23 June 2009


the other day i watched a riveting documentary on DVD, Sharkwater. videographer and marine biologist rob stewart pokes holes in the myths about sharks, revealing them to be innately shy, curious predators, rather than the vicious man-eaters of hollywood hype. (it's like being in the home of any other large predator -- you are the visitor, and as a guest you are responsible for learning the language and customs.) the film starts with visits to sites where sharks have historically gathered to mate, only to discover that shark populations globally are in catastrophic decline, thanks to (familiar story) over-harvesting by humans. in my view, the slaughter is particularly heartbreaking, because the hunters are only killing sharks for their dorsal fins (prized in asia for shark fin soup, an expensive delicacy). once mutilated, the sharks are cast overboard to die.

during the course of the film, steward teams up with radical environmental activist and greenpeace cofounder paul watson, who for decades has risked his life by doing what world governments refuse to do -- interfering with the murder of creatures of the sea by well-financed industrial interests from many countries. i won't give away any more about this graphic, disturbing and beautifully-shot film. please see it and form your own impressions. much of it isn't pretty to watch. but for just that reason, it is important. bearing witness to the atrocities which we visit upon the planet and its creatures is the most effective way to galvanize public awareness, and public action.

i will close with this -- as noted in a number of previous entries, the presence of healthy populations of natural predators is essential to the health of ecosystems as a whole. as steward points out in the film, the case of sharks is special. oceans cover roughly 70% of the planet's surface, and oceanic plankton and larger marine plants provide the majority of the oxygen we breathe. if we remove the food web's top predator, sharks, then their prey (large fish) multiply, and their prey (smaller fish, and on down to phyto- and zooplankton) are reduced. the bottom line, less oxygen. we all have a stake in the fate of the world's predators, most especially the fate of sharks.

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