by Normandy D. Piccolo
“The shark is an evolutionary marvel that should be respected and revered.”
You will definitely need a bigger boat for this adventurous “Sharkathon”, featuring three separate documentaries about sharks all packed onto one DVD like sardines in a can. Everything you could possibly want to know about sharks, from their feeding habits, to the deterioration of their population due to overfishing, to mercury levels consumed by humans, to what makes sharks tick can all be found on, Smithsonian Channel Shark Collection.
#1 Shark Girl:
I was beyond impressed with nineteen-year-old, Madison Stewart, “Shark Girl”. Since the age of fourteen, Ms. Stewart has been trying to educate people about the importance of sharks. Ms. Stewart is not only ambitious, but also highly knowledgeable about sharks. After listening to her speak for thirty-seconds, it was quite evident this young lady is well educated and on a mission I have no doubt she will successfully achieve.
The Shark Girl documentary is extremely informative and at times, painful to watch. I found myself turning away from the television a few times, especially when they showed dead pregnant sharks being hauled off of fishing boats to later be sold at various markets. Sharks were shown having their fins cut off and then thrown overboard to drown. It was very sad to see. I was sickened to learn of the great drop in shark populations due to over-fishing and how most people don’t seem to care due to their misunderstanding of the shark and its importance to our ecosystem. In twenty-years biologists are expecting a 95% drop in shark populations. 95%. They will be wiped out if the public doesn’t start paying attention to people like Ms. Stewart and get a clue to what is happening in and to our oceans.
“I’ve been called many things. A conversationalist. A filmmaker. An activist. A delinquent.”
There is a lot of incredible underwater footage shown in this documentary. I really enjoyed the shots of the Great Barrier Reef and Osprey Reef. I almost felt like I was actually there. At one point, Ms. Stewart is seen feeding sharks for the first time while wearing a protective shark suit. In my opinion, she was very brave to surround herself with up to thirty sharks at a time. Very brave. But I can’t say I was surprised to see her go for it. She is quoted several times throughout the documentary saying things like, “You have to fight the fear in order to help the sharks.”
A bright spot in this otherwise depressing, but very well done documentary was the footage of the Bahamas and the Republic of Palau. Sharks are protected in both areas. Allowed to flourish upon the reefs and multiply their populations. To live like sharks without the threat of man screwing the cycle of life up, like he always seems to do. In Palau, sharks are revered as powerful. They are respected and recognized as important to life. In fact, Palau began a “Shark Watch” wherein tourists can dive and watch the sharks behaving in their natural environment. The shark watch program has netted Palau more money than it ever made when it used to allow fishermen to take sharks from the water and sell them for profit. I found the shark watch program to be an excellent way to help further educate people about sharks and do away with the Jaws stereotyping. Perhaps someone will do a documentary about it.
“A tourism shark earns Palau more money than a dead shark on a slab.”
Ms. Stewart does a very interesting experiment during the documentary to better help the public understand the dangers of mercury levels in the shark meat being sold on the market. She even takes on a food corporation that sells shark meat that exceeds the amount of allowable mercury set by law. At first she is laughed at, but once she opens her mouth and begins to speak, let’s just say the corporation gets schooled. Ms. Stewart also pounds the pavement talking to people, visits fisheries to help educate them on better fishing practices and tackles the merchants of China Town in Australia, who buy a lot of shark fins. She educates the merchants by showing graphic pictures on the side of a building – but in a professional manner. Ms. Stewart’s professional demeanor during the presentations aids the impact of what she is attempting to accomplish.
I’ve never eaten shark fin soup– and never will. I was stunned to learn the dangers of ingesting shark fin. It doesn’t have nutritional value and is loaded with mercury and toxins. The toxins get into your brain and never leave. Ever! Recent studies are now beginning to show a correlation between that particular toxin and Parkinson’s disease and spontaneous miscarriages in pregnant women who are otherwise having healthy pregnancies until ingesting shark fin. The toxin also is being proven to cause brain and development disorders in growing fetuses. After learning those facts it seems to me that eating shark fin is a very bad idea.
After watching Shark Girl one must ask…Is it safer to eat a shark or go swimming in an ocean full of them? I can honestly say that I am now better educated about sharks. A new light has been shone on ignorant myths I once believed. I’m not saying I’ll swim beside a shark anytime soon, but I most certainly will do my best to help spread the word about the importance of helping preserve these magnificent, often misunderstood creatures. In my opinion, the documentary Shark Girl is worth catching.
#2 Death Beach:
Six deaths in five years at Second Beach, Port St. Johns, South Africa. The victims either completely devoured or left to bleed to death on the beach. No one has survived a spontaneous attack from bull sharks, tiger sharks and possibly a great white shark. Not on Second Beach. What has suddenly started causing the sharks to ring the dinner bell at this semi-popular beach? Dr. Matt Dicken, shark scientist, sets out to find the answer in the documentary, Death Beach.
Throughout Death Beach, Dr. Dicken explores various reasons why the sharks are migrating to Second Beach and attacking swimmers in waist-deep or even shallower water. Local villagers blame it on animal rituals performed on the beaches at night – the vibrations from the beating drums, the smell of the dead animals. Others say it’s because of a dead whale buried on the beach ten years ago. The rotted corpse is what is drawing them in. But Dr. Dicken has another, more plausible theory. “Humans.”
I was not shocked one bit to learn humans are the reason for the shark attacks. It’s really a no-brainer. New housing developments built near the shore lead to the creation of human waste and whatnot. It has to go somewhere, so it gets pumped into the river which empties out into the ocean, which is near, surprise, Second Beach. The smell of human waste drives various species of sharks wild…apparently… in particular, the bull shark, the tiger shark and the elusive great white shark. I learned in this documentary that the pit bulls of the sea, the bull sharks, love to camouflage themselves in dirty water, which this waste more than provides. Add some swimmers, and you have one delicious buffet ready to be served.
Death Beach focuses on a study Dr. Dicken did on the sharks swimming in and around Second Beach. He tries to lock down who comes to visit, when, why and where. He did this through catching the sharks and tagging them. He caught a thresher shark. I never realized how cute their faces are and the enormous size of their tail. Apparently they use that big tail to stun fish/prey. I was holding my breath when the team dove into the water to set up the listening station. The water was so brackish, a bull shark could have easily snuck up and claimed another victim. Thankfully that did not happen. I was sort of grossed out too – knowing the murkiness was caused by human waste. So basically they were swimming in highly tainted poo water. Blech!
My only complaint about this documentary…there was no data of Dr. Dicken’s final findings offered at the end. The announcer stated the study was still ongoing. Ongoing? Okay. While I can appreciate time being a factor in order to gather data, at the same time, it might have been a better idea to release the documentary with some hard-found facts, rather than leaving the viewer hanging like a bad soap-opera cliffhanger. Or perhaps release some of the data. I really wanted to know what he discovered – especially since a study like that had never been done on Second Beach. I can’t help but wonder why a study on the shark attacks hadn’t been done sooner? Why are sharks gathering in Second Beach, and why are they attacking out of nowhere? Dr. Dicken offered a logical theory about humans and the waste being pumped into the water, but has that theory been proven? I don’t know. The documentary never clarified that point.
Lots of people have been killed over the years at Second Beach due to shark attacks, one as recent as 2014. I hope Dr. Dicken’s study helps solve the shark attack problem before more lives are taken and more sharks are mistakenly targeted for the wrong reasons. The ocean is where the shark lives. Not man. We are but mere, often unwanted, visitors in their home.
#3 Great White Code Red
The documentary, Great White Code Red, is not for the squeamish or faint at heart. Two scientists, sensory biologist Dr. O’Connell and shark expert Dr. Cliff, expose the secrets of the great white shark’s hunting skills through the use of computer graphics and performing an actual autopsy. There is no blurring out the nasty bits or keeping the camera from showing blood and guts in this film. This documentary is as real and raw as it gets.
For the first time the viewer is taken on a journey through the eyes of a great white, one of the most powerful sharks in the ocean. Dr. O’Connell and Dr. Cliff break down the inner workings of the great white shark by bouncing back and forth between an actual dead shark on an autopsy table and a computer graphic showing the shark animated and using the body parts being discussed.
Great White Code Red builds up an air of excitement, so to speak, showing step by step how the great white shark hunts prey with calculated precision. In this case a seal from Seal Island. The documentary shows how great whites smell their prey. How they see their prey. How they use home ranging to navigate. How they socialize. How they target prey. How their muscles move. How they hear. I never knew a great white shark could increase its body temperature eighteen degrees simply by thrusting its tail. The increase in body temperature allows the shark to venture into cooler water for fatter prey such as dolphin, whale and seal. Poor Flipper. But I digress.
I found the autopsy captivating. It is one thing to see a computer graphic or even a still photograph, but quite another to actually watch it on film as it is happening. Amazing. The removal of the eyeball — that I could have done without seeing – no pun intended. The eyeball reminded me of a peeled grape. I was able to overcome my disgust at one of the doctors rolling said eyeball back and forth between his fingers, by focusing on what both doctors were saying about the inner workings of the eye. Did you know the great white rolls its eye backwards when attacking in order to prevent being scratched or bitten in the eye by struggling prey? I have seen sharks do this on film, but never knew why.
I thoroughly enjoyed everything about Great White Code Red, except for the slow-motion kill of the seal. I tried to keep an open mind about it. I knew it was coming. The entire documentary clearly led up that moment, but being an animal lover, I found myself watching that part by peeking through my fingers that rested over my eyes. Putting the inevitable sad seal kill aside – I felt the documentary was very informative and put together quite well. I learned things about the great white shark I never knew before. For example…did you know that the great white shark is the only animal that can push its stomach out of its mouth, turn it inside out, expel remaining contents like bones and fur and then suck the stomach back in? Gross, but very fascinating… much like the documentary.
Don’t be “finicky”. I highly recommend this DVD for your collection!