some harsh truths to the world. His too-short life had great impact.
He was stunned to discover one of the biggest shark fishing offenders was operating off the coast of Los Angeles. The footage of sharks trapped in the net, dying agonizing deaths, their expressions of pure misery, is hard to see. And necessary, if we are ever to wake up and demand that governments at every level address the injustices and inequities of this world. We can have that bright future Rob promises in the quote above. But we have to participate in demanding the changes that need to be made. Letters to every level of government do have impact. I have seen this in the village where I live, which is now, at our insistence, putting together a long overdue tree protection bylaw. We citizens had to demand what was important to us; government could not ignore us. They work for us!
While some countries have banned shark fin fishing, they haven’t banned importing them, so the industry continues to driftnet fish, taking so many lives in the process. Living sentient beings seen as resources – this is the capitalist formula, along with ‘take it all now, before it’s gone’, which is completely unsustainable. We are now facing the hard truth that the resources of the earth are finite.
Rob says the Hollywood story that sharks are dangerous and will attack us is not true. He swam with them for years and found them to be gentle, peaceful and mysterious. While I watched the film, and the barbaric way humans treat these gentle giants, I pondered how it is we humans can be so violent and without mercy, what people tell themselves to make what they are doing okay. We should have evolved more, by now. We are the most dangerous predator on earth.
Aside from the infamous shark fin soup, considered a delicacy by some, shark can be found in such unexpected places as beauty products, pet food, fast food and garden fertilizer. Jaws and teeth are sold as souvenirs. Sharks are full of toxins from mercury and other ocean pollution. Consumers are ingesting more than fish these days.
“Be conscious about where you put your dollars, how you live your life,” Rob tells us towards the end of Sharkwater Extinction. “There’s nothing more important.”
Sharks are endangered. In 2019, Canada proposed a bill, backed by the UK, to regulate trade in shark fins. It was not even an outright ban (which I personally feel should be global.) The EU and the USA opposed it; no agreement was reached. One “sports” fishing charter, who takes customers out to catch sharks, told Rob, “If you put a trophy price on something, it’s gonna die. Show me the money.” Wow.
What he is not wanting to know is that if we remove one species, the entire ecosystem is affected as, ultimately, are we.
Forever, now, when I think of Rob, I will picture him swimming serenely and joyously with these gentle creatures he loved so much and tried so hard to save. He gave his heart to them. In the film he said, “I know how I will die”, and it seems he was right. He died swimming with the beings he loved most on earth, trying to bring their beauty to us, so we would carry on his work.
For our challenge, write about sharks, the ocean, shark fin soup, human predators, or whatever this information brings up in you.
I await your responses with anticipation.