Sharkwater Extinction: Standing up for a demonised fish

Review: Stewart’s third film on the apex predator is a fitting memorial to a remarkable crusader 

Sharkwater Extinction: We are killing around 150 million sharks a year

Film Title: Sharkwater Enxtinction

Director: Rob Stewart

Starring: Rob Stewart

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 85 min

Fri, Mar 22, 2019, 05:00


Sharks, by popular estimation, are nature’s jerks, an apex predator best suited to play the villain in movies like Jaws and, lower down the scale, Sharknado 5. The late Canadian filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart begs to differ.

Diving with the oceanic whitetip, an animal Jacques Cousteau described as “the most dangerous of all sharks”, Stewart marvels at their expressive eyes, their cheeky disposition, and reaches to pet one like it’s a Labradoodle. He’s appalled to find a Japanese trawler and a gigantic freezer container fishing with impunity off the shores of Cabo Verde for blue sharks. “They are cute they’re dopey, they have big eyes, and they don’t bite people,” he says.

A lifelong, self-declared “fish nerd” the likeable Stewart first came to prominence with Sharkwater in 2006, a years-in-the-making expose of the billion-dollar shark fin industry. That film, as the campaigning documentarian notes, “nearly killed me half a dozen times” and ended with Stewart fleeing from a coast guard “firing machine-guns”.

It did, nonetheless, inspire a new conservation effort on behalf of the demonised fish. 2013’s follow up study of environmental collapse, Revolution, kept up the fight becoming the highest grossing Canadian documentary of all time and winning 19 international awards.

Sharkwater Extinction, Stewart’s third film to revisit the same theme has shocking figures to impart. We are killing around 150 million sharks a year and scientists can only account for 70 million of those, 80 million are getting killed every year and nobody knows where they go. In the past 30 years, an apex predator that has been swimming in our oceans for 450 million years has lost 90 percent of its population.

Travelling between the azure waters of South America, Panama, and Africa, the filmmaker uncovers all kinds of skulduggery. Why has a Taiwanese company bought up a harbour in Costa Rica? Why is shark DNA showing up in livestock feed, petfood, cosmetics, and fast food purchased in Florida? How can California allow driftnets?

Sharks are a much harder sell than the unfortunate dolphins depicted in Louie Psihoyos’ similar The Cove, but Stewart argues his case well. Until his final tragic dive, sensitively handled here, he remains cool and amiable – whether chatting with a shark-hunter or picking up the fins of hammerhead babies that have been mutilated and killed in their nursery waters.

 A fitting memorial to a remarkable crusader.