The Current

The Third Dive explores controversial death of Sharkwater director Rob Stewart

A new CBC documentary, The Third Dive, explores the mysterious circumstances surrounding acclaimed filmmaker Rob Stewart's death and aims to uncover new details of its aftermath.
Rob Stewart, 37, died in January 2017 while filming the highly anticipated sequel to Sharkwater. His family spearheaded work to finish Sharkwater Extinction, which premiered at TIFF last month. (Sharkwater Extinction)
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When Canadian filmmaker and shark activist Rob Stewart died in a scuba diving accident in the Florida Keys in January 2017, it sparked a controversial investigation that raised more questions than answers.

A new CBC documentary, The Third Dive, explores the mysterious circumstances surrounding Stewart's death and aims to uncover new details of its aftermath.

"There are a couple of anomalies when I started to read, not necessarily the mainstream media reports, but a lot of the online reports about what had happened," director Robert Osborne told The Current's guest host David Common.

A new CBC documentary, The Third Dive, explores the mysterious circumstances surrounding Stewart's death and aims to uncover new details of its aftermath. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Osborne noticed some media reports painting a false narrative that Stewart was an inexperienced diver who was pushed beyond his limits by his "Svengali-like" dive partner, Peter Sotis. Others said Stewart panicked on his third dive, causing him to shoot to the surface too quickly and succumb to oxygen starvation.

"That kind of didn't make sense because I knew a little bit about Rob Stewart.… He was a hugely experienced diver," Osborne said.

Stewart was the director of the critically-acclaimed documentary, Sharkwater, which shone an international spotlight on the illegal and corrupt shark fin industry.

Conservationist and filmmaker Rob Stewart died while diving to film sharks in the Florida Keys. What were the parameters of his death and is there anyone to blame? 1:01

In The Third Dive, Sotis breaks his silence and tells Osborne his side of the story.

Sotis came to the surface at the same time as Stewart and recalled passing out in the boat as soon as he climbed in. When he regained consciousness, he realized Stewart had slipped into the water. His body was discovered three days later at the bottom of the ocean.

Two months later, Stewart's family filed a negligence lawsuit against the diving organizers, including Sotis, alleging his death could have been prevented.

Stewart is pictured free diving with Caribbean reef sharks off Freeport, Bahamas. (Veruschka Matchett/Sharkwater Productions)

Osborne said there are different versions of what happened that day, but there is a common thread that runs through them all. Everyone that was present during the dive said they saw Stewart come to the surface and give an indication he was OK.

The next thing you know, somehow he disappears without anybody seeing him actually disappear.- Robert Osborne, documentary director

"Then the next thing you know, somehow he disappears without anybody seeing him actually disappear."

Osborne's documentary also includes an interview with forensic pathologist, Dr. Thomas Beaver, who was ostracized by the Florida Keys community and local officials during his investigation into the cause of death.

According to Osborne, Beaver said the recovery team did not follow proper protocol once Stewart's body was found by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

"Coincidentally the ROV, at the exact moment the divers started to work with the body, turned around and went away, which of course is contrary to all the rules of forensic science," Osborne said.

"The medical examiner said that ROV should have pulled back and should have been recording everything that happened as part of the chain of evidence."

Stewart was the director of the critically-acclaimed documentary Sharkwater, which shone an international spotlight on the illegal and corrupt shark fin industry. (Alamy Stock Photo)

When Beaver raised his concerns with local officials about the way the investigation was being handled, he was taken off Stewart's case.

How many people at the age of 37 can say they were instrumental in saving a species?- Osborne

Osborne believes that despite the murky details that emerged during the investigation into Stewart's death, what happened in the aftermath is an "ignoble way to honour his memory."

"I have a huge amount of admiration for the work that he accomplished," he said.

"I mean, how many people at the age of 37 can say they were instrumental in saving a species?"


The Third Dive airs Friday, Oct. 26, on CBC Docs POV at 9 p.m. ET. 

Written by Eunice Kim with files from CBC News. Produced by Alison Masemann.