it was never going to be an easy watch. As with Rob Stewart’s original award-winning film Sharkwater (2006), shark-finning is at the heart of this new documentary, and watching the cruel mistreatment of sharks is not something any diver relishes.
Yet with Sharkwater and his second film Revolution (2012) having been seen by a claimed 125 million people, the Canadian film-maker did raise awareness. The fact that he is no longer alive is alleviated only by the fact that he remains with us on film.
That’s the other factor that makes Sharkwater Extinction harrowing – it builds up to the 37-year-old’s final dive, on a rebreather off the Florida Keys, gone to look for sawfish at 70m for the third time in a day.
It was a senseless death, the subject of ongoing legal action, and to see the always-sunny Stewart kitting up for the last time is immeasurably sad, as the camera dwells lovingly on every gauge and bolt-snap.
Stewart’s mother Sandy Campbell attended the London premiere and explained that her son always believed conservation should be cool and that, to become fully engaged, people should have fun doing it. “Rob would want everyone to continue the mission,” she said.
To that end she and husband Brian read their son’s many notebooks and achieved the tricky feat of hacking into his iPad to extract detailed plans of how he wanted the 400 hours of footage shot for this film to be deployed. The result is impressive.
The final section was not one Stewart had planned, of course. At one point in voiceover he says: “I tell my parents I believe I’m going to be OK.
I know exactly how I’m going to die; when I’m going to die.” Maybe not.
Several things surprised me about the film, one being the assertion that 150 million sharks are being killed every year – more than twice the figure we seem to have settled on in recent years.
I asked Sandy about this after watching the film, and she told me the belief was that far more small and juvenile sharks are now being taken illegally, not for their fins but to be sold under the label “ocean white fish”.