British Columbia·Our Vancouver

Documentary follows 2 whale researchers deep into B.C. wilderness

The Whale and the Raven takes you underwater and deep into the hearts and minds of the two researchers who have spent much of their lives studying whale communication and how whales react to noise caused by tanker traffic.

Award-winning documentary The Whale and the Raven screens in Vancouver until Jan. 16 at Vancity Theatre

Producer Andrew Williamson describes the unique storytelling methods used in this documentary 6:49

Vancouver film producer Andrew Williamson loves northern coastal B.C., where he spent six months with a German and Canadian film crew in 2017.

This whale research station was built by Janie Wray and Hermann Meuter at Whale Point on the southern point of Gil Island in Gitga'at territory in British Columbia. (NFB)

Specifically, he and the crew spent time on Gil Island, situated on what's called Whale Channel, named for the pods of humpback, orca, fin whales, and porpoises that continuously pass through. 

The island is home to the Cetacea Lab, a unique land-based whale research station that is central to The Whale and the Raven. 

The film won the Artistic Merit Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2019. It also won the 2019 Science Communication Award at the CeneMare International Ocean Festival in Kiel, Germany.

Williamson, along with the National Film Board and German director Mirjam Leuze, produced a documentary that's as unique as the area itself.

The Whale and the Raven takes you underwater, on the edge of the coast, and deep into the hearts and minds of the two researchers — Hermann Meuter and Janie Wray — who have spent much of their lives studying whale communication and how whales react to noise caused by tanker traffic.

Janie Wray, co-founder of the Cetacea Lab, looks out at the water during a whale research excursion. (NFB)

Meuter and Wray had erected speakers on many trees on the island, amplifying the sound of what was going on in the water so you could stand on land and hear what was going on underneath the waves.

That was an experience Williamson, 47, had never had before. He wanted to allow others to experience it through a documentary film. 

The filmmakers gathered footage that would allow viewers to feel what it's like to be Wray as she quietly watches the day-to-day lives of the sea creatures. 

Hermann Meuter, co-founder of the Cetacea Lab, stands at the southern point of uninhabited Gil Island in Gitga'at territory. (NFB)

Meuter and Wray have been adopted into the the Ganhada (Raven) and Gisbudwada (Blackfish) clans and were allies of the Gitga'at Nation in their fight against oil tankers.

The production team worked with the First Nation to create a protocol that would ensure the process they took was transparent, respectful, and always collaborative. 

While the whale researchers are central characters in the film, the narrative doesn't shy away from big questions facing this province on both conservation and the oil and gas economy.

But ultimately The Whale and the Raven asks whether you believe whales are sentient beings. 

"And depending on how you answer that question, would you make decisions differently about tanker traffic and access to some of those fjords and channels," Williamson said. 

Janie Wray observing humpback whales from land — a method of research that is completely unobtrusive. (NFB)

The Whale and the Raven plays at Vancity Theatres in Vancouver until Jan. 16. 

 

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