‘Playing With Sharks’ Tells the Story of Valerie Taylor on Disney+

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Two weeks, National Geographic launched their biggest ever Sharkfest event with several new shows. This week features the premiere of Playing with Sharks on Friday, July 23rd only on Disney+. Others shows that already premiered during the first two weeks can also be viewed on Disney+.

Valerie Taylor was born in Sydney, Australia. At 12 years old, she contracted polio during the 1948 epidemic. Told she could not leave the hospital until she was able to walk, Valerie persevered through muscle rehabilitation, eventually overcame the paralysis of her legs, and returned home. Later she began spearfishing to help feed her family and became the Australian scuba and spearfishing champion. This was how she met her future husband Ron Taylor who later won the world spearfishing championship.

Ron & Valerie Taylor with spearfishing equipment standing on rocks in 1962. (photo credit: Ron & Valerie Taylor)

Valerie and Ron both became disenchanted with killing animals for sport and began shooting fish with their cameras rather than spear guns. Ron designed and built housings that allowed them to use their cameras underwater. As they made a living by selling underwater photographs of marine life, they made the transition to motion pictures and discovered that films with an element of danger paid more. That was one of the reasons they became involved in filming sharks. Some of their work influenced an author by the name of Peter Benchley who later wrote the novel Jaws. When the novel was made into a movie by Universal Pictures, with a young Steven Spielberg as the director, the Taylors were brought in to help with filming live great white sharks.

Ron & Valerie Taylor on the Jaws film set with Steven Spielberg and Roy Scheider, 1974. (photo credit: Ron & Valerie Taylor)

While Jaws ended up being the first blockbuster movie, the publics reaction of fear led to local governments as well as fisherman leading shark hunts. In some areas, entire shark populations were wiped out. While only a few types of sharks can be dangerous to humans, even peaceful sharks were being targeted. Valerie then began a campaign to save the sharks, one of the first conservation programs of its kind. While she and Ron had been some of the first people to use shark cages, in order to show that sharks were not as dangerous and the public believed, they also pioneered using the use of chainmail suits for diving with sharks outside of a cage. Valeri has most recently to try to end the killing of sharks for their fins. 

Valerie Taylor with scuba equipment, 1964. (photo credit: Ron & Valerie Taylor)

Be Sure to Watch Playing with Sharks!

I had the opportunity to screen Playing with Sharks. I really enjoyed this show. It contains a lot of footage filmed by the Taylors as well as interviews with people who worked with them. I am amazed at the courage Valerie shows as she is hand-feeding great white sharks and the love she has for sharks in general. It is amazing how she can show the personalities of sharks and why it is so important to protect them. While I still would not want to be swimming in the ocean with these creatures, I now have a greater respect for and better understanding of these fascinating creatures. Even if you are not interested in sharks, this story of an amazing woman should not be missed. Be sure to watch Playing with Sharks when it premieres Friday, July 23rd on Disney+.

Check out the trailer while waiting to watch it on Friday.

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