‘Playing With Sharks’ Highlights Need For Greater Awareness And Activism For Our Oceans
Many people have never actually seen the ocean with their own eyes—never mind actually venturing into it or diving to explore the wonders of its depths. Those who do today are interacting with a very different marine environment than what existed even just a few decades ago, but most have limited perspective and only know the ocean the way it is today. One person in particular, though, has been diving and exploring the ocean for decades and has a unique perspective on both its beauty and potential, as well as the challenges we face today. “Playing with Sharks” shares the story of Valerie Taylor, a global marine pioneer, conservationist, award-winning photographer and filmmaker, and an inaugural member of the Diving Hall-of-Fame.
Valerie, with her partner and husband Ron Taylor—who passed away in 2012—established themselves as experts and activists of the marine world back when it was still a relatively unknown and nascent field. There was no defined education or career path, because the two were on the forefront of exploring and understanding the marine world.
Valerie Taylor is a living legend and icon in the underwater world whose life’s work has become the basis for much of what we know about sharks today. Through remarkable underwater archival footage, along with interviews with Valerie herself, “Playing with Sharks,” from National Geographic Documentary Films, twice Emmy®-nominated director Sally Aitken and Bettina Dalton from WildBear Entertainment, follows this daring ocean explorer’s trajectory from champion spearfisher to passionate shark protector.
Admittedly, I was not familiar with Valerie. I grew up on Jacque Cousteau, and I have always had some interest in nature and wildlife—including a fascination with the ocean and the amazing creatures that live there, like sharks. I must have passed on some of that curiosity because one of my sons is currently majoring in Marine Biology.
One thing I learned about Valerie and Ron from watching “Playing with Sharks” was about their involvement in the making of the movie “Jaws.” Steven Spielberg and the studio hired the team to capture real-life footage of great white sharks to be used in the movie. I found it very interesting that Spielberg insisted that Jaws needed to be a 25-foot beast—a size roughly twice that of even large great white sharks. The Taylors explained they would be unable to get that perspective because next to a human in a dive cage the audience would be able to gauge the true size. So, Spielberg has them film the sharks next to a half-scale dive cage with a half-scale human diver dummy to make the shark look twice as big.
I had an opportunity to chat with Valerie, as well as Sally Aitken and Bettina Dalton, about making “Playing with Sharks.” Knowing of Valerie’s love and respect for sharks, I asked if she had any regrets about working on “Jaws”—a movie that has done as much or more damage than just about anything when it comes to maligning the reputation of sharks and sensationalizing the irrational fear most people have. She said that her and her husband, as well as Peter Benchley, the author of the book “Jaws,” and even the movie studio were all shocked about the hysteria it created. They believed because it was a fictional story about an impossibly large fictional shark, people would be able to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the movie for what it was. They actually embarked on a shark awareness tour in support of the movie to assuage those concerns.
Valerie has been a trailblazing advocate for the ocean’s most maligned and misunderstood creatures. She continues even now with activism and awareness efforts to help people understand sharks and other marine life. She is also engaged in efforts to address the affects of climate change and try to reverse the damage humans have done to the oceans.
“Playing with Sharks” premiers tonight on Disney+.