There are places on this planet where it’s a marvel that anything survives.
But in the cold Arctic waters of the far north, the sea is alive with sound. The canaries of the sea are singing. They're beluga whales, named from the Russian word for “white ones.” They’re an evolutionary surprise—a warm-blooded mammal in a numbingly cold sea. Resembling curious ghosts, these intelligent mammals use one of the most complex sonars of any animal.
Belugas inhabiting Cook Inlet, close to Anchorage, were added to the list of endangered species in October 2008. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated that a decade-long recovery program had failed to ensure the whales' survival. The relationship between people and belugas is ancient. For more than 4,000 years, hunters of the north have depended on these whales for their own survival in a land with little to offer. These traditional cultures have now partnered with scientists and modern technology to protect the beluga, which in turn, ensures their own future. Yet these efforts are only a small part of the story as new discoveries have raised troubling questions about the health of belugas and their long-term survival.
Their world is now ground zero for climate change, and what threatens them is not confined to the Arctic, it’s global. What lies ahead for the beluga could become prophesy for many species everywhere, including our own.
“I’ve always said that if you protect the ocean you protect yourself and it’s never been more true, especially when you think about belugas and contaminants and the implications for human health,” stated Jean-Michel Cousteau. “But maybe it is worth protecting the beluga just for its own sake, for the beauty of its songs, and for the warmth of its social groups, and for their lifelong bonds to each other in the cold Arctic Ocean. Maybe protecting the beluga for its own sake improves us and helps us to define who we are. Protecting the beauty and wonder of these creatures and the natural world may be as essential to our spirit as food is to our bodies. I believe it’s important after all, that the sea continues to be filled with these songs.”
Sea Ghosts is shot in high-definition and is narrated by Anne Heche.