Many people have never seen the ocean with their own eyes, no matter venturing there or diving to explore the wonders of its depths. Those who do so today are interacting with a very different marine environment than it was just a few decades ago, but most have a limited perspective and only know the ocean as it is today. One person in particular, however, has been diving and exploring the ocean for decades and has a unique perspective on its beauty and potential, as well as the challenges we face today. “Playing with sharks”Tells the story of Valerie Taylor, an award-winning global marine pioneer, environmentalist, photographer and filmmaker and inaugural member of the Diving Hall of Fame.
Valerie, along with her partner and husband Ron Taylor, who died in 2012, established themselves as experts and activists in the marine world when it was still a relatively unknown and nascent field. There was no education or defined career path, as both were at the forefront of exploring and understanding the marine world.
Valerie Taylor is a living legend and icon of the underwater world whose lifelong work has become the basis of much of what we know about sharks today. Thanks to remarkable underwater archive footage, as well as interviews with Valerie herself, National Geographic Documentary Films’ “Playing with Sharks”, twice Emmy®– Nominated directors Sally Aitken and Bettina Dalton of WildBear Entertainment, follow the path of this daring ocean explorer, from champion spearfishing to passionate about shark protection.
Of course, I did not know Valérie. I grew up on Jacque Cousteau and have always had a certain 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 this curiosity because one of my sons is currently specializing in marine biology.
One thing I learned about Valerie and Ron while 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 live footage of great white sharks for use in the film. I found it very interesting that Spielberg insisted that Jaws had to be a 25 foot beast, about twice the size of great white sharks, even large ones. The Taylors explained that they would be unable to have that perspective because next to a human in a diving cage, the audience would be able to assess actual size. So, Spielberg has them film the sharks next to a half-scale diving cage with a half-scale human diver’s dummy to make the shark appear twice as big.
I had the opportunity to chat with Valerie, as well as Sally Aitken and Bettina Dalton, about the making of “Playing with Sharks”. Knowing Valerie’s love and respect for sharks, I asked her if she regretted working on “Jaws”, a movie that did as much or more damage than anything when it comes to slandering her. reputation of sharks and sensationalizing the irrational fear that most people have. She said she and her husband, as well as Peter Benchley, the author of the book “Jaws”, and even the movie studio were all shocked at the hysteria he created. They believed that because this was a fictional story about an insanely large fictional shark, people could suspend their disbelief and enjoy the movie for what it was. They actually embarked on a shark awareness tour in support of the film to allay those concerns.
Valerie has been a staunch defender of the ocean’s most maligned and misunderstood creatures. She even now continues with activism and awareness efforts to help people understand sharks and other marine life. She is also engaged in efforts to combat the effects of climate change and attempt to reverse the damage humans have caused to the oceans.
“Playing with sharks“Premieres tonight on Disney +.