Whale Wisdom (Rick Rosenthal, 2019): USA

Reviewed by Kate Marsden. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2020.

The screening actually began with a short film, Whales Without Walls, in which the organization (with the same name) spoke about how they freed hundreds of marine animals from captivity in Russia and China. Whale Wisdom is a fascinating and beautiful documentary on the lives and behaviors of whales today. It’s narrated by David Attenborough which solidified in my mind that it was a respectable nature documentary. One of the first scenes show director and lead underwater cameraman, Rick Rosenthal, in his “stealth kayak” in pursuit of a humpback whale that is staking out how she’s going to go about getting her prey which happens to be a section of a salmon hatchery. This scene got a laugh out of the audience and rightfully so. There were various comedic moments throughout the documentary which I think is an important thing to include in projects such as this one so that younger audiences and viewers that aren’t necessarily huge fans of nature documentaries can enjoy them much more easily. As seen from the very first scene in the documentary, Rosenthal does a lot of hand held recording and really up close to the creatures as well.

I learned so much from this 49 minute documentary. For example, whales can hear each others’ heartbeats underwater. Teenage sperm whales play catch using a barnacle as a ball-footage like this is very rare to come by since sperm whales rarely ever come to the sunshine-y surface. Killer whales carry an emotional wisdom, experience distress and know when they’re losing someone they care about. This was shown when a trio of killer whale bros lost one of their young members because he was trying to catch an elephant seal on shore and ended up getting beached. The Central American wildlife center/group that was tracking this young whale tried to save him but soon realized that nothing else could be done to help the injured animal. They did notice however that his two friends were very close to shore, which is dangerous for them as well, waiting to see if their hurt friend would come swimming back to them. Gray whales surf! They use different tricks to catch the wave and females are attracted to the best surfer. I really enjoyed the way this scene was edited because some surf rock was put on in the background which made the scene that much more fun to watch. Humpbacks and sperm whales sometimes come up to humans just to say hi, which there were some sweet scenes that visualized this. Whale concerts can go on for hours. Humpbacks are perhaps the best representatives of cultural transmission when it comes to sharing/passing down/on their song(s). There were some really informative and fascinating shots/scenes on the musicality of whales.

At the Q&A that took place after the screening, Rosenthal said that it took to years to film Whale Wisdom but that drone technology advancement had helped to improve the filming of the project.

All in all, this was an educational and entertaining documentary that I hope would inspire its audiences to support conservation efforts to help keep whales and their habitats, safe and healthy.

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