Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Storms, Surf, and Sharks

I have been back in Florida for a couple weeks now visiting family and friends here. My visit has coincided with a slew of tropical storms and hurricanes, which is not at all strange for this time of year, especially in these times of global warming. I was literally blown in by Tropical Storm Fay. Flying through such heavy wind and rain was a harrowing experience, and everyone aboard the plane breathed a sigh of relief upon touch down. Next came Hurricane Gustav, which missed us in Florida, but hit America where it still hurts from Katrina. Hanna, Ike, and Josephine are now on the way. One thing is for sure: As global temperatures rise, hurricane seasons get worse and worse.

While of course I would never wish a hurricane or tropical storm on anyone, especially when they cause damage and destruction, I do admit that I enjoy the intensity of a good storm. Experiencing Hurricane Andrew in 92' and seeing my normally placid, tiny lake churning up 10 foot swells was awesome. I jogged to the beach during Hurricane Charlie and weeks later I watched Hurricane Frances blow down trees and stop signs. Hurricane Wilma in 2005 ripped off the roof of my family's house and slung it into our family car. We all got wet, and thankfully, no one got hurt. Fortunately, by virtue of living in a first world country, we were insured and were able to fix the roof and car.

Perhaps the best things about these storms is that they create really big swells in Florida. Summers in Florida generally produce flat oceans and only when these huge storms come do we get any waves. Needless to say, me and my Florida surf crew (you know who you are) have been surfing quite a bit recently.

Being in the water so much has gotten me thinking about sharks again. Not out of fear at all, but out of concern for their existence, and therefore the world's existence. This is the very logical argument relayed in a documentary film I saw recently, called "Sharkwater." This film juxtaposes the most beautifully shot underwater footage you will ever see with some of the ugliest over-water footage you will ever see. The ugliness I refer to is the cruel removal of the dorsal fin from a shark while it's still alive, and then throwing the bleeding remains into the sea. Overall, the film achieves what I call the documentary trifecta. It entertains, educates, and inspires.

Here is a trailer:


Here is what I took in from the film.

1. Sharks do not merit our fear. Thanks to Steven Spielberg and Jaws, sharks are seen almost as the terrorists of the seas. I learned that more people are killed every year from soda machines falling on them than from shark attacks.

2. Sharks do merit out protection. Ninety percent of the world's shark population has been decimated due to overfishing and shark finning in unprotected waters. Even if you don't care about sharks, you should. Here's the argument. Sharks have been around a lot longer than man. They are also an apex predator. If they die out, there will be too many fish alive. The fish will then eat way too much plankton. Plankton is the source of most of earth's oxygen. Therefore, if the sharks are all dead, global oxygen levels decrease, threatening our very survival.

A year before Sharkwater was released, I spent a few weeks exploring the pristine coastline in Mozambique, hoping to film the Asian pirates that often patrol Mozambique's shores for whale shark. I tried to convince everyone from local scuba operators to fisherman to the Mozambiquan Navy to take me out to sea so I can catch them on film. The Navy spokesperson told me that ever since the pirates fired on them, they generally are afraid to go out and bust these vessels. (From my understanding they did not use cannon balls) If the Mozambiquan Navy doesn't have the budget or the balls to patrol and protect its 2700 kilometers of coastline, well, frankly neither do I. I did manage to get some photos of local fisherman who also are beginning to get into the shark finning industry, albeit on a much smaller scale.

After giving up on catching them dead, I figured the next best thing would be to film live whale sharks, which is what I did. I went to Tofu, home to a damn good beach break and also one of the best spots on the globe to swim with whale sharks. Above is the video I made which aired recently on Current TV.

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