REVIEW: ‘Secrets of the Whales’ is Beautiful and Intimate

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Secrets of the Whales

Secrets of the Whales is a new mini-series from National Geographic on Disney+ exploring the intricacies of the lives of orcas, humpbacks, belugas, and sperm whales. With famed documentarian and filmmaker James Cameron executive producing, Brian Armstrong and Andy Mitchell directing, and Sigourney Weaver narrating, the four-episode series is a gorgeous and dynamic look at ocean life that will have viewers fully immersed into the lives and cultures of these magnificent animals. Through a rich combination of storytelling and exploring the science of these amazing creatures, Secrets of the Whales is a compellingly beautiful watch.

Sigourney Weaver’s narration is superb. From being a narrative voice for a marine wildlife center in Finding Dory to now narrating this series, it’s a natural fit for the acclaimed actress and environmentalist. She clearly cares deeply about these creatures and implores that same care from her audience with her narration. Even when the depth of the material she is able to talk about is limited, it’s a stirring accompaniment to the gorgeously dynamic shots of the ocean and its marine life.

From Alaska to Norway, Patagonia, New Zealand, Dominica, Antarctica, and elsewhere, the filming crew has traveled all across the globe to bring audiences incredible footage. The cinematography is the best I’ve seen in any nature documentary and any documentary about whales or other marine life. The camera angles are various, and the shots are dynamic, engrossing viewers in the lives and actions of these marine giants. Watching this series, you’ll feel as though you’re swimming along with them as you learn about them. It’s an incredible watch.

There’s a keen emphasis through the mini-series on how similar the whales are to human society. The exploration of orca customs and cultures is mesmerizingly informative. How the matriarchs raise their calves, the family dynamics, and how the young learn to hunt are all so captivating. A particular moment when a mother orca offers a piece of prey to the human cameraman shows the depth of their intelligence and culture. The showcasing of Beluga communities’ similarities to human cultures and traditions receives great exploration, teaching us more about these elusive white whales. The exploration of the humpback language and how it entails specific body movements as well as clicks and whistles is constantly engaging. Sperm whales and other species’ usage of sound is very interesting and is the subject of keen analysis by the scientists. The series investigates migration patterns, how the whales teach their young to find feeding areas when they’re adults, how to hunt, and more fascinating tidbits of the lives of whales. Incredibly, the series also includes the first time Narwhal nursing has been captured on screen, as well as the first cross-whale-species adoption on screen.

Despite the sheer beauty and wonder of this series, it falters in one key area. While there’s a showcase of an orca being trapped in a fishing net in the first episode and two brief mentions of marine debris affecting populations of Sperm Whales and turtles in the last episode, the series barely touches upon human pollution and climate change and their effects on overall whale populations. There’s a brief mention of how sperm whale poop can help combat the phenomenon, but no other mention of climate change. There are so many scenes in the Arctic and Antarctic, but virtually no mention of melting glaciers and that potential effect on the whales, their migration patterns, and food resources.

We humans are responsible for so much harm on our planet, and the glaring omission of this subject is concerning. It shouldn’t feel like a relief that ocean debris is mentioned a few times in the whole series when it should be at the forefront. If they were only fully upfront and honest about this real aspect of the life of whales, and not so keened in on the mostly idealistic aspects they present, it would have made for a near-perfect series.

Secrets of the Whales is a beautiful and mesmerizing look at the lives of these wonderful cetaceans. Even while it doesn’t go far enough when discussing the manmade harms on these magnificent species, the explorations of their daily lives and struggles to survive are extraordinarily captivating. If the series had done more to explain what we can do to help preserve them and other marine life, it would not have felt incomplete. But for what it is, showcasing the lives of orcas, humpbacks, belugas, and sperm whales, it remains a very worthy watch.

You can watch all four episodes of Secrets of the Whales on Disney+.

Secrets of the Whales
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Secrets of the Whales is a beautiful and mesmerizing look at the lives of these wonderful cetaceans. Even while it doesn’t go far enough when discussing the manmade harms on these magnificent species, the explorations of their daily lives and struggles to survive are extraordinarily captivating. If the series had done more to explain what we can do to help preserve them and other marine life, it would have felt much more complete. But for what it is, showcasing the lives of Orcas, Humpbacks, Belugas, and Sperm Whales, it remains a very worthy watch.