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Yet Another Blockbuster Misrepresenting Sharks (and Diving)

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As if sharks were not already relentlessly hounded in the mainstream media, what these magnificent creatures really do not need right now is yet another summer blockbuster from Hollywood portraying them as mindless, vengeful killers.

And yet, that’s exactly what 47 Metres Down tries to do. The tagline is ‘This June, stay out of the water’, accompanied by the hashtag #SharkBait.

Two young sisters on holiday end up taking a cage diving trip to see great white sharks. Rather predictably, the cage’s tether snaps and they sink to the bottom, 47m  deep, surrounded by marauding great white sharks.

Aside from the fact that the speed at which the sisters plummet would have ruptured some eardrums, divers have already noted that at 47m deep, a single tank of air would last around 15 minutes, far less if you’re flapping around and panicking, as the characters surely do. There is a change of tank at some point. They are told to make a 5-minute deco stop to prevent the bends, however the NDL at 47m is around 5 mins – they would have needed a lot longer. There are strange hallucinations, there are evil, bloodthirsty sharks everywhere.

Suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy many good movies – there does not appear to be a mystical force used by little green folk with lightsabres, after all – and if major motion pictures were all technically accurate then there would be no major motion pictures.

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The problem with 47 Metres Down is not that it is mindless nonsense, but that it plays upon human fear based on an inaccurate representation of a group of animals of which almost 75 species are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN.

A large portion of this fear stems directly from movies such as Steven Spielberg’s classic Jaws, which is, objectively, an excellent movie, but which also inflicted a devastating backlash against coastal shark populations.

Peter Benchley, the author of the novel on which Jaws is based, recognised that the movie had done so much damage to the image of sharks, and the subsequent drive to eliminate them from our waters, that he devoted much of the rest of his life to shark conservation. One would have hoped that Hollywood might have learned some lessons as a result.

Much of the shark population has been decimated by the shark-finning industry, but thousands of sharks are also killed each year as the result of culls to ‘protect’ humans. The mainstream media sensationalises the minimal number of ‘attacks’ that really do occur, based solely around the fear that they themselves generate, despite sharks being one of the most statistically unlikely causes of death by animal attack.

As for 47 Metres Down, at that depth on a single tank of air there are probably more immediate concerns than sharks. Divers will appreciate that there are much simpler solutions to the dilemma, but they don’t make for much of a movie.

So, this summer, why not escape the confines of an air-conditioned movie theatre, and go diving instead. Just keep a careful look-out for sharks. If you’re not paying attention, they’ll probably disappear into the blue before your camera has a chance to focus.

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