Is it safe to go in the water? Not if you’re a shark, and not even if that water is an above-ground backyard swimming pool.
Why, you might logically ask, was a shark in a swimming pool? The animal was an unwitting actor in a commercial being filmed for Kmart and died during the shoot.
The incident occurred on March 6 but came to light after two whistleblowers from the set contacted PETA and spoke with Julia Gallucci, PETA’s Animal Behavior Specialist. She tells TakePart that, “They called us with concerns about the shark who was showing signs of distress and later died.”
Unfortunately, incidents like this are more common than they should be. “There are a lot of problems whenever very specialized, exotic animals like sharks are used in commercials, films, and TV productions,” says Gallucci. “Just over the last couple of years, we’re hearing more and more about animals being injured and sometimes dying on film sets. The most recent examples actually are domesticated animals. For example, during the filming of HBO’s series Luck, four horses died and during production late last year of Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit close to 25 animals died, mostly farm animals.”
“We see problems across the board in productions that use a large amount of animals, or exotic animals like sharks,” she says. “And unfortunately these are situations where the American Humane Association is on set monitoring, but our complaint is that they don’t really do their job very effectively. They’ll approve things that just shouldn’t be approved.”
Gallucci adds that, “We were in touch with the AHA about this situation and asked, ‘Why in the first place would you have approved having a shark shipped across the country and put in a backyard pool and had actors jumping in and out of it?’ That sounds like a situation that would cause a lot of stress to a shark and we know how sensitive they are.”
“We haven’t received a response from them on that particular question but it’s unfortunate because a production company relies on the AHA monitors and the exhibitors as the experts to tell them what’s appropriate and not appropriate,” says Gallucci. “Then when incidents like this happen they’re shocked and say, ‘But we had a AHA monitor there, so why would the animal have died? We don’t understand.’"
"We just feel like the AHA really needs to step it up and start doing their job properly. And we’ve asked them for an autopsy to determine the exact cause of the shark's death but they haven’t yet said that they will perform one.”
News reports quote Mark Stubis, CCO of the American Humane Association, as saying that, "No one jumped into the pool at all. This is untrue." However, Gallucci says that statement is in conflict with the whistleblower reports that PETA received.
Although the white-tip shark is on a list of threatened species, Gallucci explains that the protections that are afforded animals that are endangered are not afforded to animals that are threatened.
She adds that, “We don’t have any information about the shark prior to its arrival on the set. We know that the exhibitor, which is a company called Critters of the Cinema, was hired to provide and care for the shark. They presumably didn’t have a shark at their facility, which is in Southern California, so they had a shark sent over from New York.”
“We don’t know who supplied the shark to them, so we know nothing about the animal’s living conditions or transport conditions. We were told by the whistleblowers that when the animal arrived on the set it appeared to be in good health and was behaving normally. It wasn’t until about an hour after they started shooting that the shark showed signs of distress.”
“The production company, reportedly, was in opposition to using a live shark to begin with, but they weren’t able to get an animatronic shark in the time that the shoot needed to be completed. Yet, in the end, the shark died and we were told they used an animatronic hippopotamus in place of the shark.”
For their part, Kmart was quoted as saying, “We take this matter seriously and safety is always our paramount concern. We have been advised by our agency that the production company responsible for this shoot worked with professional animal handlers and a representative of the American Humane Association for the purpose of monitoring the shark’s welfare. We are saddened by this incident.”
If that’s the case, maybe they’ll realize that their futures should be invested in animatronics.
Do you think exotic animals should be used in the filming of commercials, movies, and TV shows? How can we ensure their safety?
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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com