Tag Archives: Smithsonian

Amusing Monday: Entering the world of
a top ocean predator

I was quite impressed when I watched this video of a diver cutting away a thick rope that had been slicing into the flesh of a massive whale shark. The animal, spotted 300 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, remained calm throughout the operation.

Daniel Zapata, dive team leader aboard the Solmar V cruise ship, said the divers knew it might be dangerous to cut the whale shark free, but it was heartbreaking for them to watch while the animal was suffering.

“We talked about it for some time between dives,” Zapata said in a question-and-answer interview with Joanna McNamara of Project Aware. “When we saw the whale shark again, I knew I had to help. It felt so good to cut this whale shark free. I found a thinner section of the rope and cut through it. I unwrapped the rope from each side of the whale shark and finally she was free.”

The action may have saved the life of the pregnant female and her unborn offspring, according to observers.

This video was featured on the Smithsonian Channel as part of the latest series “Secrets of Shark Island.” The “secret,” according to promotional material, is that the Revillagigedo Islands, some 200 miles from the Mexican coast, is home to one of the greatest concentrations of fish in the world.

“This is the only natural juncture for miles in an otherwise empty Pacific Ocean and a crucial area for migrating sharks and other apex predators,” states the Smithsonian Channel website. “Enter a world where whitetip sharks, giant lobsters and moray eels share living quarters, humpback whales breed, and mantas and tuna feast on bait in this land of plenty.”

The Smithsonian Channel has been going a little crazy over sharks the past few years. But it isn’t just about sharks. It’s about the people who love them. Two years ago, we were introduced to “Shark Girl” aka Madison Steward, who grew up around sharks on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and is as fearless as they come around the sharp-toothed creatures. See second video on this page.

“Sharks are misunderstood like no other creature, to the point where it is actually contributing to their slaughter,” Madison told Gerri Miller of Mother Nature Network. “I think it has a lot to do with media, but also that people cannot go and see them for themselves and learn the truth.

“Sharks are NOT what you think,” she continued, “and myself and many other people spend hours in the water with large sharks and feed them at ease on regular occasions. They are the apex predators, and nature doesn’t make animals like this for no reason. They are essential in our oceans. In previous years, the decimation of the shark population has caused the surrounding ecosystem to collapse. They are truly the ‘boss’ of our oceans.”

The third video is something of a personal manifesto from Madison Stewart, spoken in a voice-over as she swims in an awe-inspiring underwater world with ethereal music playing in the background.

If you think you know sharks, take a quiz from MNN.

Want to see more amazing sharks and stories from people involved with them? Check out these videos from Smithsonian Channel:

“Secrets of Shark Island” series

“Shark Girl” series

“Death Beach” series

“Great White: Code Red” series

“Hunt for the Super Predator” series

Also, “Shark Girl” Madison Stewart has produced some fine videos since she was 14 years old. Watch them on the Madison Stewart website, “Good Youth in a Bad Sea.”

New movie about Luna ready for Seattle release

UPDATE: Aug. 30, 2011

The world premiere of “The Whale” took place Aug. 20 in the Faroe Islands, where promoters hoped they could encourage changes in a long tradition of hunting pilot whales. Check out reports on “The Whale” website and a blog entry by Leah Lemieux, author of “Rekindling the Waters.”

U.S. openings of the film are scheduled for Sept. 9 at SIFF Cinema in Seattle and The Grand Cinema in Tacoma, followed by openings in New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver, B.C. See the film’s screenings page.

It appears that the much-anticipated movie about Luna, the killer whale, will soon be released in Seattle, New York City and Washington, D.C., according to an e-mail from the filmmakers, Suzanne Chisholm, Mike Parfit, and David Parfit. A new trailer for “The Whale” (view below) was recently released.

Luna was a 2-year-old male orca who belonged to the Southern Resident community of whales that frequent the Salish Sea. He somehow became separated from his family and took up an isolated existence in Nootka Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Suzanne Chisholm and Mike Parfit spent months filming Luna and eventually produced an independent film called “Saving Luna.” But they were unable to gain mass distribution for the award-winning film until actor-producer Ryan Reynolds took an interest.

From their e-mail:

The Whale is a new film, narrated by Ryan Reynolds. Like the movie Saving Luna, it also tells the story of Luna. In some ways you could say that The Whale is based on Saving Luna, which won 25 awards from around the world. But has been completely re-edited, re-written, and newly narrated to make it clear and accessible to an international audience of all ages.

“Our executive producers, Ryan Reynolds, Scarlett Johansson, and Eric Desatnik, have given us terrific feedback and suggestions for how to streamline and improve the storytelling, and we have added a significant amount of new footage as well. But, to reassure those who love the original film, it has not been turned into something crassly Hollywood. The same basic creative team has been at the heart of the new movie, and we are very happy about how it has turned out.”

The release date and advance theaters have not yet been announced.

Mike wrote an article for the July-August issue of Smithsonian magazine explaining how the project would not have come together without new digital film technology.

I’ve written before about my coverage of Luna’s story for the Kitsap Sun — including a trip to Nootka Sound, where I met Suzanne and Mike. By the time I arrived, they had made real connections with the local residents of the area — largely, I think, because they did not impose themselves on others the way some people with video cameras will do.

I was chosen by the Canadian government to be the U.S. pool reporter for print media. I was given special access to cover the effort to capture Luna and return him to his family in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A Water Ways entry on Aug. 10, 2010, updates the Luna film project and includes links to the stories I wrote.

One segment of the film (click here to view) talks about people’s desire to touch Luna, who would come alongside boats and docks and practically beg to be petted. My wife Sue, who had come with me to help out, loves animals of all kinds. A few times we were down on the docks in the evening when Luna swam up. I followed the government’s orders not to interact with Luna, who had already become “habituated” to humans, as they say. I also would not allow Sue to approach him, though it killed her to be so close and not get even closer.

“You need to stay back,” I told her. “I can see the stories now: ‘Reporter’s wife arrested for petting a whale, while he covers the story about people illegally petting the whale.’”

It was an unusual story, all the way around, and I look forward to the film version of “The Whale.” Developments can be followed on Facebook.