Seats at Park Lane Theatre filled up on Sept. 19 for the premiere of Sharkwater Extinction. The documentary dives into the shady world of shark finning, and shark-products consumers unknowingly use every day.
Rob Stewart, the Torontonian filmmaker and conservationist behind it, died tragically during its filming in 2017. His family completed the film.
“Rob loved Halifax,” said Rob’s mother, Sandra Campbell alongside husband Brian Stewart, to the audience on Wednesday.
Campbell and Stewart gave special thanks to marine biologist, Boris Worm, and veterinarian and marine biologist, Chris Harvey-Clark, both faculty members at Dalhousie.
“Sharkwater the first movie, really brought public awareness to the problem of sharks being threatened by people, not the other way around,” said Worm, who along with some students worked closely advising Rob during this film and his other two: Sharkwater (2006) and Revolution (2012).
“The story went that sharks threaten people, since Sharkwater, we know that people threaten sharks.”
A shark sequel comes to FIN
The original Sharkwater showed audiences that sharks are non-violent, misunderstood creatures and exposed the real brutal killers: humans. Shark fin soup is a popular delicacy in China, but they aren’t the only country in-on shark killing and consumption.
“Canada is one of the largest consumers of shark-fins outside of Asia,” said Worm.
Last year, Bill S-238 looking to ban the importation of shark fins to Canada was proposed in parliament by Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald. The bill would prohibit shark finning in Canadian waters and the importation of fins from international sources.
73-million sharks are killed every year – primarily for their fins – many subspecies of which are endangered. Shark might be in your lunch, in your artificial crab sandwich, along with heavy levels of toxins they carry, like mercury. Shark might even be on your face – their blood in your favourite red lipstick.
“Sharks are the predator in most of these ecosystems and when you take the top predator away you see these cascading changes,” said Worm.
“We don’t really need that unpredictability right now with climate change and everything else happening. We want ecosystems to be robust and resilient.”
Harvey-Clark knew Rob from bumping elbows at different events. By chance, they both stepped off the same plane during the filming of Sharkwater Extinction in Cabo Verde.
Rob’s team was there investigating the shark crisis, whilst Harvey-Clark’s team were ethically tagging the Atlantic Weasel Shark; with only a couple restaurants in town and similar interests, they all grew rather close, aiding one another.
“There were Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese vessels coming and going, and goods were moving back and forth. Rob had a good idea of what was going on, because he actually had the vessel tracking information on his computer, he showed me. He actually knew who was where, and who was coming in, and where they’d been, and where they had been fishing.”
“He was looking at the catches coming off the ships, we couldn’t get very close because the whole harbour area was a secure area with fences, guards and gated houses. There was no way you could get in there to see what was actually going on,” said Harvey-Clark.
Until one day a cruise ship unloaded 1000 passengers, opening up the gates.
“We all sort of looked at each other and grabbed our dark glasses and Bermuda shorts, and we headed in there as the guise as tourists.”
“I gave all that footage to Rob’s family, in fact some of it appears in the doc, and some of it in the trailer. In the trailer sequence, a Dalhousie employee is holding a fin up.”
Family follows through on film completion
For Rob’s family, not completing the documentary was never an option.
“Rob had really conceived the whole film and planned it out. He was 60 or 70 per cent of the way into finishing the movie, as it was meant to be done for TIFF last year, so there was so much there to work with,” said his sister, Alexandra Stewart.
Alexandra recognizes her parents in the “lion’s share” of heartbreaking work they had to go through following Rob’s death and getting the documentary to the big screen.
“Sharkwater the original had such a phenomenal impact, so shark finning went from being banned in a couple places to being banned in so many countries worldwide along with other bans such as the sale of shark-fin soup,” she said.
“We need all of those people around the world who heard that call and jumped into action and got things done to come back and do it again so we finish the job that we started.”