“Sharkwater Extinction” begins with the story told in voiceover by documentarian, photographer, and conservationist Rob Stuart, about getting lost during a dive. “I can’t give up. If I do I die.” It’s a metaphor for Stewart’s work protecting sharks but it’s also a poignant reminder that while he died during the production of the film his work hasn’t stopped.
The film is a companion piece to “Sharkwater,” the 2006 investigative documentary that first gave voice to Stewart’s message of shark preservation. That movie exposed the cruel practice of “finning,” catching sharks, removing their fins and dumping them back into the sea to die a slow, painful death. The new film aims to continue the story. In locations ranging from Costa Rica and Florida to the Bahamian Cat Island and Panama, Stewart and his team update the details from the first film adding colour in the form of locals—one fisherman tells the story of a fin trader who makes millions but declines to name names for his own safety—facts and figures—we’re told 80,000,000 sharks are killed every year illegally—beautiful underwater photography and heartfelt commentary from Stewart. “I want people to fall in love with sharks,” he says, “to see their intelligence, their soft eye and maybe a bit of ourselves in them.”
Because Stewart passed away in January of 2017 while making the film “Sharkwater Extinction” is part call to action and part tribute to the man and his work. The film itself doesn’t feel entirely finished—there are many loose ends—but Stewart’s essential warning that we may lose a vital species to our way of life if corruption and the pirate shark industry continue rings through loud and clear. His work, the film makes clear, isn’t done. In fact, it has only just begun.