Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story

image for Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story

Short takes

Not suitable under 11; parental guidance to 13 (violence, scenes of distress, themes)

classification logo

This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story
  • a review of Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 24 June 2021.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 11 Not suitable due to violence, scenes of animal distress and themes.
Children aged 11–13 Parental guidance recommended due to violence, scenes of animal distress and themes.
Children over the age of 13 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes
Length: 91 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Playing with Sharks outlines the journey of Valerie Taylor who started out as a young girl who fell in love with the world underwater and who learned to spear fish for her father when she was just a child. Valerie went on to become the world female spear fishing champion and even went so far as to kill a shark, winning the admiration of people around the world for her courage, fearlessness and ability when it came to this male dominated sport. When her husband, Ron Taylor (the world male spear fishing champion), came back from a shark sighting expedition that ended with the death of 5 large sharks, senselessly killed simply because they were sharks, they both put down their spears and vowed from that moment on that the only shots they would take would be with a camera. The pair focussed all their energies on making a living doing what they loved. They pushed the boundaries and were able to capture pictures and film of Valerie doing many things that others believed were either too risky or simply impossible. She swam alongside enormous stingrays and through vast swarms of jellyfish, she played with Moray eels and dove into the midst of a feeding frenzy, she trained wild sharks like puppies and hand fed Great Whites, all the while discovering that these creatures the world had been taught to fear were very intelligent, had distinct personalities and were in great danger from a predator far worse than any threat they had ever posed. Valerie worked on films sets, including the infamous blockbuster, Jaws, and then as a conservationist to protect these ancient sea dwellers from the fallout of fear and misunderstanding.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Animal distress; Cruelty to animals; Environmental degradation; The dangers of a fear mentality.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie, including:

  • A human skull is displayed in a dining room buffet hutch.
  • People say that: “The only good shark is a dead shark.”
  • A dead shark is displayed on shore, hanging limply from a chain.
  • Numerous fish and sharks are shown being killed while spear fishing.
  • Many thought it was their duty to kill as many sharks as they could. Images are shown of a boat with its entire deck covered in shark corpses.
  • Valerie bumps numerous sharks with a stick as they attempt to be accepted in the midst of a feeding frenzy, while numerous sharks feast on a harpooned whale.
  • There are images of sharks chomping on prey with blood going everywhere. They are considered ‘submarines with teeth’ and there is a popular mentality of just: “kill, kill, kill.”
  • While filming Jaws, a real shark gets his head caught in a cage and pulls the whole metal structure off the boat. He is violently struggling to free himself when the cables snap. He is able to free himself and swim away. The footage, though not scripted, was used in the film. What was not known was that a man had been in the cage only moments before and was lucky to escape with his life.
  • More scenes of Jaws are shown where sharks are shot on sight or exploded with force, bits of their mangled bodies raining down from the sky.
  • Images of finless, shark bodies littering the oceans while people harvest their teeth and make soup from the fins. There is also footage of a man chopping off their fins.
  • It was mentioned that 100 million sharks were killed every year for 20 years.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • There are images of the injuries Rodney Fox sustained after being bitten by a shark. Teeth marks can be seen along with his open torso and exposed organs.
  • Some of the images of sharks may also be disturbing to younger children. They are occasionally depicted as menacing and these images may frighten younger children. When the shark’s eyes roll back into their heads it can occasionally look a little creepy and this may also upset younger viewers.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Valerie tells how her beloved Ron dies after losing his battle with Leukaemia.
  • There are multiple images and footage of sharks, whales and fish being killed. Some of them are clearly in distress as they bash themselves against boats attempting to free themselves. There is often blood and many of the scenes are very disturbing.
  • Small portions of scenes from the film Jaws are replayed in the documentary. There are some very suspenseful ones where people fight to get out of the water, knowing a ‘monster’ is lurking nearby. There is frantic swimming and screaming before someone is pulled down and blood colours the water.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Children in this age group may also be frightened by the above-mentioned scenes.

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

  • Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • The book, Jaws, by Peter Benchley.
  • The movies Jaws and Blue Water White Death.
  • National Geographic Magazine.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • There were no sexual references however there were a couple of sexist comments:
    • When asked if she was any good at spear fishing, Valerie answered that she was: “as good as you could get for a girl”.
    • Valerie very much wanted to go on a shark sighting expedition with Ron but the captain refused to allow a female on board his boat.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • There is footage of Valerie swimming in a bikini.

Use of substances

  • None noted.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Footage of the film Jaws is shown where a man says, “Son of a ...” before blowing up a shark.

In a nutshell

Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story is a documentary that serves as a testimony to what the oceans once held and stands in stark contrast to what you will find now. It serves to educate the public on the true nature of sharks and to help people understand that they are not as dangerous as we have been lead to believe and that, in fact, it is the sharks that are the true victims. Due to some of the images and footage portrayed, this film is not for younger viewers but is a very worthwhile watch for teens and older audiences.

The main messages from this movie are that sharks are the ones with something to fear; and that we need to change our beliefs and the way we do things if we are going to save the few sharks we have left. The documentary also demonstrates the need for respect and understanding. For far too long these creatures have been feared and consequently killed because we do not understand or respect them. The film clearly depicts how they are capable of so much more than we have ever given them credit for and how one woman is doing all that she can to help save them. The rest is up to us.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Perseverance
  • Compassion
  • Courage
  • Dedication
  • Adventurousness
  • Understanding.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Killing or hunting for pleasure or sport.
  • Blindly imitating what others are doing or saying without discovering the truth for ourselves.
  • Decimating a species and the impact and flow on effect that it has on other species and populations.
  • Being reckless when interacting with wild animals.