Sand Tiger Sharks: Documentary
Rick Allen capturing footage of a North Carolina Sand Tiger shark lazily cruising the wreck of the Atlas. Photo courtesy of the talented Jonathan Bird of Oceanic Research.
Three North Carolina Documentary Producers Bring You Face To Face With The Fiercest Fish In Tarheel Waters
MOREHEAD CITY — Thirty miles off the Crystal Coast lies the rusting hulk of the Hutton (formerly known as the Papoose), a World War II tanker torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in March of 1942. Now lying upside down in 125 feet of water, she has become home to countless sea creatures; numbered among them, hundreds of Sand Tiger sharks.
“Every time I go down there, I see them stacked one on top of the other,” said Rick Allen, one of a trio of adventurers who make up the team called R2G Productions. “They are incredibly beautiful animals. Sleek, majestic. It’s like watching a ballet underwater. I wish everyone could see them.”
And now everyone can.
Sand Tigers: Sentinels of the Deep premiered on the 11-station UNC-TV network in 2000. The first documentary from R2G, the one-hour special includes stunning underwater video of these creatures as they interact with a group of divers intent on getting as close as they can to nature.
“The sharks come right up to the divers, and the divers are in the water with them without shark cages. They are literally nose to nose,” said writer and co-producer Robert Carver. “There is even a shot where a shark bumps the camera housing. Just amazing stuff.”
Allen and Carver, both veterans of the news wars at Triangle stations WRAL and WTVD, partnered with production-house operator and on-line tape editor Greg Davis to form the hybrid R2G Productions. Both experienced divers, Allen and Davis found Carver’s land-lubbing perspective a plus for the project, especially when it came to telling the story of the sharks and their environment.
“We didn’t want Sentinels to be only about fantastic pictures,” explained Davis. “We wanted to tell viewers about what’s happening in the habitat where these sharks live.”
Sand Tigers: Sentinels of the Deep takes a hard look at the issue of whether Sand Tiger Sharks can survive in the ocean environment created by the humans who live above them.
In interviews with top scientists who have spent their lives studying sharks, Sand Tigers attempts to shed light on the debate. On one side, environmentalists like the Environmental Defense Fund’s Dr. Douglas Rader argue the fishing industry is decimating the shark population by targeting the areas where sharks mate, on rock outcroppings and artificial reefs like sunken ships, areas that are known to man and therefor make sharks particularly vulnerable. Combined with a reproductive rate of only two young a year, environmentalists say the equation adds up to ecological disaster for the Sand Tiger and its cousins.
But a world-renowned researcher disputes that, saying those arguments have lead to protective quotas based on faulty data that has unfairly hamstrung the fishing industry. With nearly a half century of shark studies to his credit, Dr. Frank Schwartz of the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences takes the viewer on a shark-tagging expedition in the waters just off Morehead City. He does not believe sharks are in peril and hopes his research will bear out his theories.
Through science and scenery, sharp tongues and sharper teeth, Sand Tigers: Sentinels of the Deep will take you on a fantastic voyage only an intrepid few have experienced. The journey is made all the more special, because it takes place off the coast of North Carolina and not in some far-off ocean on the other side of the world.
Note: Since the production of this documentary scientific research indicates that shark numbers have plummeted; Sharks In Peril: Ocean’s Fiercest Predators Now Vulnerable To Extinction, 25% of Shark and Ray Species Threatened with Extinction