MPI // 1990 // 45 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // May 6th, 2005
Sharks and fisheries will survive only if we know when and where to say stop.
The Great Shark Hunt is a remarkably convincing indictment of the commercial fishing industry and its role in the declining shark population. Through interviews with researchers and commercial and sports fishermen, and by demonstrating various fishing techniques used to capture sharks (anyone recall the longlining sequence in The Perfect Storm?), the filmmakers build a strong case against over-fishing, which experts claim poses the greatest threat to sharks.
Since the mid-1980s, demand for sharks has been high. According to sources cited in this documentary, part of the reason for this is the dollar value placed on a shark's dorsal fin. Regarded by many as the most prized part of the shark, it is used to make shark fin soup, a delicacy in many parts of the world. Perhaps this point is intended to surprise us, but it doesn't. After all, people have a long history of resorting to cruel extremes for the sake of haute cuisine (veal, anyone?).
What does surprise is exactly how cruel people can be. The filmmakers present brutal footage of an act called "shark-finning," and it's likely to stay with you long after watching this documentary. Shark-finning is exactly what it sounds like: A fisherman catches a shark, slices off the dorsal fin with a knife, and releases the bleeding shark back into the ocean while it is still alive. As if having its fin cut off with a knife wasn't brutal enough, the shark is left unable to swim and, therefore, prone to starvation.
If I'm beginning to sound like a tree-hugger, The Great Shark Hunt wisely sidesteps that potentially dangerous territory by advocating catch-and-release fishing as an alternative for those who fish for sharks for sport. The number of sport fishermen engaging in catch-and-release fishing continues to increase, with many going so far as to tag their catches before releasing them. Tagging assists researchers in studying shark reproduction, growth and migration. Currently, more than 6,000 fishermen are part of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service's Cooperative Shark Tagging Program.
With sport fishermen largely off the hook, the responsibility for the diminishing shark numbers is left with the uncontrolled commercial fisheries. Spokespersons for various fishing companies are on hand to defend their positions, but pitted against the shark-finning footage, they didn't garner much support from this reviewer.
To stress the importance of maintaining a healthy shark population, the filmmakers turn the discussion toward how sharks, with their natural resistance to carcinogens, can benefit humans in the area of cancer research. The information is enlightening, and some of the research lab footage is downright cool, particularly that showing a live baby skate shark still in its egg.
The film wraps with tense footage of a catch-and-release night hunt for a seven-foot bull shark. Perhaps it's a tad hypocritical to play up a shark capture simply for the excitement value, but one could argue that it effectively demonstrates the dangers researchers face when dealing with these fascinating creatures.
The Great Shark Hunt is presented in its original full-screen format, and the picture looks clean, the colors very natural. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo is appropriate for this program. The package includes English subtitles but no extras.
Its 45-minute running time is rather brief, but The Great Shark Hunt uses that time to efficiently tell a sad but necessary story. I would recommend this package for high school and college students interested in marine biology and wildlife preservation.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 45 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* MPI Home Video Description