Rob was a biologist, conservationist, activist and filmmaker. His greatest impact was through his three films — Sharkwater, Revolution and Sharkwater Extinction — as well as his books and the millions of supporters that carry on his mission worldwide.
Born in 1979, Rob graduated from Western University. He dedicated his life to conservation, saying: “Conservation is the preservation of human life on earth. And that, above all else is worth fighting for.”
Rob's films, Sharkwater, Revolution and Sharkwater Extinction have been awarded more than 150 international awards and viewed by over 130 million people.
Rob was the first to bring the devastating issue of shark finning for shark fin soup to the world stage. Sharkwater changed laws and public policy throughout the world and created hundreds of shark conservation groups.
Many countries have since banned shark finning. Airlines, hotels, courier services and theme parks have banned shark fins. The Chinese government has banned shark fin soup at their banquets.
He taught the world to love and to not fear sharks through his diving and pictures of hugging sharks. Diving with sharks is now commonplace — the image of Rob hugging a shark is now iconic.
Sharkwater inspired worldwide bills to ban the importation or sale of fins. In June 2019, Canada became the first G20 nation to ban the import and export of shark fins, crediting Rob. Fiji followed in July 2019.
Rob’s footage from Sharkwater Extinction led to the signing of the California Drift Net Ban in Fall of 2018, as well as new legislation banning drift nets in Federal waters passed by the US House and Senate in February 2022.
Mozambique banned commercial fishing of whale sharks, manta rays, or any mobula species in 2021.
The U.S. House passed the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act in 2022 and the Drift Gillnet Bill, ending the use of deadly driftnets in U.S. Federal waters.
The UK announced their ban in 2021.
Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez announced in February 2021 that shark fishing was banned in the country.
Rob changed documentary filmmaking from talking-head films to “action adventure” documentaries, which many filmmakers have now adopted.
When Rob made Sharkwater, he wanted to show viewers the beauty of sharks, the oceans and its creatures, so people would love them and work to protect them. But he also wanted to show the devastation, so they would understand the issues and could make better choices.
Revolution was the first feature film to alert the world to the catastrophic effects of Ocean Acidification from carbon emissions (burning fossil fuels; coal, oil, gas, deforestation).
Climate change was well known, but not the resulting Ocean Acidification that would devastate the reefs, kill 25% of the fish populations, and potentially the oceans themselves.
Today, this is well known.
His third film, Sharkwater Extinction, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2018, then began a global theatrical release.
It has been featured at over 200 international film festivals around the world and is now available worldwide on Amazon Prime.
Sharkwater Extinction addresses not just shark finning, but the use of shark products in cosmetics, food products, pet foods, livestock and fertilizer.
Rob is also the author of Sharkwater: An Odyssey to Save the Planet and Save the Humans.
He spawned hundreds of conservation groups, in addition to founding his own: United Conservationists and Fin Free. Now, most conservation organizations have departments that focus on sharks and the oceans.
Celebrities have taken up the cause.
He inspired young filmmakers to follow, among them Julia Barnes with Sea of Life; Natalie Lucier's With Love to the Orcas; Madison Stewart — Australia's Shark Girl; Youth Unstoppable by Slater Jewell-Kemker and Regi Domingo, Game Over Fishing.
Numerous film festivals, universities and conservation groups worldwide have created conservation awards in Rob’s honor.
Awards in his name include:
The Academy of Canadian Cinema launched the Rob Stewart Award, a five-year $25,000-per-year award.
Discovery’s Planet in Focus launched the annual Rob Stewart Youth Eco-Hero Award; the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival offers the Rob Stewart Environment Award, and Oakville initiated a $75,000 bursary to support students studying marine biology at Dalhousie.
The PangeaSeed Foundation, whose Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans murals around the world highlight some of the most pressing marine environmental issues of our time, launched the “Dakuwaqa Project,” dedicating murals to Rob and highlighting his pioneering efforts in the realm of marine conservation.
In Fijian mythology, Dakuwaqa (pronounced Dakuwanga), the shark god, is the protector of all ocean creatures. Artists have created murals in Miami, Toronto, Auckland (NZ), Cairns (Australia), and Bali (Indonesia). Murals will be installed globally to ensure Rob’s legacy.
In December 2018, a new species of shark was discovered and named for Rob — Bythaelurus Stewarti.
Rob changed the thinking of the conservationist movement. “We need to stop fighting against things and start fighting FOR what we want.” He remained optimistic... “Fight for what's beautiful.”
In 2019, the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation was established to honor his legacy and continue his mission to save sharks and the world’s oceans.
The U.S. Coast Guard said the search for Rob was the largest the sector had ever experienced. Thousands offered help. The Coast Guard was so overwhelmed with international press inquiries that three media relations personnel were dispatched to stay in the Florida Keys to assist.
Richard Branson, Jimmy Buffett, Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd sent help. Many sent planes, helicopters, and boats.
60,000 watched his funeral online. More than 1100 attended his funeral, before the church was filled to overcapacity, with standing room only.
“A rare gift to the oceans and the world. There was no one like Rob and his loss is profound. He has inspired a whole generation of young people, many of whom will go on and amplify Rob's work. I've always said, no movement should be utterly dependent on one or two individuals, but of course it takes one or two charismatic individuals to start a movement in the first place, and Rob was it.”
“We should be thankful that in our little galaxy of stars that our life is and our friends are, that we had a sun like Rob at the centre of it. We lost a son, a brother, a mentor.”
“Rob and his work is in the curriculum of my course. I believe Rob did more for making shark conservation important than any scientist to date.”
“I have a new hero, and his name is Rob Stewart. Rob has forever changed the way people view sharks and the ocean, it will open their eyes...and, hopefully, their hearts.”
“Saddened by the passing of Rob Stewart. The world has lost a man who dedicated his life to protecting our oceans and sharks. He'll be missed.”
“We are now offering a shark class at Dalhousie (since 2013) and it is always oversubscribed by at least 5 times the enrolment limit. I have more students than I can count come to my office saying they want to study marine biology because they saw Sharkwater. A whole generation has been affected.”
“I don't think there's a film that's influenced me more than Sharkwater.” Richard loved Sharkwater, and it caused him to launch the “Ocean Elders” to protect the oceans. He remains an ardent advocate and supporter of ocean conservation. After seeing Sharkwater and meeting Rob, Rob taught him to dive.
“Bill S-238 (Shark Fin Importation Ban) was inspired by Rob’s work. His award-winning documentary Sharkwater is largely responsible for shedding light on the detrimental effects shark finning is having on the species. Rob committed his life to educating the public about the true nature of and importance of our oceans ecosystems.”
“Rob is such a hero and inspiration.”
“The Sharks lost a guardian and the oceans lost a voice. He helped open our eyes to the deep blue world he loved. #RobStewart #sharkwater”