Joaquin Phoenix struggles underwater, with panic in his eyes and on his face. The actor has won many awards for his performances but his devotion to the well-being of animals is no act. In this video, he reenacts the terror that fish experience in the last moments of their lives. Who better to have shot this video than the shark expert himself, well-known photographer Michael Muller? Watch now:
I was 3 years old—to this day it is a vivid memory. My family and I were on a boat, catching fish. As one fish was caught, he was writhing, then he was thrown against the side of the boat. You couldn’t disguise what it was. This was what we did to animals to eat them. The animal went from a living, vibrant creature fighting for life to a violent death. I recognized it, as did my brothers and sisters.
Fish are smart, interesting animals with unique personalities—and just like dogs, cats, and humans, they feel pain. Scientists who study pain are in complete agreement that the pain response system in fish is basically identical to those in mammals and birds. But the fish industry slaughters more than 6 billion fish each year. They’re all taken from where they live in the water, after which they fight for breath, move slower and slower, and then finally endure an agonizing death. Without any legal protection from cruel treatment, these complex animals are impaled, crushed, suffocated, or cut open and gutted—all while they’re conscious.
Muller is one of the only photographers who has taken his camera below the surface to record the true nature of sharks, showing viewers that they don’t intend to harm humans. Sharks and other fish have a purpose in life, just as we do—and as that life is stripped away, they feel pain, fear, and distress. Phoenix captures their panic and helplessness in his performance in this video.