Q: What inspired this story?
Nick came across a scientific article back in 2015 about wide-ranging Soviet illegal whaling that had taken place during the Cold War, and we were shocked that we had never heard about this. The more we looked into this slaughter, the more astounded we became at the extent both of the crime and of the cover-up. We realized that although largely unknown, these actions, in addition to all of the other whaling throughout the past few centuries, have far-reaching repercussions which are still impacting our oceans today.
Q: Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film/program?
The main challenges in making this film were twofold: tracking down and interviewing people with first-hand knowledge of what transpired over 50 years ago, and capturing wildlife that wasn’t always cooperative, in often challenging conditions. Making it more complicated was that the primary protagonists were in disparate parts of Russia, Ukraine, and New Zealand. As for filming the whales, we experienced some harsh winter storms at sea in small boats, and the whales’ behavior wasn’t always predictable.
Q: What impact do you hope this film/program will have?
We hope that people will come away with a greater appreciation of the importance of whales and the interconnectedness of life in the oceans. We appreciate the opportunity to have our film screened here at Jackson Wild where perhaps it will inspire some of the audience to continue the Save the Whale campaign which began in the 1970’s.
Q: Were there any surprising or meaningful moments/experiences you want to share?
We had never been aware of an incredibly impressive man, Dr. Alexey Yablokov, who had been responsible for many important things over his lifetime, including revealing the existence and magnitude of the Soviet Union’s intentional illegal whaling throughout the Cold War. Despite formidable political opposition, Alexey was an idealistic force of nature and was extremely inspirational to us. We learned of his courageousness in defending not only nature but also the nascent democracy of Russia. It was humbling to be able to meet such an idealistic individual.
Q: Any fun facts about the film/program, the subject matter or the production crew that might surprise the audience?
We spent a lot of time filming right whales and were surprised by how agile and boisterous they can be. The calves especially were often quite energetic and playful, interacting with anything or anyone they found interesting, whether it was agile sea lions or less agile humans. A number of times we retreated to our support boat when the calves got too animated. Fun fact – adult right whales also have the largest testes in the animal kingdom.
Q: What's next?
While we were filming The Witness Is the Whale, we learned that despite some whale populations recovering quite well, others are still in danger of extinction. We are currently in production with a film about some of those threatened populations.