Friday, September 28, 2007

Sharkwater - Film Review


Today was opening day for the documentary film "Sharkwater" by Rob Stewart. I got there for the 3pm matinee to get a jump on the Friday evening movie crowd. I watched it at the Baywalk Muvico theater in downtown St. Petersburg. Overall, the movie was better than I'd expected.

Sharkwater has some of the most beautiful underwater cinematography I've seen in any film, beginning with the beautiful, graceful kelp waving in the current and stretching toward the surface, and continuing with colorful and mesmerizing schools of fish, and plenty of sharks, turtles, and rays. It is a beautiful film to watch.

However, along with the beautiful underwater scenery you will be watching the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning: catching sharks, cutting off their fins (for soup), and throwing them, often still alive, back into the water to sink to the bottom and die. There is a big Asian market for shark fin soup and it is nearly equivalent to the drug trade in profits. Stewart takes the cameras onto shark finning boats and into hidden shark finning operations in Costa Rica to expose the often illegal, but tolerated practice. Just like in the drug trade, the high profit potential attracts organized crime, official payoffs and bribes, and disregard for regulations, which are already nearly impossible to enforce in international waters.

The focus of the film is on the problem of wholesale shark slaughter and how so little is being done to stop it. Rob Stewart and his crew team up with the Sea Shepherd organization to try to stop Costa Rican shark finners on the high seas, only to be thwarted by the Costa Rican government, which was more interested in protecting profits from the illegal shark fin trade than enforcing the laws. Stewart also makes a trip to Asia, where the shark fins are in such high demand. I have to tell you, it isn't pretty to watch, nor is it easy to listen to some of the ignorant statements made by those defending such gratuitous slaughter.

Rob Stewart clearly has a penchant for adventure and the film has its share of suspenseful moments, especially considering it is a documentary, a fact that we are unable to escape, given the continuing narration by Stewart. Some reviewers have been critical of the fact that Stewart constantly uses the word "I" while narrating, and takes a distracting detour to cover his own misadventure with a dangerous staph infection in his leg.

I'm going to cut Stewart some slack and say that this film is a fabulous and compelling documentary, especially when considering it is Stewart's first. It was filmed and directed by Stewart. Yes, it could have been much more than it was. I thought is was weak on science. For instance, Stewart and others interviewed in the film talk about how sharks are a necessary part of the food chain, and eliminating them will have serious consequences, right down to upsetting the balance of plankton. I would have liked to have heard more specifics on this. (This made me think, could the decline of shark populations be somehow be related to algae and red tide outbreaks in the Gulf of Mexico?) There is so much more to be said about sharks and shark behaviors and how we relate to sharks.

The statistics and pleas to "save the sharks" at times seemed a bit cliche, a situation that was made tolerable by the powerful cinematography; I mean, when you are watching Asian and Costa Rican fishermen hacking the fins off of live sharks, you really don't need the statistics anyway.

Another reviewer remarked that Stewart portrays the ignorant fishermen as "the lowest form of ignorant, poor short-sighted rednecks, always looking for an easier way to make a buck, no matter how destructive." I don't think Stewart really portrayed the fishermen that way at all. He just filmed them doing what they were doing. His criticism wasn't of the fishermen, it was of the industry. The fishermen, by and large are just poor people trying to make a living. As long as there is an industry, there will be fishermen to work it. It is the industry and those who allow it that Stewart portrays as ignorant, greedy, and short-sighted.

Yet another reviewer writes: "the film's merits are compromised by structural and conceptual flaws." Maybe for a professional film critic the merits are compromised, but for me, the film succeeds admirably despite some structural and conceptual flaws.

You know, it's just nice to watch a film done by someone with passion, who doesn't resort to distorting facts, or make slanderous remarks, or create staged circumstances for dramatic effect. It's not a Hollywood production, thank goodness. It's just a good, honest film.

While much of the narrative didn't live up to the cinematography, I was particularly taken by the observation that several people in the film made regarding how future generations of humans will have little respect for prior generations who destroyed what was not theirs to destroy, and will see us as barbarians, much like we now view those who practiced, and still practice in some countries, slavery. And that change doesn't come from governments and institutions, but from small groups and individuals who dare to take action.

To me, the greatest thing that most people can take away from this film is that sharks are not the evil killers they have been portrayed to be. I would add this: the group of humans that far and away suffer the greatest number of shark bites is surfers, yet surfers are the humans least fearful of sharks. Surfers are subject to the same Jaws movies, the same media hype as the rest of us. But surfers let their enthusiasm for the water overcome their fears, and they discover that the sharks are not out there hunting us.

Go see the film. Anyone over 12 should see it.

If you are a diver, a surfer, a fisherman, a beach lover, a sailor, a naturalist, a conservationist, or just someone who wants to be informed, you will enjoy it double.

Be sure to check out the film's website and enjoy the film clips and trailers. It's beautiful.

Sharkwater, the documentary.

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A Treasure Island Sunset and Moonrise

September and October seem to offer some of the most spectacular sunsets here on the Florida Gulf Coast beaches. This is because of the cloud formations that drift around in the Gulf during the early fall.

To create the most beautiful sunsets, tall cumulus clouds are necessary, with some stratocumulus and some high cirrus for good effect. Heavy banks of flat, grey stratus hanging on the horizon will most usually mute the sunset, or obscure it altogether. During the spring months, there is often a thick fog or haze on the horizon, and during the summer months there are often large thunderstorms and thick clouds out over the Gulf that block the sunset.

This particular evening found some flat heavy clouds partially obscuring the sunset. But I took some photos of a cruise ship sailing across the beautiful pink glow of the sunset.

Some of the most beautiful effect of a sunset are seen in the water and in the colorful glow of clouds far away from where the sun is actually setting.

After enjoying the sunset, I turned around and saw the full moon rising in the east.

Every sunset is different, and when you can see the sun set and the moon rise at the same time, well...what more do you need?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dinner Time for Seabirds

Sunset means dinnertime for seabirds (actually ANYTIME is dinnertime for hungry birds). I drove out to Sunset Beach on Treasure Island to watch the sunset, and found lots of jumping baitfish being pursued by gulls, terns, and black skimmers. A seagull caught a fish that was almost too big to swallow. The bird played with it for a long time (a live, flopping fish is hard to swallow).

Of course there are risks that come with trying to hold onto a fish when there are other hungry birds around. A willet kept sneaking up behind the gull and made an unsuccessful grab for the gull's fish.

Finally, the gull managed to swallow the fish. That was quite a meal. A few minutes later a black skimmer caught a fish and fumbled with it for several minutes before abandoning it.

A hungry willet ran over and tried to claim it, but a willet's beak just isn't designed to eat relatively large fish.

Finally, the willet lost interest and I walked over to see why the skimmer abandoned its catch. I picked up the little fish and it became immediately apparent why the skimmer did not eat it. Here is the fish:

I noticed that the little fish had very sharp and very stiff spines on top of its body and underneath. Many fish have spiny fins, but they generally fold back against the fish's body rather easily when it is dead. The spines on this fish were rigid and would have damaged the bird's throat.

All of the photos above, except the ones of the fish, were captures from my video camera, so they are not the highest quality. Later I'll post the video of the birds and the fish.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mushroom Cap Jellyfish Photos

Frequently, visitors to my Florida Beaches website,, will send in photos of jellyfish they've encountered in hopes that I can help them identify the creature. I'm no jellyfish expert, but I'm getting better at making identifications.

Recently, H. Tiner sent in some photos of a jellyfish she photographed on La Costa island in southwest Florida. I've identified it as a Mushroom Cap Jellyfish (Rhopilema verrilli). It's the first one of it's kind that I've seen. So with her permission, I've posted the photos to my jellyfish page so everyone can see.

You can see the photos of the Mushroom Cap Jellyfish here.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Apple Computer Repair and Support in Tampa / St. Pete

Every once in a while I meet someone who is so good at what they do that it is just amazing. Neil Beardsley is one of those people. He is an Apple Computer genius. If you have a Mac and you are in or near the Tampa Bay area of Florida, you need to know about Neil and his company, Red Case Solutions. I met Neil several years ago in one of the salsa dance classes I was teaching at the local rec center. He had just started his business and was featured in the local newspaper as "young entrepreneur of the year," or something like that.

If you own a business that uses Macs, you know how hard it can be to find repair, upgrade, and support assistance. Neil and his partner Jack Miller can help you solve your problems. They have some pretty amazing customer service stories. Like the time they worked around the clock for several days to help one of their clients recover data after the clients building suffered a devastating fire, destroying the computers.

Red Case Solutions also designs websites, and if you need a more complicated website that integrates with a database, Neil can fix you up.

Their expertise goes far beyond "computer repair." They offer data-recovery services, telcom and data cabling, network design, video surveillance, wireless and security configuration, and more.

Whether you are a business or just a Mac-loving individual, check out the Red Case Solutions website at

Be sure to bookmark it and write down the phone number. You never know when you might need help.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Late Summer on Pass-A-Grille Beach

Well, it's Friday! I've been working hard this week so I decided to spend some time at the beach today and do a little snorkeling and just relax. We've had a brisk northeast breeze for the last few days, so the water is really calm on the Gulf side of the islands and the breeze helps to alleviate the effects of the 90+ degree heat.

The water temperature is still a balmy 86 degrees and the beach is very relaxed, with only a few people out on the sand. I found a beautiful Lettered Olive shell in the shallow water. There were very few shells on the beach, so it was a nice surprise to find this one.

It was a beautiful morning. Going in for a swim always relaxes me and puts me in a better state of mind for the rest of the day.

See you on the beach!

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day = Beach Day

We got out of the house a little earlier than usual today and took a drive out to Treasure Island, which is less than 15 minutes from our house. The new Central Avenue bridge is now open and no longer has a toll. We parked at the public access at 104 Ave, which is one of the few FREE beach parking lots in Pinellas County (other than in Indian Rocks Beach).

Even at 9:30am it was nearly 90 degrees. Some people were just leaving the beach after their early morning walk (smart people), and others were already in the water to escape the increasing heat. Others sat on the balcony of their beachfront hotel/resort and looked out over the wide beach.

There were a lot of terns on the beach this morning, resting from their morning fishing activities.

Whatever you did today, I hope you got the chance to relax a bit.

See you at the beach!

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

St. Andrews State Park Beaches on the Web!

Ok, I finally got the photos and video from my trip to Panama City Beach at St. Andrews State Park up on

There is a slide show of a selection of my photos, a 6 minute video showing some surfing, snorkeling, , jetty fishing, swimmers, and the beach crowd. The water is clear and beautiful and you get a good view of the beach, the dunes, the jetty, and the water.

Soon I'll have more video and photos of other panhandle beaches.

Let me know what you think!

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