Playing with Sharks is a documentary about Valerie Taylor’s love for the underwater world, which begins when she’s a young girl learning to spearfish for her father. Valerie goes on to become a world female spearfishing champion and even kills a shark, winning the admiration of people around the world for her courage, fearlessness and ability in this male-dominated sport.
Valerie’s husband, Ron Taylor, is a world male spearfishing champion. His outlook on spearfishing changes when he sees 5 large sharks senselessly killed on a shark-sighting expedition. Both he and Valerie put down their spears and vow that they’ll work only with cameras rather than spears in the future.
Valerie and Ron focus all their energies on making a living pushing the boundaries and capturing pictures and film of Valerie doing things that other people think are impossible. Valerie swims alongside enormous stingrays and through vast swarms of jellyfish; she plays with Moray eels and dives into the middle of a feeding frenzy; and she trains wild sharks like puppies and hand-fed Great Whites. At the same time, she discovers that these creatures, which are so feared, are also very intelligent and full of personality. And they’re in great danger from a predator far worse than any threat they’ve ever posed.
Valerie works on films sets, including the blockbuster Jaws. She goes on to become a conservationist working to protect sharks from the fallout of fear and misunderstanding.
Animal distress; cruelty to animals; environmental degradation; the dangers of a fear mentality
Playing with Sharks has some violence. For example:
- A human skull is displayed in a dining room.
- People say, ‘The only good shark is a dead shark’.
- A dead shark is displayed on shore, hanging limply from a chain.
- Spearfishers kill numerous fish and sharks.
- A boat’s entire deck is covered in shark corpses.
- Valerie bumps numerous sharks with a stick as they try to get into the middle of a feeding frenzy. Sharks feast on a harpooned whale.
- Sharks chomp on prey, and blood goes everywhere. They’re described as ‘submarines with teeth’.
- During the filming of Jaws, a real shark gets its head caught in a cage and pulls the whole metal structure off the boat. It’s violently struggling to free itself when the cables snap. It frees itself and swims away. The footage is used in Jaws. A man had been in the cage only moments before and was lucky to escape with his life.
- More scenes from Jaws are shown, including scenes in which sharks are shot on sight or exploded with force. Bits of their mangled bodies rain down from the sky.
- There are images of finless shark bodies littering the oceans while people harvest their teeth and make soup from the fins. There is also footage of a man chopping off shark fins.
- It’s mentioned that 100 million sharks were killed every year for 20 years.
Playing with Sharks has some sexist comments. For example:
- When asked if she’s any good at spearfishing, Valerie answers that she’s ‘as good as you could get for a girl’.
- Valerie very much wants to go on a shark-sighting expedition with Ron, but the captain refuses to allow a woman on board his boat.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
There’s no use of substances in Playing with Sharks.
Nudity and sexual activity
Playing with Sharks has some nudity. For example, there’s footage of Valerie swimming in a bikini.
The following products are displayed or used in Playing with Sharks:
- the book Jaws by Peter Benchley
- the movies Jaws and Blue Water White Death
- National Geographic magazine.
Playing with Sharks has some coarse language. For example, in one of the scenes from Jaws, a man says, ‘Son of a ...’ before blowing up a shark.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story is a documentary that draws a stark contrast between what the oceans once held and what you’ll find now. It aims to educate people about the true nature of sharks and help people understand that they’re not as dangerous as we think. In fact, sharks are actually victims.
Because Playing with Sharks has some frightening scenes and footage, it isn’t a movie for younger viewers. But it’s a very worthwhile watch for teenagers and older audiences.
The main messages from Playing with Sharks are that sharks are the ones with something to fear, and that we need to change our beliefs and practices if we’re going to save the few sharks we have left. The documentary also argues that sharks have been feared and killed for far too long because we don’t understand or respect them. The movie clearly show that sharks are capable of so much more than we realise.
Values in Playing with Sharks that you could reinforce with your children include perseverance, compassion, courage, dedication, adventurousness and understanding.
Playing with Sharks could also give you the chance to talk with your children about the real-life consequences of things like:
- killing or hunting animals for pleasure or sport
- imitating what others are doing or saying without discovering the truth for yourself
- killing so many animals in one species that it affects other species
- being reckless when interacting with wild animals.