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Shark Info 1 / 01   (03-15-2001)

Author

  Intro:

Communicating with Sharks

Shark Info

  Main article:

Communicating with Sharks

Dr. E. K. Ritter

  Article 1:

Sharks seen through the eyes of filmmakers

John McKinney

  Article 2:

Whale shark tourism in the Philippines

Shark Info

  Article 3:

GIMEC Meeting in New Orleans

Dr. E. K. Ritter

  Article 4:

Successful launch of the Shark Exhibition in St. Gallen

Shark Info

  Fact Sheet:

Smalleye Hammerhead Shark

Dr. E. K. Ritter


Sharks seen through the eyes of filmmakers

By John McKinney

Over the past 15 years, documentary filmmakers and photo journalists have considerably helped to open the public's eye to the precarious situation of sharks with their warnings and explanations of how sharks are endangered. In addition to transmitting information, photos and films can also be very shocking in their portrayal of shark fishing's hard reality. The unchallenged truth is that no other form of communication moves people more than such pictures. Unfortunately, the indignant protests of many people are still needed to change the gloomy future of sharks.

At age 15 I saw my first shark off the coast of Australia in the Coral Sea together with my father. At that time I had no inkling that I would follow in my father's footsteps, take over his filming business and begin to make my own first shark films. But this is exactly what I have been doing for more than 12 years. With my pictures I constantly try to point out how sharks are endangered. One can blame this problem on finning (cutting off sharks' fins), insufficient fishing administration, the Asian countries, overpopulation, ocean pollution, or some other reason, but the fact remains that sharks are in great danger - and many people know this. Television stations with partly high viewing rates have begun to spread this bad news with considerable regularity. The information and learning station "Discovery Channel" reaches 50 million viewers worldwide in this way. Granted, many of these films contain considerable inaccuracies or misinformation, so that here and there one feels shame for colleagues who report in such an unobjective manner. Still, even in such cases the basic tenor of the reports still brings across the message that sharks need protection, and in the end this is all that matters.

 

Producing a shark film

Filming and producing a documentary on sharks is a difficult undertaking, especially when you want to do it in a professional rather than amateur-like manner. Travelling to the Bahamas, jumping into the water and filming the "gentlemen in gray suits" is easy, but trying to capture an animal on film, and especially one that has never before been filmed, is an entirely different matter. For all concerned it is usually a nerve-racking process entailing endless preparations, obtaining approvals and dealing with all kinds of problems up until the camera can finally start rolling. Nevertheless, regardless of how many hours are spent waiting until one single species of shark appears on the scene, or, if one is not so lucky, the number of times they do not appear, the effort is always worth it in the end. When viewing the complete film on television, the filmmaker has the satisfaction of having helped to inform the public on sharks and hence furthering the protection of these endangered animals.

Attracting sharks with food

Many discussions have been held on whether wild animals should only be observed in their environment and these observations documented, or whether it is justified to lure them in front of a camera with food. Obviously the easiest and most economic way of attracting a shark is the latter method. We should not have a bad conscience about doing this, even though admittedly it probably changes the sharks' behavior. On the other hand, we must keep in mind that natural behavior is very difficult to film one way or the other. A great deal of time is needed - something which most documentary filmmakers are willing to invest - as well as a lot of money, which very often is the end of such projects. Fortunately, here and there we find ourselves in the right place at the right time, enabling us to film such natural behavior.

Science versus sensation

One of the biggest problems encountered by a shark filmer is that of deciding whether to make a scientifically oriented documentary or a trendy action film with bloody sequences /oder/ or a combination of scientific and action film with bloody sequences. Several of my colleagues and I are interested in shark research, and with good reason: The more we know, the better we film. Unfortunately, selling a scientifically oriented film to a television station is not an easy endeavor. Although many stations would like to show more such films, their viewing rates still rank higher on their list of priorities. And regrettably, the fact remains that sensational scenes with sharks in which the blood flows still tend to attract more viewers in front of the tv set than scientifically oriented reality reports. The main reason why sharks still raise viewing rates is the fear factor. Viewers like to see material which awakens their fears, particularly when it means seeing the teeth of a large white shark. And this is exactly the problem for filmmakers. Less viewers are interested in seeing purely scientific documentaries. Although most of them want to be informed, they also want to be entertained and frightened. Filmmakers are thus caught in the middle, although in the end it is indeed very often the spectacular photos which slowly awaken viewers' interest in the scientific angle.

* John Mc Kinney has been making underwater films for many years, and is noted as being the only filmmaker who successfully filmed the golden hammerhead sharks.

May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info / John McKinney



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