Meet The Sharks, With Chris Hemsworth & The Wearer Of The Chain Mail Suit

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National Geographic is kicking off its 9th annual Sharkfest hullabaloo and jamboree with Chris Hemsworth and various shark experts, including Valerie Taylor, who was the first person known to wear a chain mail suit under water, in the one-hour documentary Shark Beach unspooling on July 5 at 9/8c on National Geographic TV. Who wore it best? Watch and find out. Meanwhile, let’s take a closer look at sharks: who they are, and what they want.

Sharks, Surfing, & Chris Hemsworth

As an avid surfer, Australian native and conservationist Chris Hemsworth is the perfect person to host a documentary about shark conservation. In 2015 he joyfully posted to Instagram “no sharks!” to let the Intertubes know he was enjoying perfect day of surfing with no sharks, and now he has come full circle as a shark ambassador in Shark Beach.

“In this one-off special, global movie star Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers), embarks on a personal mission to investigate how we can live more harmoniously with sharks,” National Geographic explains. “Chris, an enthusiastic surfer and renowned environmentalist, is fascinated by the ocean’s top predator. But he’s equally perplexed by the dangers they pose to humans when we venture into shark territory.”

“In Shark Beach, Chris uncovers the complicated truth behind the alarming increase in shark attacks in Australia,” they tease, “He’s searching for answers to help us live more peacefully with these magnificent creatures.”

If you miss the July 5th premier, you can scoop it up on Disney+ beginning on July 9th or catch the encore presentation on catch the encore presentation on Nat Geo WILD on August 2nd.

Sharks & Valerie Taylor

As for what that truth may be, it’s a sure bet that Valerie Taylor has had a hand in getting to the truth. Her appearance in the documentary is going to be a real treat for shark fans, who have been following her career for decades.

Like Hemsworth, Taylor has made a full circle from her early days of spearfishing in the 1950s, an era in which there was a full-on push for women to cook seafood, not catch it.

Today Taylor is well known among shark circles as a pioneering diver, photographer, film maker, shark researcher and a member of the advisory board of the Sharks Research Institute, which describes her as “a shark and ocean treasure.”

“A global marine pioneer, conservationist, winner of multiple awards as a photographer and filmmaker, scriptwriter, author and painter, she is also an inaugural member of both the Diving Hall of Fame and the Women Divers Hall of Fame,” SRI notes.

Justyne Trieste of the organization Shark Stewards observes that Taylor’s influence on the shark-watching public goes back before Jaws, to the 1971 documentary Blue Water, White Death.

“I admired the courage of Valerie Taylor to get in unknown conditions to film large predators, likely unsure of their reaction, and the spirit of adventure and discovery that clearly drove her,” Trieste wrote.

What About The Chain Mail Suit?

How about that chain mail suit? It might not show up in Shark Beach, so just in case it doesn’t, you can catch a glimpse online at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Taylor wore that same chain mail suit, complete with hoodie, gloves, and boots, over her wetsuit to catch the astonishing shots in the 1979  TV feature Operation Shark Bite.

The suit was supposed to be worn by her husband Ron Taylor, who came up with the idea. He ordered the custom-made suit from the US but it arrived too small for him. In a typical Valerie Taylor move, preparations for the Operation Shark Bite dive included stuffing tuna fillets into the suit, just to make sure that sharks were available for filming.

Speaking of women and sharks, props to National Geographic for featuring women front and center throughout Sharkfest. The six weeks of programming does not sugarcoat the topic, including interviews with shark attack survivors like Paige Winter as well as scientists and conservationists including Laura Garcia Barcia, Melissa Critina Márquez, Carlee Jackson, Alison Towner, and Sophumelela Qoma.

Now That You Know All About Sharks…

Speaking of living more harmoniously with sharks, a good place to start would be to cut down on ocean pollution, especially in the area of plastic ocean pollution, which can be especially lethal.

“Sharks play an important role in the ecosystem by maintaining the species below them in the food chain and serving as an indicator for ocean health,” explains the organization Oceana Europe. “They help remove the weak and the sick as well as keeping the balance with competitors helping to ensure species diversity.”

Their menu choices help keep the species below them from overpopulating and disrupting the ecosystems of coral reefs, seagrass beds and other habitats where commercial seafood dwells. Here in the US, Oceana cites bay scallops and quahogs as two kinds of popular shellfish that have been wiped out of certain fisheries after shark populations dwindled.

As big and powerful as they are, sharks can be brought down by pollutants in the ocean, including plastics ranging in size from stray fishing nets to microscopic bits of decaying plastic that will never really go away. Those bits aggregate in prey up the food chain and concentrate at the top, making matters worse.

So, How Can You Help?

Plastic litter, lost fishing gear, and accidental or deliberate waste mismanagement are the main culprits behind the ocean plastic pollution mess, but making personal choices about plastic and other petrochemical products can help more than you think, because consumer demand can help push the market for more sustainable materials and strategies. In a review of sustainable wetsuits, our new bff over at confessionsofasurfergirl.com writes:

“Ironically, many of the products we use as surfers are, in fact, NOT good for the environment and yet, we have been cached into a ‘hippy-esque’ category. Everything from our sunscreen, to our surfboards and even our wetsuits somewhere down the processing line has a negative effect on our environment…until the last five years.

“Eco-friendly is the new black and many marketing and branding campaigns have fallen into step with this attractive trend. There’s a lot to be said about this most hashtagged term when it comes to our marine environment and personal health.”

The culprit is neoprene, the production of which has been linked to plenty of pollution on shore. The most common ingredient in wetsuits, neoprene sheds fibers and contributes to the ocean plastic problem, too.

Similarly, Olivia Burton scribed a review of eco-friendly surfboards for ecowarriorprincess.net a couple of years ago, in which she noted that “surfing is a popular activity in tourist beaches, with cheap foam surfboards being a top choice,” but that surfers are beginning to demand more high quality, sustainable boards.

“The ECOBOARD Project by Sustainable Surf is a perfect example of a leader in sustainable surfing, awarding certifications to high-performance board brands that have a ‘reduced carbon footprint, renewable or up-cycled materials and use low toxicity materials or processes during manufacturing,'” Burton observed.

As for plastics in general, CleanTechnica has been following some of the latest developments in the field of virgin petrochemical replacement, including plastic recycling as well new bio-based materials that can biodegrade safely in water, if all goes according to plan.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Chris Hemsworth surfing( courtesy of National Geographic/Craig Parry via DropBox link).


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3330 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey