Gordon Buchanan joins a family in a tropical paradise to learn how to swim with sharks. Freedivers teach Gordon about sharks and how to survive them.
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'I'm Gordon Buchanan, a wildlife cameraman.'
Drive, drive. Go, go, go.
'I've filmed animals for 25 years,
'including some of the world's most dangerous.'
My hands are shaking.
'But what's it like to live alongside fierce predators?'
'And raise your children with deadly neighbours?'
So this bird has caught wolves before?
'To find out, I'm going to live with three tribal families.'
Not what I was expecting.
'They'll show me these creatures from a new perspective.'
'Getting me closer to these animals than I've ever been before.
'In the Solomon Islands,
'I'll see whether it's possible to live with sharks.'
It is spooky as hell down there.
'In Mongolia, I'll try to bond with the golden eagle.'
She's not a rifle or a shot gun but she's every bit as lethal.
'And in Ethiopia, I learn to walk with Africa's hyenas.'
WHISPER: I can hear the crunching of bones. I'm completely surrounded.
'Spending time with these people
'will be a life-changing experience...
'..transforming my understanding of the animals we fear most.'
I'm on my way to a remote island in the South Pacific.
I'm going to meet a group of people that have a closer relationship
with sharks than perhaps anyone else on the planet.
'It's so isolated, it's taken me four days to get here.'
The part in my imagination which sharks occupy, like many people,
is a place of fear.
'I'm over a thousand miles off the north-east coast of Australia...
'..heading deep into the Pacific Ocean.
'My destination is the tiny island of Owarigi.
'It feels like I'm travelling to the edge of the world.
'I've heard the people of Owarigi have a deep connection with sharks.
'I want to understand how they manage to live alongside
'these feared predators.
'The Owarigi islanders rarely receive visitors.
'I really don't know what to expect.'
This really is stunning.
The water is crystal clear,
We've got a welcoming committee as well.
It's a welcome like no other.
I'm not sure I want to come ashore now.
'In the past, when strangers landed on Owarigi,
'there was often conflict.
'This enthusiastic greeting
'is a reminder of their headhunting history.'
That was something else.
Not what I was expecting.
Willie, nice to meet you, Willie.
Good to meet you. I'm Gordon.
Moses? Nice to meet you, Moses. Thank you.
'Before we can leave the beach,
'there's a formal welcome from the island's big chief, Father Matthew.'
Thank you very much.
I've enjoyed it so far.
'The island is just a mile across
'but home to nearly a thousand people.
'Their language is only spoken by a few other communities
'on neighbouring islands.
'They live almost entirely from the sea,
'getting most of their protein from fish.
'Cousins Sosimo and Moses will be my mentors.
'They are expert spear fishermen.
'And they come face-to-face with sharks on a daily basis.
'And several types of reef shark.
'Moses and Sosimo have agreed to take me spear fishing...
'..and teach me about sharks.
'What they don't know is that I have a fear of sharks.
'The men have a healthy respect for these predators.
'Moses has some advice.'
Would a shark grab it?
Let me see your goggles.
Mine are bigger than that.
Let me show you.
OK. This is good.
Read excitement as fear.
'My mind's full of terrifying images of sharks.
'I'm worried about what's lurking beneath me.
'A storm has made these normally clear waters murky.
'That's making me even more nervous.
'I'm way out of my comfort zone.'
Only one thing for it.
'As I dive down, the pressure in my sinuses and ears is overpowering.
'Moses and Sosimo are in the sea every day of their lives
'and are completely at home underwater.'
I think my ability to hold my breath
has been kind of hampered somewhat by feeling...
feeling a bit nervous.
I think anyone that grew up in the '70s and '80s,
the kind of Jaws generation, you do feel vulnerable.
You don't feel part of the underwater world.
If your eyes, your hearing, all your senses are above...
above the water,
you really don't know what's going on underneath you
and that can make you feel very, very exposed.
Seeing Sosimo and Moses underwater, you see they feel...
They look really at home there.
As at home as a human being can feel.
I dunno, I feel like a kind of beached whale.
You seem to manage to go down and hover just a metre below the surface
whereas I keep on coming up to the top, like a...
'Moses tells me that to be safe with sharks
'I need to learn to be relaxed when I dive.
'Spending time teaching me to free dive
'means the men aren't spearing fish for their families.
'The sooner I can help catch dinner, the better.'
Sounds a good idea.
'I am exhausted, so the next lesson will have to wait until tomorrow.
'Over the next two weeks, I'll be staying with Moses and his family.'
'Because of the day's training,
'there's not much for dinner tonight.'
What time do we start the lessons tomorrow?
I'm looking forward to it, but I'm...
Thank you. Thank you, thank you.
I'm going to dream of sharks.
It was quite an interesting day.
I was kind of glad that I didn't see a shark. Not on my first dive.
I think I'm kind of getting used to being underwater
and trying to spend as much time under the water as possible.
'The next morning, Moses is up early and brings me breakfast in bed.'
Nice one. Thank you. I am actually starving.
This island has a lot...
..and I mean a lot of chickens.
I say I'm ready...
I want to see how this is done. I'm intrigued.
'Moses and Sosimo are going to teach me to shoot a spear gun,
'island style, using a papaya target.'
We've got, like, literally a stick, some rubber...
..and a piece... So three pieces.
Right, show me. I want to see how this works.
That is so clever.
How difficult can that be?
So just one piece?
Closer? That's good.
Ah, you bandit!
My hand's quite sore, by the way.
Thank you. Thank you.
'I need to master the spear gun
'and how to get out to where the big fish and sharks live.
'That means canoeing through the surf.'
It's not the most stable vessel I've been in.
Are you sure about this?
Any slight movement, you kind of move...
One inch to the left, one inch to the right,
and it feels like the whole thing is going to go over.
'My weight is making it worse.
'I'm so much bigger than the locals.'
Oh. First wave.
I can see some white water behind me
and I'm not too happy about it.
Going under. We're going under.
Forget the spear fishing lessons,
I think we need some boating lessons first.
'I've scuppered the spear fishing before it's even started.'
I'll be honest with you, I've had more successful fishing trips.
We're going to need a bigger boat.
I'm a lot taller than...
a lot of the local men,
so I think it's probably just, sort of, having a lot of weight up top
and that instability.
'Moses isn't impressed.'
'If we capsized in the open ocean, it could have been serious.
'In that case, Moses would have called on Wairowo,
'the shark spirit they worship, to rescue us.
'With the fishing trip on hold, Moses introduces me to a man
'who believes he was saved by this spirit during a shark attack.'
Good to meet you.
So you got bitten by a shark?
Can I see underneath?
And what happened? Were you fishing?
And do you know what kind of shark it was?
If Wairowo, the spirit shark, hadn't helped you,
what do you think would have happened?
'To many people here, this shark spirit is a constant presence,
'protecting them at sea.
'It's also a lesson that sharks can be both friend and foe.
'I'm hoping I won't need to call on Wairowo for help.
'Moses and Sosimo still need to feed their families,
'so we're going spear fishing again
'but this time in the dead of night.'
I'm just on my way down to meet Sosimo and Moses
and we are about to go out on...
..a night dive.
We're going to be hunting fish with spears...
..in the pitch black,
and that is something that
I am not at all looking forward to.
I'll be honest, I'm very nervous about going out at night-time.
Are you sure this is a good idea?
Let's all stay together, OK?
A chill ran down my spine!
'It's high tide, so we can swim out from shore.
'The ocean feels so different at night.
'And puts me on edge.'
I really don't like this. It is spooky as hell down there.
Every time a little wave breaks on the surface,
I think it's a bloody big shark coming to get me.
I just hope I live to tell the tale.
'Moses and Sosimo often spear fish at night with torches.
'But my aim is even worse in the pitch black.
'Fishing now may be more productive for the men,
'but for me it's terrifying.'
I've never known a night to be so all-encompassing.
All is black, all is night,
the sky is dark, the sea is black.
Nightmares come to you.
You don't know what's out there in the deep.
You don't know what's out there in the dark.
'I must try and control my nerves or I'll never catch anything.
'I'm struggling to hunt in the dark while keeping an eye out for sharks,
'but Moses's aim is as good as ever.
'In my desperation to catch something for the family,
'a crayfish seems an easy target.
'But its spines slice right through my skin.
'Out of the gloom...
'..I spot a shark.
'My heart is racing.
'Sosimo told me to keep eye contact at all times.'
I caught a glimpse of a shark.
Just the briefest glimpse.
It disappeared off into the...
..depths. But it was a shark.
'The men say that sharks are much more interested in fish blood
'The shark seemed more scared than I was.
'To my relief, the men decide we should head for shore.
'Back at home, it's time to cook our catch,
'with Moses and his wife Jemima.
'With four children to feed,
'the few fish we've caught won't go far.'
..here's a present.
How many do you think I caught?
OK, I'm sensing a lot of disappointment.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I promise.
Do you know what the real problem is?
Some of the fish that I did see and I thought I could shoot,
I thought they looked too nice to shoot. They were too...
Because I can go to the shop and I buy fish...
..and I'll happily fish with a fishing line and a hook,
but there's something different about actually being under the water
and being selective.
Were there more fish when you were younger?
Speaking of eating fish, is this ready now? I'm starving.
That'll be good for my hunting instincts tomorrow,
if I'm hungry already.
'Moses is going to be hard to win over
'but Jemima is more forgiving.'
Is that for me? But that's a big one.
You said I was only going to have a small one.
Let's share this one.
Have some of this one.
Oh, man, that is so nice.
Don't worry, I'll make you proud. I don't want to disappoint you.
'I'm beginning to think my lack of success
'isn't just due to inexperience.
'There aren't as many fish as there used to be.
'It's worrying because the islanders rely on fish to survive.
'The few chickens and pigs are only enough for special occasions.
'Their small gardens provide vegetables,
'but without fish there's no way the island could sustain its population.
'However, I don't think it's just these people
'who are responsible for the falling fish stocks.
'For the Solomons' government,
'access fees for international trawlers
'are an important source of revenue,
'but they scoop up four times more fish than local communities.
'This means less food for people like Moses and Sosimo.
'We head out to set up underwater cameras.
'I want to find out which fish are here
'and if there's any sign of the sharks
'this country's famous for.
'Sharks are a sign of a healthy reef
'and it worries me that I've seen so few.'
What I have here, this contraption...
..is a camera rig
and, as enticement, we've got some crayfish heads
that somebody in the village donated to me, left over from their dinner.
The scent from these crayfish heads
will drift out with the current,
and what I'm hoping is that there will be sharks
downwind, so to speak, of this scent,
and they'll definitely be interested in that.
I'm going to point this camera in this direction,
keep these ones facing out the way.
Just going to start them all running.
I'm going to have to lob it.
One, two, three...
So I'm just going to guide it down.
And make sure it doesn't land on a nice bit of coral.
I can see where the sand is.
OK, nice, nice. There we go.
'On the way back from setting up the rig,
'we come across an amazing sight.
'A pod of spinner dolphins.'
Oh, look at that!
There must be about 100 of them.
That is incredible.
Right, I'm going to see if I can get in with them.
'Moses and Sosimo don't have a motor boat
'so wouldn't normally come this far from shore.
'It's a chance to share an encounter with an animal
'they rarely get close to.'
When it comes to style and grace underwater,
these dolphins put even Sosimo and Moses to shame.
I think dolphins, more than any other animal on Earth,
have this ability to make you feel good and make you smile,
One, two, three...
'On our way home, the conditions quickly change.
'A cyclone's passing by to the north
'and we're getting the tail end of it.
'It's brought strong winds and pounding rain.
'So much for a tropical paradise.
'We drive out the cold the Owarigi way.'
'We make it safely to shore,
'where the children are taking advantage of the wind
'with their ingenious home-made toys.'
It is very, very windy today.
Maybe not surprisingly, the nicest place to hang out on the island
is the beach.
It's where the kids hang out
and they are absolutely charming.
They're gorgeous. They're always happy and smiling.
I think living somewhere like this, for a child,
is a really charmed existence.
Very safe and secure.
Which is odd, considering you're surrounded by an ocean
that can be really quite dangerous at times.
But I think everyone looks out for each other.
'As the wind dies down, the waves get cleaner.
'The ocean is the lifeblood of Owarigi
'but it's not just a supermarket,
'it's a playground too.
'These kids are resourceful.
'They make their own boards from palm trees.'
It's funny, I think just being with Sosimo and Moses,
you see how graceful they are underwater,
and these kids have got this sort of elegance in the sea as well.
Go for it.
Nice one... Whoa! Good work.
'From a young age, this tribe learn how to cope
'with the sea's many dangers.
'But once again, I get caught out.'
Right, here comes a biggie.
Ow, ow, ow!
Right, I'm bleeding.
'The corals of this tropical paradise
'seem more vicious than the sharks.'
My knee is bleeding quite profusely.
I'd better get that seen to, actually.
They'll have to bandage that up.
'For local people, the real danger is the lack of fish.
'The next day, I ask Sosimo, Moses and his father Joseph
'about the changes they've seen here.'
And what changes have you seen over your lifetime?
And, Moses, what hopes do you have for your children on the island?
Do you think people on the island understand the balance of nature
and the roles that different sea creatures play
in keeping a healthy ecosystem?
That's not just here. Where I come from,
people are unaware of the sort of natural mechanisms in the sea.
'The decline in fish is a growing problem for the islanders.
'Could the decreasing shark population be a factor?
'The reef is a delicately balanced ecosystem.
'Sharks control the numbers of smaller predators
'that eat fish eggs and fry.
'Fewer of these young fish survive without sharks.
'If the number of fish continues to drop,
'Owarigi's human population won't be sustainable.
'A tragedy for this community and their unique way of life.
'Hoping to be reassured,
'we collect the underwater cameras and call the village together
'to see if we've found any sharks.'
I have got the video clip from the underwater rig here
and I want to show everyone what we've got.
Oh, look at that!
A hawksbill turtle.
So slow and graceful.
What do you call it?
What a weird-looking fish.
Ooh, sneaking in, a Moray eel. Look at that!
Yeah, he's enjoying that.
'No sharks so far, but other creatures intrigue the islanders.'
What do you call dolphins?
Me too, me too.
And as intelligent as them.
I suppose, Moses, for us,
because we've spent quite a lot of time diving,
so many people here never see any of these fish,
so it's nice to be able to show them some of the things that we've seen.
'Seeing all this marine life is wonderful,
'but I hoped there would be more sharks.
'Then I hear news from the other side of Owarigi
'that might explain their elusiveness.'
I found out that somebody has caught a shark
down at this end of the island.
I'm Gordon. What's your name?
Did you just catch it today?
So what will you do with it now?
And how much would you get for all four fins from this shark?
500 Solomon dollars.
'That's roughly £5 sterling for each shark.
'A rare source of cash in this subsistence economy.'
So when you sell those fins, what do you do with that cash?
Can I see those fins? So you dry them?
So the fins from two sharks.
Have people always killed sharks in this area?
I'll give you these back.
Right, I'll leave you gentlemen. Good to meet you.
See you later.
'Despite being so remote, the market for shark fins is having an impact
'Fins from Owarigi are sold in the capital city, Honiara,
'joining the global trade for shark fin soup.
'Worldwide, over 100 million sharks are killed each year.
'That's more than 11,000 every hour.
'Their decline is transforming ocean ecosystems.
'We aren't aware of the extent of this damage
'because we don't see what's happening underwater.
'But these islanders are deeply aware of these changes.
'Their survival depends on their reef.
'My feelings about sharks have changed since I arrived here.
'First, I was scared of them.
'But seeing how endangered they are,
'now I feel sorry for them.
'I want to get a closer look at these predators,
'but before I can do that, I need to catch some fish for the family.
'Having failed at spear fishing,
'Moses thinks I might have more luck with an unusual technique,
'unique to this part of the world.
'He takes me to the local expert, Uncle Morris.'
I'm Gordon. Good to meet you.
'But instead of heading to the sea,
'Morris takes me into the forest.'
Wow, this is quite satisfying in a strange way.
'Back in the village, we remove the web.
'This isn't like any fishing I've done before.
'This web is from an orb-weaver spider.
'It's super strong.'
'This lure is for a fish that can't be caught with hooks.'
The fish's little teeth are going to get snagged in the spider silk.
I am still at a complete loss as to when the kite comes into this.
I really hope this works, Morris.
I need to catch a fish, by hook or by crook.
Or by kite.
Oh, beautiful! Look at that!
Up, up and away!
So put them over the side?
There goes our spider webs.
Nice. Just like being a kid again.
Oh, there you go, the lure's out of the water.
We want it to just dip on the surface.
The lure is effectively imitating an insect,
just kissing the surface of the water.
Every method and way of catching fish
is very labour-intensive or requires a lot of time.
I was thinking that the kite fishing
was going to be the silver bullet to my bad luck,
but, erm, it hasn't proved to be so far.
The kite is in the air, it's quite high up.
Maybe kind of... ooh, 25 metres.
You've got one?
Oh, yes! Yes!
I do not believe that.
Well, I never.
That is incredible.
The needle fish.
You can see the teeth - lots of them, very sort of sharp,
needle-like, and they easily get caught in the, erm...
..in the web lure.
My bad luck is over. Well done.
'While the fish are biting, Morris reels in another one.
'Triumphant, we head back to shore.'
Thank you. Thank you.
But he is the man.
One big one, one small one.
Thank you, Morris.
That's really so, so impressive.
I can't actually quite believe it.
Who would have thought that the most unlikely,
unconventional method of catching a fish
was going to be the thing that was actually most productive?
Web and wind.
'I might not have mastered spear fishing,
'but I feel relieved that finally I've brought something back to eat.'
I've just learned another thing. How to cut coconut properly.
Oh, look at that.
It's a taste of Owarigi. Locally grown, locally caught.
It is a perfect way to end the day with the boys.
That's why I came to the Solomon Islands, to see them,
and I'm looking forward to the next stage of my journey.
'Now I'm more confident in the ocean,
'Moses and Sosimo want me to swim with sharks.
'There's a protected reef on another island
'rumoured to be teeming with them.
'But before we leave, an offering is made to the shark spirit, Wairowo,
'to keep me safe.'
So the protection from Wairowo, the spirit shark,
will that last for my lifetime?
Thank you, Willie. Thank you.
'With the ritual complete,
'we set off to the distant reef.
'Here, fishing has been banned for 30 years,
'so there should be lots of life.
'It's not long before we see large shapes lurking in the water.'
You can actually see sharks down there.
Can you see the shark?
There's one there. Can you see?
So, shall we all go in at the same time?
'The men seem to be testing me.'
Mask, snorkel, I have my fins, we have some sharks,
I have two of the best men in the business with me.
One, two, three...
'Diving down, knowing there are sharks all around...
'..I feel my fear returning.
'I struggle to stay calm.
'I try to remember that these sharks are more interested in fish
'than in me.
'It feels incredible to be down here,
'but I'm still nervous.
'As Sosimo and Moses join me,
'my fear is replaced by a deep emotional connection to the ocean...
'..and to these remarkable men.'
'This protected reef is completely different from Owarigi.
'It's teeming with fish and sharks.
'A balanced ecosystem.'
I expected my heart to be racing and to be panicked,
but actually there's something very serene about it.
Like a religious experience.
There's something quite special and intimate
about being underwater and seeing a shark.
It's almost like a connection.
It's nothing like I've ever had before.
I feel moved.
Right, I'm going back down. I don't know about you, Sosimo.
'When I first arrived in the Solomon Islands,
'I was terrified of the ocean because of sharks.
'Now I'm in awe of them.
'Captivated by their beauty.
'Moses and Sosimo have transformed my attitude
'to these prehistoric and endangered predators.
'I'm not the only one who's been inspired by what we've seen here.'
I'm only able to see these sharks
because of everything you both have taught me,
so thank you.
Thank you, sharks.
'Learning how to share the water with these misunderstood animals
'has replaced my irrational fear with wonder.
'It's allowed me to fall in love with the ocean,
'and it's reminded the men how their reef once looked.'
'the villagers are preparing a goodbye celebration for me.
'But first, Moses, Sosimo and Joseph
'want me to witness an important decision.'
I'm being taken to a meeting with all of the chiefs on the island.
I haven't a clue what it's about.
Morning, morning, morning.
'The chiefs are the eldest males of each family,
'responsible for safeguarding the island's future.'
'By protecting sharks, their ecosystem will produce more fish.'
Thank you very much.
'It's incredible news that the elders have decided to ban
'all shark finning on the island.'
That is, erm, quite something.
Not at all what I was expecting.
I mean, it's...
This is a global problem.
But I think if everyone just, sort of, does what they can,
it can make a difference.
And it is seen in areas where small parts of the ocean
have been protected, the results that that can have.
This is a kind of, sort of, shift that there needs to take place,
not just on an island like Owarigi,
this is a shift that has to take place around the world, you know,
as a global community - start valuing the natural world more,
on land and in the sea.
'The celebration marks a new beginning for the island.
'I'll be sad to leave.'
We're in luck because the shark dance is one of my best dances.
This is the least I've felt like a shark in all my life.
'When the dancing ends, it's time for me to say goodbye.
'I certainly wasn't expecting such a big send-off.'
This is the most impressive goodbye ever.
I'll start with you. Goodbye.
Thank you. Bye.
'It looks like the entire village is here.'
Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you very much.
Now the boys' section.
Thank you very much. Goodbye.
Thank you very much.
Joseph, thank you very much. It's been a real pleasure.
The last guy is the guy with the funky hair.
Take it easy.
Thank you very much.
Take care. Thank you for everything. It's been incredible.
I don't want to leave.
'The people of Owarigi have come together
'to play their part in protecting the sea.
'Can we say the same?
'The fate of these kind and remarkable people
'and of every creature in the ocean
'lies in all our hands.'
I think the thing that gives me the most hope for the future,
the future of the people of this incredible island,
is the fact that they deeply care about their culture,
but, most importantly, they care deeply about the ocean
and the creatures that live beneath the surface.
And I think so long as the people that live here feel that way...
Gordon Buchanan joins a tribal family on a remote Pacific island to see if it is possible to live close to sharks. Sharks are an animal most people find terrifying, but the men of Owarigi island in the Solomon Islands freedive to catch fish and encounter dangerous sharks almost every day, sometimes at night. Can the islanders teach Gordon to swim and share the ocean with sharks in this tropical paradise?
The island rarely receives visitors and Gordon's arrival is greeted by a seemingly hostile ceremonial reception. He is soon welcomed by his mentors, cousins Moses and Sosimo, who teach him how to freedive and shoot a spear gun. Gordon sees sharks underwater here and learns that these predators are shy and attracted to fish not people. He then discovers something he didn't expect - the people of this small island are dependent on the ocean to survive, but fish and sharks are in worrying decline here. Commercial fishing and the shark-finning trade have arrived in this remote island, putting the islanders' future at risk. Gordon learns about the island's complex relationship with sharks and their ancient fishing techniques. Then he joins Moses and Sosimo on a spectacular shark dive on a protected reef teeming with fish and sharks. Before Gordon leaves, he witnesses the island's chiefs deciding to protect part of their reefs to preserve fish and sharks. A remarkable and moving insight into the underwater world of a unique and threatened island culture impacted by the outside world.