National Geographic kicks off the ninth season of their annual SharkFest with the documentary “Shark Beach With Chris Hemsworth.” Although best known as the all-powerful Thor from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hemsworth is also a passionate environmentalist.
With a recent rise in shark-related deaths, Hemsworth sets off on the road and into the ocean to determine the cause. The documentary features a medley of shark scientists, shark-attack survivors and conservationists that help Hemsworth find the root of the problem.
He first meets with his friend Mick Fanning, an Australian professional surfer who experienced a great white shark encounter while competing at the J-Bay Open 2015 finals. He luckily escaped unscathed. Even when sharks don’t mean to kill, their attacks can be deadly. Although it is highly unlikely for most people to ever encounter a shark in the ocean, there is no denying that the amount of shark sightings has increased.
Director Sally Aitken takes the lead on the documentary, with her formidable and extensive filmography for BBC, ABC, PBS, National Geographic, Discovery and the History Channel, just to name a few. She weaves together a flowing, engaging story of both Hemsworth’s past and the present as he dispels some myths about the dangers of sharks.
They visit renowned scientist Paul Butcher, who specializes in shark management and fisheries. Butcher credits the rise to an increase in beach-goers, tourists and global warming. With warmer waters due to climate change, there’s a greater risk of sharks moving closer to the coast to find temperatures within their preferred range.
For years, authorities have placed nets around popular beaches to keep people safe. And although it does prevent sharks from entering, the nets can also suffocate and kill sharks, turtles, otters, crabs and other marine life. Hall-of-fame diver Valerie Taylor reflects on how she and her husband used to dive to cut the animals loose, a controversial decision at the time that she does not regret.
Scattered throughout the film are snapshots of Hemsworth’s childhood in Melbourne. We catch a glimpse of his past surfing for hours off the coast of Phillip Island, connecting to nature with his family and learning that nature is something to revere and respect.
And although he’s spent much of his life above the water, he’s never had the chance to scuba-dive. With the help of Taylor, Hemsworth swims mere feet away from massive nurse sharks and the audience gets to see just how incredible these creatures are.
To everybody else, sandy beaches and blue waves are complete serendipity. With more and more tourists crowding the coast, people tend to overlook the land’s cultures, traditions, and way of life. Tourists love the ocean but fail to respect what lies beneath.
But with a 70% decrease in shark population over the past five decades, we need to find a way to coexist with these animals before our ecosystem becomes disrupted. The documentary explores both the damaging repellents we’ve used on sharks and the necessity to switch to humane technologies that can hopefully reduce the amount of attacks.
“Shark Beach With Chris Hemsworth” premieres on National Geographic on July 5 as a part of their six-week celebration of these incredible apex predators.