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The Inertia

Filmmaker Rob Stewart passed away recently after complications during a dive off the Florida Keys. Exact details of Stewart’s death are still unknown and will likely remain so, but it’s clear that this particular dive was especially perilous due to its depth. Despite his extensive diving experience, this was the deepest dive of Stewart’s life. His diving companion blacked out shortly after reaching the dive boat, and the same may have happened to Stewart after he had briefly surfaced. His body was found several days later.

For those unfamiliar with Stewart, his 2006 documentary Sharkwater remains a striking glimpse into the world of sharks and how this apex predator has gone from hunter to hunted thanks to the carelessness and fear of mankind. Brilliantly shot with stunning underwater scenes, Sharkwater provides both entertainment and information in a carefully crafted package that can appeal even to those unfamiliar to the plight of the shark.

A shark enthusiast, Stewart set out to make a film that uncovered the dark side of shark finning. The shark finning industry exists largely to fill the demand for shark fin soup.  A delicacy in certain Asian countries, shark fin soup is traditionally consumed at banquets, weddings, and other special events. No part of the animal is actually consumed in the soup, as the fin merely adds texture and a perceived prestige to a broth often flavored with chicken. The fin that gives the soup its name is little more than a status symbol, yet millions of sharks are killed for this dish every year.

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Rob Stewart

A campaign to cover the cost of searching for Rob Stewart’s body raised over $200,000. Sadly, his body was found off the coast of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Photo: GoFundMe

The popularity of shark fin soup and other shark products has led to deplorable fishing practices such as longlining, a technique that results in a significant amount of bycatch. Bycatch includes anything beyond the specific species being fished for, and longlining results in the death of a variety of marine life that includes turtles and dolphins. The most jarring scenes of Sharkwater show what happens when these fishermen land a shark with the longlines, as the fish is simply dismembered and thrown back into the sea without its fins, doomed to sink to the bottom of the ocean and perish in agony. These images are nothing short of gut-wrenching, but brutality sometimes needs to be witnessed for change to occur.

Stewart dedicated his life to saving sharks, and progress has been made since the release of Sharkwater but a long road remains. Experts estimate that 100 million sharks are killed annually. This number really makes the four deadly shark attacks on humans in 2016 seem minuscule. So who is the predator and who is the prey?

I would highly recommend Stewart’s film to anyone, not just those interested in marine conservation. Shark finning and the disgusting practices involved need to become common knowledge. Our perception of sharks has been rooted in fear for far too long, and we need to change our misguided view of these animals if they are going to survive human existence. The entirety of the film can be viewed at Sharkwater.com and the site features further information on shark conservation. Sharks lost a big advocate in Stewart but his documentary will live on. Awareness is the first step, and I encourage everyone to take 90 minutes of their time to view Sharkwater and receive Rob’s message. Stewart was filming a sequel at the time of his death, one that had received $200,000 on Kickstarter.

Editor’s Note: The Stewart family is collecting donations through WWF-Canada in order to continue his conservation work. You can help by visiting wwf.ca/robstewartfund and WWF-Canada will hold the proceeds in a fund to help carry on Rob’s legacy. A tax receipt will be issued.

Rob Stewart

Rob Stewart, in his element.

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