Exclusive interview: Shark Week spawned a fine romance with Joe and Lauren Romeiro of Ninja Sharks and Return to Shark Vortex

sharks swimming
From Portugal to Rhode Island, how Shark Week spawned a real love story. Pic credit: Discovery

Discovery’s fin-tastic Shark Week, now in its 33rd year, has a true love story to share. Joe Romeiro is an underwater cinematographer, and Lauren is a marine biologist, and they recently got married. They are a true Shark Week work romance.

Both of them are featured as experts in two forthcoming films, as both are highly knowledgeable about sharks and have been a part of Shark Week for many years. 

Discovery Channel has worked with Joe Romeiro for over a decade. He is a naturalist and award-winning cinematographer, born in the Azores, off Portugal, and now a Rhode Islander. He met Lauren on a professional outing by a lucky chance, and the chemistry and shared passion for sharks led to the altar.

Now, they are part of the cadre of academics and experts that Discovery calls upon to make Shark Week THE big splash event that raises awareness about shark conservation. 

The returning Shark Week 2021, which will air from Sunday, July 11 through Sunday, July 18 on Discovery Channel and discovery+, marks the biggest Shark Week to date, delivering across more platforms than ever before and featuring shark-themed programming with celebrities including William Shatner, Tiffany Haddish, Brad Paisley, the cast of Jackass and more.

This year’s slate of advertising partners also showcases Shark Week’s cheeky ability to create innovative opportunities for sponsors, with creative programs that complement Discovery’s impactful storytelling through clever marketing pushes and collaborations.

Exclusive interview with Shark Week experts Joe and Lauren Romeiro

Monsters & Critics: Shark Week is in its 33rd year. How many years have you been part of this incredible discovery event?

Joe Romeiro: Over a decade, I was talking about it last night. I think I’m approaching like 13 or 14 years with Discovery Channel.

Lauren Romeiro: This is the first year I’m in it, but I’ve been working on it for three years.

M&C: You guys are both involved in two of the movies, Ninja Sharks and Return to Shark Vortex. Joe, what was that moment when you knew that you were underwater photography and specifically sharks and shark behavior was going to be your career?

Joe Romeiro: I came over here when I was three or four years old. I couldn’t speak English at the time. So most of the stuff that identified on American television was like monster movies and natural history footage. So I was obsessed with films such as Godzilla and other things like that. 

But I also loved watching natural history films and like all this stuff. And I had seen tons of things about sharks, and then I saw [the film] Jaws. That terrified me when I was a little kid. And living in New England and growing up on Cape Cod, it’s kind of like you’re looking out in the water, and that’s the location where all this took place.

So I didn’t understand the difference between science fiction and actual reality. So that sort of like came into grip the more and more I spent by the ocean as a child. That’s what drove me to sharks.

M&C: Who gave you your first camera, your first underwater camera? How did you get that in your hand?

Joe Romeiro: When I was 24, 25, I started diving, and it was the time in my life where I had a job, and I could afford dive equipment. And I was going to places and diving in New England. And through that, my dad couldn’t swim. So I got myself a little tiny reef master camera to take photos and these small little videos to take them home to show my dad. 

Then, after a while, it just became more serious as I started rec diving. And then I got my first job. I ended up getting bigger and bigger cameras. 

I got my first job doing a sunken military ship show. And that’s what opened a lot for me as far as getting super serious about it. I mean, we always had the sharks, and we were always interested in them and filming them, but it was not like professional in that light, you know? And then it started to change for me, and my career went from being more of an artist to be more of a filmmaker,

M&C: Lauren, you spent your formative childhood years traveling extensively. You guys lived on a boat, but where did you go? How often were you out in the boat, and when did it click that this is where academically you wanted to dive deep in the ocean?

Lauren Romeiro: My parents had a boat when they were growing up as kids. So when they got older, they got a boat and wanted us to have the same experience. So throughout middle school, we would spend our summer vacations probably about four months at a time out on the water, and it was awesome. We did the great lakes, probably like four years in a row, and we would just spend four months on a boat at any given outing. That’s where I saw my first shark. 

I remember being out like on the boat, we were just riding, and I saw a fin come up, and I thought, oh my God, like, this is crazy. It’s a shark. We didn’t have a TV on the boat. I remember when I got home, I went and bought like every shark book. I looked for every shark film. I got so far into it.

My mom wanted to make sure that I like sharks and was not scared. I remember she had me watch Jaws, and I was like, ‘oh sure. It’s not like this.’ So I filmed my first shark in the ocean, just swimming right alongside the boat. 

I loved the movie, but I was like, this is not how sharks act. Then in high school, I did a bunch of internships and volunteer work to kind of get experience and see what I like and what I didn’t like. And then I ended up going to school and got a degree in Marine biology, and a master’s in oceanography started doing a bunch of different work.

I traveled to Fiji, Hawaii, South Africa, all over the place for internships and jobs and did whatever I could. It grew from there, and then I ended up landing back in Rhode Island after traveling all around and realized how many sharks we had here. So I’ve stayed here ever since.

M&C: Are there bad actor sharks who do hunt, and do people tend to make it easy for them in the summertime by swimming at the beach?

Joe Romeiro: There are more sharks killed by people every year. Nine people are killed every year by sharks, and a hundred million sharks are killed by people every year. So we kill three sharks every second. And I mean, with current protection laws, they only really protect one species of sharks out of 500. And so many of them are in a difficult position.

It’s more like they’re in danger from us, and we’re in danger from them. If they [sharks] were hunting us, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the water right now, and it’s like, the sharks must be horrible at doing it. 

Suppose they’re only getting nine per year. It’s one of those things that it’s. It’s mistaken identity situations, and they’re in all kinds of things that happened in the ocean that we just don’t understand. But that’s, what’s great about Shark Week is that we always get to go in there, we entertain, but we also really learn a lot, and we like to walk away with a better understanding of these animals.

I think a lot of what’s going on now, as far as protecting sharks and moving in that momentum is derived from us constantly every year, coming back to Shark Week and reminding ourselves that these animals are out there, they’re majestic and often, and we revere them in so many different ways, but at the same time, they’re still unprotected and out there and vulnerable.

And there’s a lot of them that we’re still starting to understand. You’d be really surprised. Most sharks are big and powerful and are these fantastic predators, but you know what? They’re pretty afraid of us.

M&C: The two movies that you are both featured in Ninja sharks, which is coming July 16. Talk to me about this particular film.

Joe Romeiro: Ninja Sharks is actually about specialized powers. Out of 500 species of shark, each shark has a specialized superpower, and all of them evolve that superpower to like this very specialized skill. So it looks in deep and all these different species of sharks and tries to highlight what is so different about them.

There are some astonishing things about sharks. Some hunt with speed, hunt with a body part, sit at the bottom and wait for things while others hunt. These different strategies have all grown various evolutions in different traits in these animals that fit these special highlights.

It’s cool. It’s one of the most extraordinary things about sharks because we only assume they just like swim, eat, make baby sharks. And, there’s a lot more to them. Each one of them has like these sort of superpowers that a lot of people don’t know,

M&C: Give me an example. Is there one in the description of this film? It says there’s some lurking in the ghostly shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina.

Joe Romeiro: Those are Sand Tiger sharks, and this species of shark travels slowly around the shipwrecks and kind of like keeps itself guarded against all the heavy currents in North Carolina. But it’s very, very fast. It’s so fast that if you approach it as if animals are disturbed in a way it can take off so quickly, it sends out a Sonic boom into the water. And it sounds like this really heavy thud. It’s pretty shocking. 

If you’re a diver and you’ve never seen one do it before, or even when you have seen one, once it does it in a flash, that animal that was just traveling so slow is gone. And you just like, that’s shock right in your face. It’s pretty intense. Thresher Sharks have a tail as long as their body and can. It runs up and, like scorpion-fashion, will hit schools of fish and with cavitation, which the same thing that the mantis shrimp does. 

The Thresher shark will strike so hard. Then it’ll cause a reaction, like fission. It’s called cavitation, where light, heat, and oxygen are produced from a snap of its tail. 

So it’s like a little mini-explosion, and all the fish around it just go limp. And then it just starts collecting the fish. Pretty amazing to watch. It’s like when you see the animal gear up, and they have footage of it, and when it gears up, it looks like a scorpion when it whips its tail at these fish. But when it does, it’s like what happens next? It’s amazing.

M&C: The second film that you both are involved in is Return to Shark Vortex, on the heels of Ninja Sharks, you’re in your home turf of New England. According to the liner notes, you are part of the expert panel of commentators talking about rough oceans and fierce predators.

Joe Romeiro: Return to Shark Vortex is a lot like, well, we were saying before, there are 500 species of sharks out of those species of shark. Five have developed a particular skill but a unique organ in their body that allows them to regulate their body temperature. We call them warm-blooded sharks, but it’s more complex than that. This animal can cool its body off when it’s in a hot situation and cold situation; it’s able to raise its body temperature. 

These sharks include the Mako shark, the Great White Shark, and little-known sharks, like the salmon sharks, the porbeagle shark, and the long fins. We look at these rare species, as well as the Mako and Great White.

And we like to look deeper into its life. We covered the three endothermic species that visit New England. And the third one we consider the Phantom. This one’s the harder one to find. There is a smarter one. 

The one that also exists in the coldest temperatures. So we have to like be out there and be in the snow in the ocean. To get, and it looks cool. It’s like a little great white it’s like this, this beautiful looking sharp that if you, if I, if I sat there and I told you what it was, you’d be like, that’s a great white. And it’s like, no, it’s called a porbeagle shark. It doesn’t have a very sexy name, but it derives from its behavior. 

The poor part of it is for porpoises, and the beagle part of it is for its sense of smell. It’s supposedly very athletic and playful, like the porpoise, and has an incredible sense of smell like a beagle. So, they put the two words together and call it the Porbeagle. We call it the Phantom.

And it’s more or less because when we see it, we’re not a hundred percent sure we know what we’re looking at yet. So we give it a good visual. We know we’ve seen a shark, but the animal has to come up for us to identify it that close to a Mako and a Great White that it needs eyes on it to be able to see it.

So, seeing these animals is very hard and very rare. And Lauren and I like to dive into that. Lauren has started a five-year project here in New England studying endothermic sharks.

M&C: This is exciting, and you hired Lauren, and you guys fell in love and got married?

Joe Romeiro: Well, she was booked on a job that I was also on, through a captain I had worked with before on an old boat. 

There was this photographer that I look up to, and he worked on that boat, and I worked on that boat too. The guy had come up to me, and he said, ‘Hey, you should meet Lauren. She’s into sharks. She reminds me of you. You’d like her.’  

We started talking, and then Lauren was hired as we needed help on the boat. So she came out, helped out on the boat, worked the season with us. And then, after that, it was just history. 

It was just kind of like we were already friendly from our first shoot together. And then we had another shoot together. Then finally we started working together and then it was downhill from there. I named our boat after her too. It’s called War Fish. But if you look up what it is, a War Fish is a beautiful little fish that lives inside a Portuguese Man O War tentacles.

Return To Shark Vortex – Airing Saturday, July 17 at 8 PM ET/PT on Discovery.

As the Shark Vortex retreats in the fall, sharks battle it out for dominance in New England’s icy waters. Experts Dr. Greg Skomal, Joe, and Lauren Romeiro brave rough oceans and fierce predators to capture new footage and insight of the phantom shark and reveal which shark reigns supreme. They are produced by Lucky 8.

Ninja Sharks: Mutants Rising – Airing Friday, July 16 at 8 PM ET/PT on Discovery.

In the icy waters of Alaska, off populated beaches of New York, and lurking in ghostly shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina, scientists and shark experts Dr. Craig O’Connell, Joe and Lauren Romeiro, Avery Paxton, Madeline Marens, and Hap Fatzinger have discovered three sharks that have developed unique and deadly ninja skills—produced by Future Legend Films.

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