Archive for November, 2007

New Interview with Rob (13 Comments)

This is an interview from a mag in California.

1) Where are you from?
Toronto, but I spent a lot of time growing up in the Caribbean and Florida.

2) Have you always loved the oceans and the water?
Yes. My parents got me a pet goldfish when I was about 1, and from that point on I was hooked. The oceans were the lost world, the last unknown realm full of creatures, monsters, and fantastic adventure.

3) You have always loved sharks since childhood, what caused the affinity?
I read every book on the ocean, fish, reptiles, dinosaurs. As a kid, sharks were the last dragons and dinosaurs we have on the planet. People knew so little about them, were afraid of them and as a little boy that furthered my fascination.

4) Did your love for sharks diminish after the makings of movies such as Jaws?
Jaws created a charge within me. I loved the ocean so much, but was afraid when I thought about sharks and engaged my brain in the thought around the fear. When I wasn’t thinking about it the oceans were beautiful and engaging. When I heard that jaws theme song, the ocean became terrifying. I had to overcome the fear to stay in the realm that I loved the most. Discovering that sharks weren’t mindless predators out to get me was liberating and life changing.

5) During childhood, did you have any inclination that you would be where you are today?
Yes. I knew my life would have to be deeply involved with the ocean. I thought I’d become a marine biologist, but quickly became disinterested in beakers and labs. Then I became a scuba instructor, and found myself spending too much time in pools and classrooms. I have loved photography since my parents gave me my first underwater camera when I was 13. I photographed my pets, any animals I could find. I figured with 6 billion people on the planet, someone has to be an underwater photographer, and I went for it with everything I had. I could have never anticipated the 5 year adventure that became Sharkwater, but I always knew my life would be interesting.

5) You seem to have an impeccable knowledge of sharks, did you study sharks intensively in school?
Yes. After studying zoology and animal behavior in Canada, I studied sharks at universities in Kenya and Jamaica. I also read every book on sharks and the oceans (and most other animals) as a child and try to keep up to date as an adult!

6) How long have you been diving for?
16 years. I was certified when I was 13 (the minimum age at the time) but actually convinced people to take me diving when I was 11 in mexico.

7) At what point in your life did you decide to take such a leap of faith and create this movie?
I had spent 8 months working with print media trying to get the word out that sharks were being wiped out. I had set up a fund with the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos so that people reading the articles could donate directly to put patrol boats in the Galapagos to protect against poaching. We received very few donations, and I realized that people didn’t care that sharks were being wiped out because they were afraid of them. I figured if I could make a film that gave people a new view of sharks, counter to Jaws, then perhaps they’d want to fight for their protection as they would for pandas, elephants and bears. I thought I’d be in it for 3-6 months, and get to choose at the end wether I’d like to be a photographer or a filmmaker….. after 5 years and numerous near deaths, I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined, and am more energized than ever about making films that change our perception of the natural world. I want to make conservation cool.

8) Within the 5 years of filming Sharkwater, did you notice any significant changes in our oceans due to global warming and overfishing?
Yes. It’s absolutely amazing how small the oceans become when you start to recognize the same animals year after year. Some areas that once had abundant fish populations and healthy reefs, now have very little life. Much of the world’s mandate is to extract as efficiently as possible. Profit is king, and there are no long term thoughts regarding the sustainability of the fishery. Reef bombing for example, uses bombs created with diesel fuel and fertilizer. They immobilize and kill the fish, but also flatten the reef and destroy the whole ecosystem. This happens all over the world, and so few people know about it because what happens in the oceans is out of sigh and out of mind. The most important issue facing the oceans is changing that. If the world knew that we waste 54 billion pounds of fish each year while 8 million people die of starvation; that every fishery will have collapsed by 2048; that 90% of all ocean going large predators are gone, everything could change in an instant just as it has changed for whales, and for holes in our ozone layer.

9) How do you feel about our earth changing so drastically? & do you think the overfishing and finning of sharks has a significant part in these changes?
I think we’re impacting the world in ways far beyond our ability to comprehend. The earth and human’s presence on it is the result of billions of years of evolutionary complexity that by chance, culminated in a species with the power to wipe themselves off the planet, or learn to live in balance. We can’t possibly comprehend the ecosystems, the layers, and the impacts of our presence here…. so often shown by disasters such as the holes in the ozone layer, ddt, global warming, etc. What we’re not really taking into account is the importance of LIFE. The reason there is life on land is because there was and is life in the oceans to support it. One billion years ago the planet held an incredibly hot carbon filled atmosphere, with no life on land. Because of the miracle of life, plants evolved in the ocean, and started sequestering carbon dioxide, and releasing oxygen. The new atmosphere caused the planet to cool, and life made the move to land. This relationship still exists today. 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from life in the oceans which sits below sharks in the food chain. That very same life consumes more carbon dioxide (global warming gas) than anything else on earth. We know relatively little about the removal of large predators from ecosystems as we’ve traditionally eaten animals at lower levels – the herbivores.
One example is the sea otter, which was hunted virtually to extinction off the west coast of North America for the fur trade. The otter’s food population, sea urchins, exploded in numbers. Those urchins ate all the Pacific kelp (huge seaweed that form an underwater forest). Without the kelp, the Pacific herring (sardine like fish) had no breeding grounds, and without the herring, there were no sharks, sea lions, salmon, tuna, dolphins or whales. The ecosystems collapsed all from removing the sea otter, which as a species has only been shaping ecosystems for 7 million years.
What we’re doing with sharks now is removing an animal that has been sitting atop of oceanic ecosystems for over 400 million years, and the ecosystems that will be affected include our own.

10) What advice do you have for first time divers and conservationists who want to follow your footsteps and make a difference in this world?

Take the first step. Get out there and make a difference any way you know how. Everyone has the power to change the world. History has been shaped by passionate individuals, and this movement even more so requires individuals to take a stand. There are innumerable ways to help, and most conservation groups and movements are understaffed and underfunded (ourselves included!). People should use their talents to effect change. If you’re good at web design, design websites to engage and interlink conservationists. If you’re a filmmaker, make films. etc.
Its easy to get involved, it feels good, and it brings people together. There’s a certain majesty in our time right now. We’re a generation that’s seen such huge advances in technology and what’s possible for humans. We’re also the generation that WILL decide to come together, change priorities, and step up like never before to ensure our own species survival. We’ve spent a couple thousand years building economies, industry and systems at the expense of the natural world, and inevitably ourselves. We have 6 billion people on the planet that if working together, could accomplish anything. It’s my hope and mission that they unite to ensure our own survival on this planet. A planet so special that it’s the only one amongst billions that holds life. That life is worth fighting for.

Tiger Sharks with Jim Abernathy and Shark Angels (8 Comments)

Never thought I’d meet someone as passionate about sharks as I…… then I met Jim Abernathy. He’s spent more time underwater with big sharks than anyone else on earth. He just so happens to have the best large shark dive encounter in the world. I just came back from 5 days diving with him in the Bahamas with some 12 ft tiger sharks. Really fun. We were there shooting a special feature for the Sharkwater DVD, and a short film in it’s own right with the “Shark Angels” – 3 beautiful and talented women from Sea Shepherd (Kim McCoy), Save our Seas (Alison Kock), and Shark Savers (Julie Anderson).
visit for more info.
The main goal was to show women diving with supposed “man eaters” in their natural environment to show that anyone can do what we did in Sharkwater, and to further the awareness so necessary to save our oceans.

So I’m going to Costa Rica (18 Comments)

Have had some thinking to do about this, but changes are afoot, and I couldn’t possibly not be there for the fun!
The president, the ministry, Randall Arauz from Pretoma (organized the rallies in Costa Rica) and myself will be sitting down to a public press conference after the first screening of Sharkwater in San Jose, Costa Rica; the nation’s capital, now home to 3 story Sharkwater billboards…..
I’ve got bodyguards, a camera crew, and the mission I started over 5 years ago coming full circle.

The release – Snow (Hey oh) (4 Comments)

It was a storm of media, premiers and way too many flights. We hit theaters across the US, with premiers in NY, San Fran, and LA. Now we just have to get people to the theaters!
That weekend I had the privilege to hang out with Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers – one of my favorite bands. He has been a supporter of Paul Watson’s for a while, and uses his celebrity for good, showing up at Sea Shepherd’s benefit in LA a few weeks back. He put a link from the Chilli Peppers’ site to ours. So cool.

An Email Interview (4 Comments)

1) Blood thirsty Man Eater is the common perception for what a shark is – through your documentary, how did you persuade the audience, in why they should change their misconception about sharks? Do you blame the film Jaws for all these wrong ideas about the SHARK!

Sharks have been portrayed as monsters for as long as the media has referred to them. The word Shark comes from the Anglo Saxon words “villain” and “cut”, demonstrating how poorly sharks have been set up in our minds. A fraction of the planet has the opportunity to go underwater and experience the ocean, so a public that largely fears sharks is wholly logical considering the media’s portrayal of them. A dangerous “man eater” sells more “shark attack” headlines than the reality…. usually that a shark bit a human, realized it’s mistake, and let go. Films like Jaws united the public even further with a wholly false view of sharks – that they’re out there hunting man.
In Sharkwater, we use simple facts – that a mere 5 people are killed by sharks each year for example, that flesh is very rarely removed in shark bites, and that if sharks were predators of people, the oceans would be a very very dangerous place. We also show a totally new relationship with sharks, portraying the reality of sharks as beautiful creatures that are pinnacles in the evolution of the seas. You have to see Sharkwater to truly understand it.

2) What have you found out regarding why are sharks being killed left and right?

Sharks are being killed largely to fuel the growing demand for shark fin soup in Asia. Shark fin soup is a status symbol, served as a sign of respect and a symbol of wealth. When China began wide scale trade with the rest of the world in the late 80’s, the opportunity to consume shark fin soup opened up to hundreds of millions of people, resulting in the price of fins skyrocketing to between $200-400 USD per pound. The word is now out that shark fins mean money, and humans now kill 100 million sharks a year to fuel the demand for fins. Many of these sharks are finned – where their fins are cut off the dying shark and its body is discarded, wasting over 95% of the animal. It’s like killing an elephant for ivory or a rhinoceros for its horn, and because of this, shark populations have dropped 90% in the last 30 years.

3) Sharks have become prey to shark poachers. It looks awful and sad. I’m sure this has caused some sort of imbalance of the ecology?

Sharks sit atop oceanic food chains, controlling the populations of animals below them as they have for over 400 million years. Life on earth depends on life in the sea which sits below sharks in the food chain. Phytoplankton (tiny plants) are the greatest consumer of carbon dioxide (global warming gas) on earth, turning it into oxygen, providing us with 70% of the oxygen we breathe. Removing sharks is cutting off the head of the most important ecosystem for our own survival on earth. The biggest issue in any global warming debate is life in the oceans that allows life on land to exist, yet it’s never spoken of… all we hear about is industry and carbon footprints.

4) Your film has shown yourself and organizations that have started to help protect the shark population. Pls explain what are the different efforts being done?

There are organizations protecting sharks on every front. Organizations like Sea Shepherd enforce conservation law on the high seas, and draw attention to the issues. Wildaid is working in Asia with celebrities such as Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh to promote shark fin soup becoming a tacky dish. The Ocean Conservancy and Ocean are working to garner new regulations for shark fisheries, and international protection. The Shark Research Institute is conducting and supporting research proving the importance of sharks to ecosystems, and gaining knowledge necessary for protection. Our company, Diatribe Pictures is using the most powerful media forms in the world to bring these issues to light. If 10-15% of the world knew that shark populations have dropped 90% in the last 30 years, that we waste 54 billion pounds of fish each year while 8 million people die of starvation, that every single fishery will be gone by 2048, and that we need 6 planet earths to sustain life….. everything could be turned around just as it has for whales and holes in the ozone layer. Bringing people these messages is difficult, that’s why we’re making intelligent, engaging, funny and moving films and series, so people would watch them for entertainment even if they weren’t learning something in the process. We’re trying to make conservation cool.

5) You, as a filmmaker, have put yourself on the line as filming under is a dangerous endeavor? What precautionary measures did you and your crew to ensure that an accident like what happened to Steve Irwin could not happen to you guys?

Filming underwater was actually the safest part of making Sharkwater. We filmed underwater 200 days a year for 4 years while making Sharkwater without incident. I’ve spent thousands of hours underwater without issue…. I’ve been stung by all sorts of things underwater, but they’re all pretty mild. I’m a scuba instructor trainer, so I teach all of our crew how to use rebreathers, diving with mixed gasses, and diving deeper and longer than recreational divers can.
On land while making Sharkwater though, we were shot at, charged with attempted murder, chased by the coast guard, the mafia… and I was hospitalized a couple times. One for flesh eating disease, and another for Dengue Fever, West Nile Virus and Tuberculosis all at the same time.

6) Can you describe to us the technical aspects of how you shot this film? Are there special equipments that you emply to finish this project?

We shot Sharkwater in High Definition, starting very early on in HD. We used many different housings to take the cameras underwater, some we built, and others built by companies specializing in underwater housings. We also used rebreathers, which are apparatuses that recirculate the air that you breathe so you don’t make bubbles underwater. Many animals, especially sharks, are afraid of bubbles.

7) I know that sharks have been killed as medicine or as delicacy or as a promising homeopathic cancer treatment… what has been done around the world in not overharvesting sharks to extinction?

People have erroneously believed sharks to hold some magical properties because they are large powerful and resilliant animals. The consumption of sharks has never been proven to do anything beneficial. These beliefs are of the same variety that believe that because rhino’s have horns, if you eat rhino horn, your horn will grow. Sharks have been over-harvested in every ocean, and very little has been done to protect them.

8) Have you shown this film to marine biologists, Shark poachers, the academe, politicians …. and what were their reactions?

Yes. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The Canadian environment minister decided to champion sharks, academics and shark biologists are excited that someone has finally brought this issue to light. We’ll see what shark poachers have to say.

9) What can the audience do to protect the shark from being extinct?

The audience can encourage others to see Sharkwater. As long as the issue remains in the dark, there will be no protection for sharks and the ocean. The oceans are in deep trouble, which inherently means we’re in deep trouble as well. Awakening the public to the plight of the oceans is our only hope to gain protection. Some shark species have dropped as much as 99%, yet they’re not protected because the public doesn’t know.

10) Because the shark is not as cute and charismatic like the dolphin, have you found difficulty in persuading some of the audience in participating in shark protection movements?

Once people see Sharkwater, they have a new view of sharks, and garnering their support is much easier. The ecological significance of loosing sharks far outweighs any cute factor as our own existence hangs in that balance.

11) What is the future of the shark as far as you know? Is there hope in the near future or does it look bleak?

There is hope in humanity. In a species so highly evolved that it can destroy the natural world upon which it depends, or evolve and live in balance with it. We are the hope, and our ability to have compassion for future generations of humans is what can bring us out of this. Sharks have been on the planet for over 400 million years, surviving 5 major extinctions that wiped 95% of life from this planet. We’re now causing the extinction of more species than have gone extinct in the last 65 million years. We’re now in the midst of another major extinction, yet the planet, and sharks in general will be fine. There is 2.5 billion years of life on earth, and sharks in the deepest darkest trenches of the ocean far out of reach of humans. The only question now is how many future generations of humans will live in lack and starvation and crisis because we’ve failed to wake up in time. Now, our survival is in jeopardy.

12) Has global warming affected the shark population and their activity?

Some sharks are now extinct from many areas. Much of the Caribbean is devoid of sharks thought to be because of increasing fishing and water temperatures. Any change in the environment will affect species, some adversely, and some positively. The problem with humans is how brief our existence on this planet is….. we simply don’t know what will happen as a result of our impact on the planet.

13) What is next for Rob Stewart as a filmmaker and in your pursuit in protecting the shark of the world?

The most important thing is making conservation cool and accessible to everyone. There’s nothing cooler than saving species instead of destroying them… than perpetuating human life instead of limiting it. Conservation is cool, we’re just trying to repackage it so everyone is on board. To do that we’re using the media.

14) Do you have any advice to future documentary filmmakers in how to pursue their careers?

Get out there and make movies. Cameras are cheap, audio is available online and you can edit from a laptop. There are phenomenally important stories that need to be told. Stories that if told can eliminate suffering, destruction, hate and fear. Stories that can bring beauty, life and happiness. Read every book there is on story and script writing. This is the most powerful medium to effect change. Jump in with everything you have, get in over your head, learn, teach, manifest, grow, soften, have fun and let the experience change you as a human being.