Set against the waters of the North Atlantic, Last of the Right Whales shines a light on the rapidly decreasing numbers of the Right Whales. Dying at a rate of 24 per year at the hands of ships and fishing gear, these gentle giants are on the brink of extinction and require immediate attention. As their migration routes alter from the coast of Florida to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the film looks to the safety issues that the Right Whale faces on a daily basis and what our role may be in helping rebuild the population.
Directed by Nadine Pequeneza, Whales is a visually stunning, emotionally engaging and unexpectedly intense ride for a documentary about marine life. Featuring some truly spectacular footage, Pequeneza’s film serves as a reminder of the majesty of the Right Whales and the importance of reviving the species. With each splash and sighting, these beasts seem to bring new information about their beauty and value. Whether it’s their parenting abilities or their intelligence, Pequeneza’s amazing material feels like an education into the lives of the Right Whales and their significance. (Incidentally, it’s worth noting that this footage was particularly difficult to get as well. Because government restrictions forbid boats from drawing closer than 100m to the endangered beasts, special permission needed to be sought out in order to capture the whales on film.)
Whereas past documentaries on the subject have often portrayed fisherman as the villains in this story, Whales frequently does the opposite. Although there are those who remain frustrated by the new migration routes, the film also shows a number of fishermen who are absolutely humbled by these gentle giants. To them, encounters with these creatures are truly special moments. While the deaths of these creatures may fall at the hands of errant boats and rope, it is not out of lack of care. Instead, there is a genuine appreciation for the whales that speaks to their souls and often leaves them overwhelmed by the beauty of ocean life.
This deep reverence adds to the piece, giving it an emotional edge that eludes other docs of this nature. (Pun intended) Just like the fisherman themselves, Whales pleads with the viewer to understand the responsibility that we have in order to help revive the whale population. Rather than simply highlight the plight of these lovable beasts, Pequeneza uses the platform to highlight the new technologies and opportunities that fishermen have that can help open space for them. While one does wish that more time had been spent within the film wrestling with the economic ramifications for the fishing industry, Pequeneza clearly believes that that is not the point of the conversation. For her, the question is less about how these changes will affect the industry and more about the immediacy that needs to be taken regarding the opportunities to help the fading whale population.
Balancing information and beautiful footage, Last of the Right Whale is a fascinating and moving journey. With fervent love, Pequeneza’s passion for her subject shines through as she fights to protect this dying species. As a result, the viewer can’t help but hope that these truly are not the last of the Right Whales.
To hear our interview with director Nadine Pequeneza, click here.
Last of the Right Whales premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival on Sunday, September 26th, 2021 and continues to screen there throughout the Fest.