A review of “Sharkwater” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG for images of animal cruelty and some language

Run Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

 

 

 

          Marine biologist and underwater photographer Rob Stewart brings a lifelong passion for sharks to the cinematic forefront.

          Setting out to learn about life and the ocean’s delicate balance Stewart immerses himself in the mystery of the sea’s most enduring creatures, four hundred million years strong.

          As two-thirds of the world’s surface is water it’s a vast and daunting classroom. Stewart begs the question: is the shark really an enemy or does he just get a bad rap? The fact is that sharks kill on average five people a year whereas elephants slay close to one hundred and cars take hundreds of thousands of lives.

What begins as an effort to debunk the myths turns to an expose of the wicked world of illegal shark finning and a burning desire to protect a rapidly diminishing species.

          The doc twists in the wind when Stewart boards a renegade conservationist trawler bound for Costa Rica to face off against illegal long-line poachers who fish the open waters for prized sharkfins. Predator becomes prey at the exorbitant price of $300/lb.

          Shaking down a multi-billion dollar finning operation might not be the best call as Stewart and crew find themselves arrested on charges of attempted murder.

          “Sharkwater” has a message – or two or three; its intentions are nothing if not noble. Watching a shark butchered for a single fin and tossed back into the sea half-dead inspires outrage. Stewart is understandably zealous in his mission but his focus turns too often to himself and his own righteous efforts rather than to his beleaguered subjects.

          Visuals are consistently stunning, glorifying a vibrant universe leagues beneath the sea. Hammerheads congregating in the tepid waters of the Galapagos Islands are an awe-inspiring sight. But Stewart’s narration is curiously monotone as he travels a circuitous narrative route in his efforts to be heard.

          The world’s shark population has been decimated by a staggering 90% due to unlawful fishing activities and indiscriminate slaughter. “Sharkwater” is a call to action.