Jaws’ Richard Dreyfuss and Sea Shepard’s Paul Watson Talk Conservation at Shark-Con
Shark-Con brings those who love the ocean together for a weekend of learning with Comic-Con style fun. The event is dedicated to raising awareness about shark and ocean conservation. Held at the Florida Fair Grounds, in Tampa I was educated by Florida’s zoological institutions and national non-profit organizations. I was also able to interview Jaws’ Richard Dreyfuss and Sea Shepard’s Paul Watson about the plight of our oceans.
The movie Jaws was terrifying for me. And when I think of Jaws I don’t immediately think of shark conservation. At this year’s Shark-Con an entire Jaws panel consisting of Carl Gottlieb (screenwriter), Joe Alves (assistant director, production designer), Ted Grossman (estuary victim, stunt coordinator), and Susan Backlinie – Chrissy (first victim) spoke about the movie. Richard Dreyfuss (oceanographer Matt Hooper) headlined the panel.
Dreyfuss says to help save sharks someone should create a story where the sharks are the protagonist.
“A blue whale recently saved a woman by taking her on his fin, because there were predators in the area and he just took her,” Dreyfuss recalls. “Create a fiction, where the sharks’ inadvertent consequences save humans.”
I think that is a brilliant idea, because after the opening scene of Jaws I was scared to go in any body of water, including an above ground swimming pool.
The scariest part of Jaws and possibly the most iconic opening sequence of all time is when Chrissy gets a tug from the great white. And since actress Backlinie never encountered a shark on set, only a scuba diver and piano wires, the movie had little effect on her attitude towards sharks.
“I enjoy seeing them when I dive as long as they don’t get too close,” she tells me at Shark-Con 2018. “I live on a boat and we use to see them all the time and now we don’t see them anymore. And that to me affects you because you know where they have gone. They have gone into shark fin soup.”
Later in the day a Shark-Con patron told me that Dreyfus should donate his $60 autograph fee to a shark conservation program if he really wants to help preserve sharks and their oceans.
Jennifer V. Schmidt, PhD, Director of Science & Research for The Shark Research Institute says “People love sharks, and that’s terrific because they are amazing animals, but many people are not aware that the numbers of some shark species have declined to critical levels. The ‘Jaws effect’ unfortunately persists, with sharks often thought to be mindless killing machines. It’s important for people to understand that sharks are highly complex animals that play a key role in ocean health. Public events like Shark-Con are a great way for people to learn about the fascinating biology of sharks, and the need to protect these animals, while also having lots of fun.”
As I strolled through the convention I met up with Captain Paul Watson whose primary interest is in defending and protecting marine life in our oceans. Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. Their mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.
“I’ve been working with whales for over 50 years,” Watson tells me. “The most important experience was back in 1975 when we were trying to stop the Soviet whale killing fleet in the North Atlantic and we came up with this idea to protect the whales by blocking the harpoons with our bodies.”
That worked for about 20 minutes until they started firing harpoons over the people’s heads.
“A harpoon hit and killed a female in front of us and she screamed and rolled to her side. The largest whale in the pod at that point, swam right underneath us and threw himself right at the harpooner on the bow of the Sovient harpoon vessel. They were ready for him with a harpoon and hit him on the head. He fell back in the water in pain and agony and as he did I caught his eye. We then saw a trail of bloody bubbles coming straight toward us and he came up and out of the water at an angel so the next move would be for him to come down and crush us. As his head looked out of the water, I looked into his eye I saw what I call understanding. I saw the physical excursion he used to pull himself back into the sea and he died. He could have killed us but he choose not to do so. So I felt personally indebted to that whale until I die.”
As Watson was sitting there in the midst of the Soviet whaling fleet he began thinking, “What are we doing, why are we killing these whales?” What occurred to him at that time was that humans are ecologically insane.
“The Soviets were using it to create a high grade heat resistant oil and one of the things it was in demand for was for the making of intercontinental ballistic missiles. So I said here we are destroying this incredibly beautiful, sentient being, self-aware, socially complex, for the purpose of making a weapon for the mass destruction of human beings. And from that moment on that is when I decided to dedicate my life to protecting whales and creatures of the oceans not the people.”
A few years ago Captain Watson got criticized by the Fox network because he said worms, trees and bees are more important than people. They got really outraged when he replied with the simple fact that worms, trees and bees can live on this planet without us but we could not live without them. (This exactly mirrors the sentiment of my safari guide at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre).
“People will say you don’t care about people and I guess that’s true but in a way what we do to protect the ocean is protecting the people. We need them, they don’t need us. For example, phytoplankton. We’ve had a 40 percent decrease since 1950. If phytoplankton goes extinct, we go extinct. It provides 70 percent of the oxygen in the air. So people need to become aware of the interdependence of species and how important they are for our survival.”
According their website, Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. Watson was once quoted saying “The most powerful weapon in the world, as far as I’m concerned, is the camera.
The idea behind Shark-Con is to bring all types and backgrounds of people together to share ideas, have a fun, learn, and come together to help the ocean. From Sharknado actors to SeaWorld, scuba companies to conservationists, Shark-Con was quite eclectic.
“I think Shark Con is important because not only does it attract shark lovers, it helps create new ones,” Jillian Morris, Founder & President of Sharks4Kids says. “People can learn all about sharks and see a different side to them. It’s a great way to create more understanding and awareness.”
My new book 99 1/2 Homesteading Poems highlights sustainable living. It is now available for pre-order.