Created by Australian cartoonist Phil Watson, these cartoons grew out Phil’s love (and cautious respect) of sharks. Being a surfer himself, Phil decided to make fun of sharks from the safety of his drawing board.
An interview from Oliver Feist
From 2005 to 2008 Phil animated ‘Sharky’ for an aquarium in Minnesota (USA) gaining over 4 million YouTube views (and counting!). In 2011 Movie Extra helped turn Shaaark! into an animated series which gained over a million views. Phil is also officially an international ‘shark celebrity’, being part of the 2010-2015 Shark Trust celebrity auction.
I met Phil in September 2016 on the Calypso Star II in Port Lincoln South Australia.
Stop Finning DE: First of all I am very proud to meet you down in Port Lincoln, Australia on the Calypso Star II to see the Great White Sharks at Neptune Islands. This was your first encounter with a Great White Shark and after a couple of weeks I am still overwhelmed. How about you?
Phil: Hey Oliver, it was an amazing experience and glad to share it with you!
Stop Finning DE: Are you a diver? If yes, how long for?
Phil: I am not a diver, but have been snorkelling for many years.
Stop Finning DE: Are you eating fish or other kind of seafood? If not why?
Phil: Yes I do eat and enjoy seafood, I try to make sure it is from sustainable sources.
Stop Finning DE: You are the artist behind the famous Shaaaark! cartoons. When did you decide to draw a cartoon about sharks and why?
Phil: As a surfer I was often thinking about sharks, and so I soon became fascinated with them. And they are kind of fun to draw.
Stop Finning DE: Why are you so facinated in sharks?
Phil: Because they are so often feared by people, but really they are such incredibly powerful and beautiful creatures.
Stop Finning DE: When do you had your first encounter with a shark and what kind of shark was it?
Phil: In the surf many years ago, and I have no idea what kind of a shark it was.
Stop Finning DE: How did you behave yourself on your first encounter and how you should behave in your opinion at the first (and all other) shark encounters?
Phil: I got out of the water straight away on my first encounter, and I would probably do the same again. I am less afraid of sharks these days as I think I understand them more, but I also respect them and know that occasionally they do attack people.
Stop Finning DE: What memories do you have of that? Were you scared?
Phil: I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be, every day there are thousands maybe millions of people sharing the ocean with sharks and attacks are very rare.
Stop Finning DE: Was there a particularly formative situation with sharks which was very important for you?
Phil: Actually cage diving with Great Whites, I thought I would be a tiny bit afraid of seeing them face to face but was overwhelmed by just how incredibly peaceful and beautiful they were close up.
Stop Finning DE: There is the thesis that sharks, especially white sharks, surfer confused with seals and this can be there reason for the accidents between sharks and surfers. Are you supporting this thesis?
Phil: Yes I believe that sharks do bite first and think second, and most of the time it seems to be when there are lots of fish around, or the visibility isn’t great.
Stop Finning DE: What is your favorite shark?
Phil: My cartoon Shaaark of course (but Great Whites are a close second)
Stop Finning DE: Do you use your Shaaark! cartoons to be part in the world wide shark protection movement?
Phil: I do want to use my cartoons to entertain people, and help them to see that sharks aren’t as scary as they may have thought.
Stop Finning DE: You definitely know about the problems with the by-catch, finning and industrial fisheries of sharks. Do you think the protection of sharks is such important in comparison to other environmental or climatic problems?
Phil: I would like to see all marine life protected equally, but I do see that sharks are a bigger target because many still see them as the bad guy, so I think there is still a lot of work to change this image.
Stop Finning DE: There are much more countries then Costa Rica, Taiwan or Spain which are hunting sharks or killing them as by-catch. Which countries will have a main role in shark protection in future, what do you think?
Phil: I don’t think it will be any one country, but individuals sharing the message among their friends, which can then influence major companies who make money out of exploitive fishing.
Stop Finning DE: Australia had already made the great white shark as a protected species years ago, it always comes back to negative headlines with the released „Shark Cull Policy“ & the drumlines located in front of main beaches around Australia. This is definitely a step backwards. Which countries have made a very positive development and no setbacks in recent years, in your opinion?
Phil: In every country there are voices for and against shark protection, and so I don’t see any one country as doing better than others, its much more about the individuals in each country continuing to make sure there are balanced approaches.
Stop Finning DE: Is there an approximate estimate how many sharks still swimming in the seas and when there will be no more animals, if the current trend continues?
Phil: I’m not sure of actual figures, but always remain hopeful that we can turn the trend around!
Stop Finning DE: What do you think is the most effective way to protect sharks and why?
Phil: Thanks to social media we can spread a message quickly and effectively to every corner of the planet. So I think that helping people to understand more about sharks is the first step, and we can then all help governments to have a balanced approach to shark management.
Stop Finning DE: What can everyone do to make a contribution to protect sharks?
Phil: Obviously everyone can follow Stop Finning Deutschland and Shaaark! on social, and then make it their ambition to remind their friends that we don’t need to fear sharks. And then keep on reminding your local government representative to re-think their approach to sharks.
Stop Finning DE: Are there any experiences you want to share with people who will read the interview?
Phil: So many surfers I know who have had an experience with a shark still believe we should protect them. We understand that the ocean is their domain so we respect them, but not fear them.
Stop Finning DE: Would you like to give readers and our supporters something along the way?
Phil: Recently I was talking to a man who’s son was killed by a shark a few years ago. He was obviously saddened by his loss but is now travelling around Australia helping shark attack victims deal with their fears, and he plans to do a cage dive with Great Whites soon. He has every reason to be angered by sharks, but has an amazing peace about what happened and is dedicating his life to helping others in pain (he and his son were also strong Christians). And he also likes my Shaaark cartoons!
Stop Finning DE: Last but not least: What is your personal favourite Shaaark! cartoon?
Phil: This one (Shaaark! Whaaat!) oder auf deutsch, Haaai! Waaas?
When I first sketched it I thought it was funny but didn’t want to share it on social cos I didn’t think others would find it funny. It turns out it is one of my most popular cartoons.
Stop Finning DE: Thank you Phil.
Phil: Thanks Oliver, and all the best with your work in Deutschland!
More about Phil and his cartoons on http://www.shaaark.com/