chris atchison/metro toronto


Conservationist Paul Watson.


Mentioning the name Paul Watson in environmental circles elicits a wide range of responses. Some refer to the Canadian founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) and founding member of Greenpeace as an environmental hero nobly patrolling the high seas to protect any and all threatened maritime species.

Others call Watson an eco-terrorist who uses his vessel Ocean Warrior as a weapon in the crusade to end illegal whaling, fishing and other practices.

When Toronto-born photographer, biologist and first-time filmmaker Rob Stewart approached Watson to pitch an idea about exposing the perils of the shark-finning industry and dispelling myths about the danger of sharks, the conservationist knew little of the crusader.

What he did understand was Stewart’s passion for sharks. In 2002, the pair set out to make Sharkwater — a film that garnered favourable reviews at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival — with Watson at the helm of the Ocean Warrior and Stewart collecting footage of sharks in their natural habitat.

“My experience with sharks over the years is certainly what Rob is depicting in this film,” Watson says. “They’re not dangerous, you just have to understand them and learn to speak their language in their habitat and, once you do that, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The film follows the Ocean Warrior crew as it attempts to halt illegal shark-finning in the waters off Central America.

But Sharkwater also illustrates the controversial direct enforcement tactics of the SSCS. The group will ram poaching vessels if necessary and take crews into custody to halt their activities before turning them over to local authorities.

  • Sharkwater opened Friday.