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
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.
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.
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
* 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