Filmmaker Rob Stewart (above and right) gets personal with underwater wildlife. Below:
Diver and filmmaker Rob Stewart's plans started going to hell in 2002, while he and his film crew were steaming toward Costa Rica aboard the Ocean Warrior, a ship captained by Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Stewart couldn't wait to get underwater and film sharks in high-definition cinematography at the incomparable marine reserves of Costa Rica's Cocos Island and Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.
The Toronto-born "shark geek" and former chief photographer for the Canadian Wildlife Federation magazines wanted to show movie audiences that sharks are tentative toward humans, easily spooked, rather than Jaws-like man-eaters. What he didn't plan to uncover in his new documentary, Sharkwater, is the fact that humans are the far more deadly predators.
While in Guatemalan waters, the Warrior came across a fishing boat, Varadero, illegally "finning" sharks--a process in which a shark's fins are sliced off and the hacked body, usually still alive, is tossed overboard. Varadero was also illegally "longlining," which means trailing monofilament lines up to 100 miles in length with up to 8,000 baited hooks set on each line.
"These fishing boats are death traps," says Watson. "They have no anchors, no life-saving equipment and no firefighting equipment. These guys are lost at sea all the time and no one cares. They're just as expendable as the sharks."
Captain Watson radioed the Varadero, ordering that it immediately stop processing sharks. But the fishermen defied him. The confrontation resulted in the Warrior and Varadero colliding rails, after which the fishing captain surrendered. "We hauled him in [for arrest] under the instruction of the Guatemalan government," recalls Watson, whose agents sank the bulk of Iceland's whaling fleet in 1986. The Warrior is customized with "can openers," metal spikes extending out from her lower bow that can peel open another ship's hull, and its operations are credited with ending pirate whaling in the Atlantic.
Watson might have claimed the cooperation of the Guatemalan government, but the morning after he seized Varadero he received word via radio that a Guatemalan gunboat was on its way--to arrest him and his crew. "The Varadero crew accused us of shooting at them, which we didn't do," says Watson. "Obviously what had happened is bribes had passed hands. We were doing the...