Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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The oceans are our greatest wilderness. On a recent trip to Hawaii, I was in an aquatic mood and watched the recently-released DVD entitled "Sharkwater." It is a very fine production that should be watched by every person interested in marine conservation, because it describes eloquently what is happening to one of the most important species on our planet.

The story line revolves around Rob Stewart's personal interest in sharks, beginning with a brief explanation of his interest in diving and underwater photography, and culminating in his current devotion to conservation and cinematography. The tale is fascinating, and will serve a great purpose in heightening awareness of the plight of sharks worldwide.

To being, I quote from the extensive website devoted to this production, education, and shark conservation:

"For filmmaker Rob Stewart, exploring sharks began as an underwater adventure. What it turned into was a beautiful and dangerous life journey into the balance of life on Earth.

Driven by passion fed from a lifelong fascination with sharks, Stewart debunks historical stereotypes and media depictions of sharks as bloodthirsty, man-eating monsters and reveals the reality of sharks as pillars in the evolution of the seas.

Filmed in visually stunning, high definition video, Sharkwater takes you into the most shark rich waters of the world, exposing the exploitation and corruption surrounding the world's shark populations in the marine reserves of Cocos Island, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

In an effort to protect sharks, Stewart teams up with renegade conservationist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Their unbelievable adventure together starts with a battle between the Sea Shepherd and shark poachers in Guatemala, resulting in pirate boat rammings, gunboat chases, mafia espionage, corrupt court systems and attempted murder charges, forcing them to flee for their lives.

Through it all, Stewart discovers these magnificent creatures have gone from predator to prey, and how despite surviving the earth's history of mass extinctions, they could easily be wiped out within a few years due to human greed."

Again, from the website, here are the listed awards already garnered by this movie:

Canada's Top TenToronto International Film Festival
People's Choice Atlantic International Film Festival
People's Choice Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival
Best Documentary Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival
Spirit of Independents AwardFt. Lauderdale International Film Festival
Special Jury Award Hawaii International Film Festival
Best Musical Composition France World Festival of Underwater Pictures
Prix Planete Thalassa France World Festival of Underwater Pictures
Best of the Festival Palm Springs International Film Festival
Best International Doc Beverly Hills Hi-Def Festival
Best HD Feature AFI Dallas International Film Festival
Audience Choice Award for Best FeatureGen Art Film Festival
Grand Jury Award for Best FeatureGen Art Film Festival
Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award Shark Research Institute
Special Jury Award15 Short Film Festival – Charlotte, NC
Must-See Award (Category: Wake-Up Films)Telluride Mountain Film Festival
Hero of Conservation – Water Category Conservation for the Oceans Foundation
Top Ten Films Cambridge Film Festival
Jameson Audience Award for Best International Documentary Encounters South African Int’l Doc. Festival
Best Documentary Film - Nominee Critics Choice Awards
Animal Action Award International Fund for Animal Welfare
Best Documentary Directors Guild of Canada
Best Of The Festival Santa Barbara Ocean Film Festival
Best Sound - Nominee Golden Reel Awards
Best Documentary - Nominee Genie Awards
Best Environmental Film of 2008 National Ocean Film Festival Alliance

The story line in this DVD is compelling, and can be distilled down to two major concepts. First, indiscriminate and/or illegal fishing is devastating marine fish populations. Second, the harvesting of sharks solely for the purpose of finning to enable production of shark fin soup is an overwhelming destructive force in the animal kingdom. Upon these two insights, Stewart drapes the remainder of the video.

There are two moving statistics printed in black and white at the conclusion of the DVD. In the 89 minutes that it takes to view the production, fifteen thousand sharks are killed. Ninety percent of the world's shark population has been depleted by man, and the remainder is at risk. What will it take for us to stop the slaughter?

The video is punctuated by moments of great storytelling, mostly surrounding the high seas adventure organized by Paul Shepherd, who is a renowned warrior in the world of environmentalism. The exposure of an international consortium designed to decimate the world's shark population in order to serve unnecessary soup for profit is disturbing to the maximum.

There are a few moments in the DVD that seem out of place, and noncontributory to the major premise. A good example is the digression describing Shepherd's affliction with "flesh eating disease." The reenactment of his hospital stay is unrealistic and amateurish filmmaking, so I wish it had not been included. Fortunately, it is possible to overlook this awkward moment and focus upon much more important aspects of Sharkwater.

If the collective mentality of the fishing industry, governments, and regulatory agencies allows marine species slaughter on the scale portrayed in Sharkwater, we will see wholesale extinction of sharks and other marine animals in the next century, and perhaps in our lifetime. I'm afraid that similar situations exist with hundreds of species in the oceans and on land, and that there will soon be an entire library of film productions devoted to life as we knew it, rather than as we should know it. Watch Sharkwater soon, and see for yourself.

image of shark fins courtesy of

Preview the 25th Anniversary & Annual Meeting of the Wilderness Medical Society, which will be held in Snowmass, Colorado July 25-30, 2008.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.