Years ago when Josh Friedman ’15 first started diving, he was afraid of sharks. That is, until he met Rodolphe Holler, a marine biologist who told him the truth about the big fish. Compared to many other dangers, sharks don’t present a real threat to humans. Since then, Friedman has made it his duty to carry the message forward.
Friedman spent a month producing a shark documentary, The Plight of the Sharks, which he recently screened at Bowdoin.
The documentary displays some of the wealth of footage Friedman captured while swimming alongside schools of sharks. It follows his journeys across places such as the Southern Pacific, Bahamas and French Polynesia. Throughout the film, Friedman reminds the audience that the creatures we have been taught to fear are beautiful, peaceful and shy.
“I want to show people that sharks aren’t the ruthless human killers they are portrayed to be,” Friedman said. “Photographing sharks was so difficult because they are so afraid of us.”
The film is also part of an advocacy effort, a reminder for people that close to 100 million sharks are being killed every year, and a reminder of why they need to be protected. In the span of two centuries, the shark population has decreased by 97 percent and roughly 90 percent of the original shark population has disappeared.
The shark-fining industry poses the greatest threat to the fish. Shark fin soup is a symbol of wealth and is served in Asian culture as a sign of respect. The soup has been served for centuries but only in recent decades has it boomed in popularity. The fin itself is tasteless, adding only texture to the broth of chicken or pork. A single pound of fin could reap more than $200, and millions of sharks are killed each year in every coastal country around the world to sustain the trade.
The film displays heart-wrenching scenes of sharks being brought abroad ships by fishermen who saw off their fins before disposing their bodies back in the ocean, letting them slowly sink to the bottom of the water while bleeding to death.
“We have to remember that when people are advocating for a complete ban it doesn’t work — it just pisses people off,” Friedman said. “It’s an important part of someone’s culture.”
In the documentary, Friedman interviews various marine biologists and professional shark divers, emphasizing the fact that sharks belong in the ocean, and when we go into the water we are visitors in their backyard. We are the intruders.
“There are millions of people entering the water every year, if they wanted to eat us they could — but they don’t,” Friedman said.
A student asked what has been his most memorable experience diving. Friedman paused and said — “diving with the whale shark, she doesn’t care you’re there — she’s just graceful and enormous, minding her own business.”