For 15 years shark documentaries have been a big part of my life. I have a pretty good idea of what producers, commissioners and audiences are looking for in terms of a great shark documentary. Unfortunately, many pitches for shark documentaries follow the old-fashioned formula – the classic ‘shark attack‘ docco appealing to our primal fear of sharks. I will exclude these. I have never watched a well made shark attack documentary. In my opinion, they are typically formulated for cheap and easy ratings. It seems to me that there is little effort made to tell a great story. So here are 10 great (non shark attack) shark documentaries that have never been made:
10 Shark documentaries never been made
Great white of the Med!
Long ago the Med was a renowned white shark hotspot. Over time, excessive fishing effort reduced numbers to such an extent that a film crew in the Med has never documented great whites. But this is changing! White sharks are being spotted on a regular basis at a certain location (secret) each year. I think that a slick shark documentary that actually documents great white sharks living in the Med would be a huge hit with the UK and European audiences.
Wolves of the sea
Most broadcasters have been focused on the big three of sharks – great whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks. However in 2015 shark documentaries featuring smaller species proved to be a hit during Discovery’s shark week. ‘Wolves of the Sea’ is a scientific publication that mentions there may be a shark (lessor known species) that co-operatively group hunts. This is a massive claim! The level of intelligence and behavioural sophistication required in a species to co-operate in such a manner has been the sole domain of advanced mammals (wolves for instance). A scientist testing this claim on film could lead to some of the most inventive and intriguing experiments being performed and filmed.
The greatest shark migration
A few years ago, I was part of the team that tracked the incredible return journey of shark Nicole from South Africa to Australia. The NHNZ of New Zealand made this into a successful documentary. However, was this really the greatest migration of all time? I don’t think so. I discovered an article that alleges a shark made a migration that is beyond belief, and whilst not as long as Nicole’s was infinitely more challenging. I am of the opinion that a thrilling documentary could be made about an expedition to follow this migration and illustrate the hurdles that this shark faced in its journey.
Coexisting with sharks – repellents
As a scientist, I have been involved in efforts to produce various technologies and repellents. Many of these ideas are crazy and innovative (see adjacent picture), but they all have one thing in common – motivated and committed teams ready to invest and test their ideas with incredible passion. As yet, no documentary has successfully told this story. This docco could include the struggles; passion; commitment and frequently the failure, to build a world where sharks and humans can peacefully co-exist.
The Shark Fisherman
The story of the global slaughter of sharks for the shark fin trade is set out in Rob Stewart’s ‘Shark Water’. In reality only part of the story is told and from an ‘activist’ viewpoint at that. The Shark fin trade is a huge industry with an insurmountable number of players and drivers. One story that does need to be told is that of the so-called villains – the shark fishermen. The artisanal shark fishermen of Africa, many of which are supplying Asia’s greed, are not villains. I have met and interacted with some of them and often they are kind and friendly people caught in a life of poverty, little education and zero opportunity. The story of these fishermen could juxtapose the simplistic approach of good and evil. Some of the players are everyday people just trying to get by, who view shark meat as nothing different to hamburger.
The last super baitball
South Africa’s Sardine Run does not strictly fall into a ‘shark documentary’. However, sharks are, and will remain, a central figure in the Sardine run. Having been ‘running’ with the sardines for the past five years myself, I know that the run is declining (sad but true). As the climate and currents change, and as sardine stocks fall and change their distribution and behaviour, so the massive shoals of yesteryear are hardly ever seen anymore. This documentary would follow the mission to discover and document the last great super bait-ball. Yes, it still exists, and in very rare occasions, can be found. This requires huge commitment and understanding of the dynamics and science of the sardine run. The challenges are massive and the rewards are great! Coupled with the new camera technology everything points towards a perfect environment to produce a seminal and final documentary about the run – still one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.
My Pet Shark
We rarely take a time to consider if sharks can be tamed to the extent that they represent genuine pets. The film ‘Touching the dragon’ shows how one man could make a pet of something supposedly so cold and emotionless as a crocodile, and was a huge success. A film that shows an emotional relationship between a human and a shark would be an incredible story to capture. There are people around the world who do claim to have tamed and formed relationship with particular sharks.
How Pirates saved an Ocean
Piracy stops trade and money flow and endangers the lives of people who are unfortunate enough to encounter pirates at sea. Thinking out of the box- is it possible that pirates are saving the oceans? Think about the coastal waters off northern Kenya and Somalia. This story would involve heading to some of the worlds most dangerous waters to assess the situation and to ask the question- is piracy allowing the oceans to recover ? Whilst the pirates chase away trade boats, they also chase away legal and illegal fishing vessels, and thus potentially create an unintended marine reserve. A documentary following a team of (heavily guarded) scientists into pirate waters to survey the marine life could be pretty exciting.
Lagoon of the Monster Shark
About 10 years ago, I travelled to one of the worlds most isolated atolls to study sharks. Outside of the rim of that atoll I encountered 100’s of smaller juvenile sharks but couldn’t find the adults. One day, the tides allowed me to venture into a shallow bay that was usually inaccessible. Whilst diving I encountered a massive shark of over four meters. If I am correct this shark could well be the biggest ever of the species, probably setting a record. My hypothesis is that the atolls rim has protected this, and possibly other sharks. Especially from the extensive network of long-liners that operate in the water surrounding the atoll. Heading back to measure, document and film these giant sharks of the lagoon would be an epic and challenging mission that would have audiences at the edge of their seats.
So there you have it, my ideas about the greatest shark documentaries never made. Here’s a challenge for aspiring film-makers to go out and make some wonderful documentaries. I challenge you to make documentaries that don’t rely on the cheap easy ratings of scaring audiences by misrepresenting sharks as mindless killing machines. I challenge you to make documentaries that will benefit society and at the same time be entertaining and tell engaging and captivating stories. If anyone particularly loves any of my humble ideas or wants more info on taking these stories to the next level, send me a mail.