If a great white shark were to swim into your thoughts, most of us will think of the movie Jaws. We picture terrifying razor-sharp teeth eager to rip us to shreds. Sharks are the most feared predator in the oceans’ waters. When you Google the word shark, the second search item is “shark attack.” So why not kill them off? In fact, they are currently being wiped off our planet. So much so, that they are headed towards extinction. Shark populations have dropped 90% in just 40 years. It is estimated that up to a whopping 150 million sharks are being killed every year for human consumption. That means 410 959 sharks are killed each day. Those are some jaw-dropping statistics. But why should anyone care about saving sharks? A Toronto-born biologist, activist, filmmaker, and eco-warrior named Rob Stewart has been on a mission to tell us why.
At the early age of 8, Rob had his first shark encounter and fell in love with the species. Over the years, Rob discovered that sharks were nothing like what we had been taught growing up. Rather, Rob describes sharks as “sophisticated, intelligent, often shy creatures that are not interested in eating humans.” His shark experiences were so peaceful that he often stroked and even hugged them. Sharks have been on our planet for over 450 million years — before dinosaurs roamed the Earth. As an apex predator, sharks are integral to the oceans’ ecosystems. They keep our oceans healthy by balancing out the numbers of our oceans’ species. And our oceans’ species are responsible for giving us half of the oxygen in the air that we breathe. The oceans are the most important ecosystem for human survival, providing oxygen, regulating the climate, and feeding billions of people. On average, sharks kill five people per year. That is less deaths than people killed by lightning or falling out of bed. Now compare that to humans killing 150 million sharks per year. As Rob clearly pointed out, “The truth is that sharks have much more to fear from us.”
A huge reason sharks are being killed at alarming rates is for shark fin soup. A very expensive delicacy considered a Chinese tradition. To get shark fins (their limbs), a shark is caught, its fins hacked off, and then it is thrown back into the ocean to die an agonizing slow death on the ocean floor.
Paul Watson, activist and founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, described seeing [the shark’s] “shocked eyes open, allowing us, for a moment, to glimpse their pain as the spark of life was slowly extinguished.” On top of finning being cruel and a complete waste of almost the entire shark’s body, fins are tasteless and have no nutritional value.
Believing that “information can change the world,” the eco-warrior set out to shine a spotlight on the catastrophic plight of sharks and state of our oceans through two award-winning documentaries: Sharkwater and Revolution. Once Rob discovered that sharks were not only being killed for shark fin soup, but were also being massacred for our daily consumption of products such as lipsticks, moisturizers, and pet food, he set out to blow the whistle to the world in the upcoming Sharkwater Extinction. Tragically, Rob died earlier this year during one of his deep dive missions. There is a current wrongful death lawsuit in effect by his family claiming negligence by the diving organizers. A third – and unplanned – deep dive of approximately 220 feet below the surface took place because the organizers had asked Rob and his diving companion to retrieve a $15 grappling hook… Rob was not retrieved from the water as soon as he surfaced. He passed out from a lack of oxygen and then drowned. Many argue this was clearly a senseless and preventable death. Rob leaves behind more than a legacy of his love of sharks. He leaves behind some chilling words and a plea for help:
“We’re facing a world by 2050 that has no fish, no reefs, no rainforest, and 9 billion people on a planet that already can’t sustain 7 billion people. So it’s going to be a really dramatic century unless we do something about it. … We must act now and we need your help.”
Rob’s legacy is already apparent in Canada. Although, shark finning has been illegal in Canadian waters since 1994, the sale and importation of shark fins is legal. In April of this year, the Toronto council voted 38 to 4 in support of federal government Bill S-238, the Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act. This is a step in the right direction to push Canada to take an integral part in shark protection and conservation. Canada’s Clean50 2018 awards is also honouring Rob’s legacy. The awards recognize Canada’s leaders in sustainability for their contributions over a two-year period. Rob will posthumously receive Clean50’s first ever Lifetime Achievement award on September 28, 2017 in Toronto. In the words of Rob’s father, Brian Stewart, “Rob’s passion was to create a world where we’re an army with nature. This is his legacy.” It is up to each of us to keep his legacy alive.
Together, let’s protect our sharks – now. You can donate here to a special WWF page dedicated to Rob:
Please watch the kickstarter trailer for Sharkwater Extinction.