Have you heard of the North Atlantic right whale? A gigantic mammal, with lengths up to 17 meters long and a life span of up to 70 years. Long-lived, massive, and, just by image alone, beautiful. Yet they are currently critically endangered, with approximately only 400 wild whales left in the global population, and with this number steadily declining, soon there might not be any of them left.
What is the main reason for this decline and rapid movement towards the extinction of the Right Whale? The answer is simple, fishing lines. However, a solution is not as straightforward, as it is shrouded in the interests of many different people who must collectively determine the fate of these animals–whether it be extinction or restoration.
This is explored in the new documentary Entangled directed by David Abel, a reporter at the Boston Globe and a previous Pulitzer-prize winner. The movie will “dive deep” into the history and current status of the North Atlantic right whale, a species on the brink of extinction. It will also explore the collision between fisheries (particularly the North American lobster industry), environmental activists, and American and Canadian governmental institutions in the save the whales movement.
We were able to speak with David Abel about the upcoming film and its purpose.
“I think the film has already raised awareness about the threat to North Atlantic Right Whales and the impact we, as human beings are having on them. Particularly, the threat of entanglements.” He stated.
Abel added that this film is already the motivating factor for many conservation efforts, such as the release of a biological opinion on the status of right whales by the U.S. federal government. Additionally, Abel thought it important that this film, in pressing for the protection of this whale species, also gave everyone (regardless of their position in the save the whales movement) a chance to speak on the issue.
“My goal was to present, in as much nuance as possible, the different points of view on each side of the debate. There are just so many different perspectives.”
This debate, Abel added was complex as it divided the central groups amongst themselves; there are pro-whale and anti-whale fishers, conservations who want to ban all fishing lines and those who believe that some should remain for the fishing industry, and politicians who land on either side of the movement to save the right whales.
“My hope is by portraying the conflicts in as human terms as possible, with as many facts as possible, with empathy for all the different sides, that there will be a recognition that we need to balance these important interests to reach an actual resolution on saving the whales,” Abel stated.
Abel explained that the North Atlantic right whale has seen its population collapse by over 25% in a decade, because of human activity, and something must be done to stop this. He wanted the film to allow everyone (including the industry) to understand that this is not a “fictitious threat”. However, Abel also wanted to detail how important the lobster fishery business was to many people and to the economy. And how this was being impacted by climate change, such that fishing was chasing lobsters deeper into cooler parts of the ocean and colliding with the whale populations.
Of course, the film’s focus was also to showcase the brutality of the right whale’s extinction and, as Abel stated, “did not sanitize” the vicious way in which these animals died. Tied up in fishing lines that cut deep, drowning from them, and finally washed up on the shore. There was no way to ignore the fact that these deaths were happening and the documentary wanted audiences to be incumbent of that information. And hopefully, these audiences might take the emotions felt by watching these mortalities to act in saving these magnificent animals. Abel added,
“The UN actually estimated that by the end of this century, we are likely to lose as many as a million species. I was blown away by that statistic…how do you even begin to convey something like that? I thought if you could tell the story of one species in this large that people could empathize with, that would be the story of the right whale.”
Abel concluded the conversation with one of his favorite lines from the documentary,
“If you can’t save a great whale from extinction, what can you save?”
The film Entangled will be released in select Canadian markets on June 18, 2021, and will expand nationally on July 2, 2021, in collaboration with the Sherry Media Group. This film will be launched as the premiere of the second season in the IMPACT SERIES–an original film and speaker series focused on educating and connecting consumers to take action in solving social and environmental issues.
Keep a lookout on the below social media platforms so that you can be the first to watch Entangled and the other incredible films in the Impact series!
Ishani Dasgupta is majoring in Environment, Resources, and Sustainability (ERS), while also pursuing a minor in English & Literature Studies, at the University of Waterloo. She is a dedicated environmental writer and has worked throughout the course of her career to write about the challenges faced by communities, natural spaces, and activists alike regarding the destruction of the natural environment–she is interested in exploring global inequities created by the current Anthropocene. In her free time, Ishani likes to make music, read, and go on nature walks. Ishani is taking on the role of an editorial intern for Alternatives Journal (A/J).