From: Ed Stoddared, Reuters
Published April 3, 2007 12:00 AM

Filmmaker on Mission To Save Sharks

DALLAS -- Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart wants to take a bite out of the global shark fin industry that is wiping the big fish from the seas.


His film "Sharkwater," which had the third-largest box office opening for a documentary in Canadian theater history, looks at the threats facing the predators on top of the marine food chain.


The primary threat is the "finning" industry, which targets sharks for their fins, a coveted soup ingredient that fetches high prices in China and other Asian countries.


The film's mix of high-seas drama, elegant underwater footage and conservation chic has already brought it critical acclaim and attention -- which Stewart hopes will inspire action to save the world's sharks.


"It's very much aimed at trying to increase awareness. The general public does not know that sharks are being wiped out," Stewart told Reuters after a screening at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival.


Stewart, a biologist and underwater photographer who has spent much time diving with sharks, wanted to show the animals are not the man-eaters of "Jaws" movie infamy.


"I thought if I could bring people closer to sharks than they have ever been before then they could develop a love for them and see the reality so they could fight for their protection," he said.


Stewart said the sinister image of sharks has not made them "poster boys" or cash spinners for the conservation movement.


"If an elephant falls for ivory in Africa, the world goes crazy. But 100 million sharks die every year and no one notices or cares. And sharks are far more ecologically significant than elephants are. Sharks are in every ocean," he said.


"Tuna, sharks, all these animals are among the greatest predators the planet has ever seen but they are not revered, they don't have the attention that lions, tigers or cheetahs or leopards do."


TARGETED FOR FINS


Like the elephant and its tusks or the horn of the rhino, sharks are being slaughtered for one body part -- their fin -- while the rest of the animal is usually discarded.


Stewart's film, scheduled for release in U.S. cinemas in September, includes graphic footage of sharks having their fins hacked off before they are thrown back overboard.


It features a run-in at sea with Central American shark poachers, a dash from the law in Costa Rica and the splendors of Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.


Along the way, Stewart uncovers a huge shark finning racket in Costa Rica and almost loses a leg to flesh-eating disease.


Scientists have been sounding the alarm about the unsustainable harvesting of sharks, with consequences that ripple through the marine environment.


Researchers reported Thursday that overfishing of big sharks in the Atlantic has cut stocks by 99 percent, dooming North Carolina's bay scallop fishery and threatening other species including shrimp and crabs.


With most of the mightiest predatory sharks -- bull, great white and hammerhead -- gone from the northwest Atlantic, the rays and skates that the sharks normally feed on had a population explosion, the researchers said in the journal Science.


In turn, the rays were wiping out their prey such as scallops.


Source: Reuters


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