Fortunately for Stewart and the film, all his footage of the high seas drama was saved by his sheer enthusiasm. "I've never made a movie before and I was so excited to have footage of a boat collision that as soon as I got to Costa Rica I fedexed it home ... so by pure coincidence by the time they came to arrest us, the footage was already gone."
What followed was a risky hidden camera venture into the murky world of the Taiwanese mafia and a black market trade in shark fins. Costa Rican authorities had been turning a blind eye to the illegal billion dollar trade thanks to some $92 million dollars in donations to the city of Punta Reina.
The sale of shark fins exists only to appease a growing hunger for, of all things, soup. Originating in China, shark fin soup is a status symbol that has grown enormously in popularity. Demand for the dish has led to a decline in shark populations by over 90% in the last three decades.
A 90% decline in shark population? That is a truly disturbing figure and one that I asked Stewart about during a phone interview. "We got that figure from Dalhousie University and various studies" he informed me. " How we know that kind of information is by knowing how many baited hooks there are and at what depth."
In fact, studies by world renown fisheries biologist Ransom Myers and co-author Julia Baum of Dalhousie University show that the situation has become even more dire than earlier predictions. “Large sharks have been functionally eliminated from the east coast of the U.S., meaning that they can no longer perform their ecosystem role as top predators,” says Baum. “The extent of the declines shouldn’t be a surprise considering how heavily large sharks have been fished in recent decades to meet the growing worldwide demand for shark fins and meat.”
Public awareness and a demand that such practices be stopped is the only hope for the world's top predator turned top prey. Stewart does his best with this film to show the much reviled shark in a new light and to garner our sympathies.