ECOLOGY: The making of this film is itself an integral part of a drama involving the Chinese mafia, Mexican fishermen pushed into crime, fearless activists, frightened policemen and a rare species of mini whales.
Anders Dunker
Dunker is a Norwegian philosopher, and regular contributor.
Published date: June 16, 2019

At a pre-screening of The Sea of Shadows at Soho House, West Hollywood, we met crewmembers of the anti-poaching activist ship Sea Sheperd together with the two other characters in the documentary, among them the Italian investigator Andrea Crosta and former CIA and FBI intelligence officer Mark Davis. Their organization, Elephant Action League (EAL) had formerly worked with Austrian director Richard Ladkani on the Oscar-shortlisted film The Ivory Game.

Crosta’s aim is to track down and help dismantle the international criminal networks trading illegal wildlife, now the fourth largest illegal trade on the planet: «For too long we have focused on the poachers and the buyers at the other end,» he says in his introductory talk, «The people running these illegal networks don’t care about either: they don’t care about confiscations, arrests or inefficient awareness campaigns. Their business is thriving, and nobody goes at them,» Crosta says.

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The first scene of The Sea of Shadows takes place at night, at sea, in a wild boat chase where poachers, armed and ready to attack try to shake off the environmentalists. Later, we see them firing shots at their drone, eventually losing the image from the night vision camera, and are left, with them, in the dark.

A global war to save the wildlife

The Sea of Cortez, which the activists try to protect, is at the Pacific coast of Mexico, in an area that marine documentary pioneer Jacques Cousteau called «the aquarium of the world». Like so many other precious places on our planet, this rich stretch of ocean, with its dolphins, whale sharks, and hundreds of species of fish is in decline and might be devastated in a few years. The main problem is not over-fishing, but the workings of global criminal networks.

The main problem is not over-fishing, but the workings of global criminal networks.

Sponsored by middlemen with connections abroad, the local fishermen buy gillnets that are perfect for catching Totoaba, «the cocaine of the sea». The swimming bladders of the Totoaba are sold at astronomical prices in China – up to $40.000 each, as they are believed to have healing powers. For Chinese mafia groups, this also makes them a perfect instrument for money laundering. As if this poaching wasn’t bad enough, gillnets also catch everything else: dolphins, sea turtles, and the tiny, elusive Vaquita whale, a …

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