Journalist Carlos Loret De Mola photographing a totoaba swim bladder. (Terra Mater Factual Studios/Richard Ladkani)
New documentary Sea of Shadows From Richard Ladkani is an urgent call to action.
The vaquita porpoise is one of the smallest mammals in the world; it’s also one of the most elusive mammals and it is on the brink of extinction. Richard Ladkani directs Sea of Shadows and if you’re familiar with Ladkani’s work and you’ve seen The Ivory Game (Netflix), you’ll know that of Sea of Shadows is not going to be a documentary that just looks at the vaquita. We’re not going to be watching a Planet Earth type show gawking at this mysterious creature. He takes us into the Sea Of Cortez to show us how humans need to act now to save not just the Sea of Cortez, not just the planet, but the Vaquita.
Ladkani takes us down to the Sea of Cortez, a few hours from Los Angeles where the Totoba and the Vaquita live. As of this very sentence, there are fifteen vaquitas left and if not for the Sea Shepherds and heroes out there, they would be extinct.
There is a belief in Chinese medicine is that the totoaba has healing powers and helps people look younger. And for that, a kilo of the swim bladder from the totoaba can fetch $22,000. It’s been called the “cocaine of the ocean. Cartels seek out the totoaba to sell them on.
The problem is among all this, the Vaquita gets caught in the fishing nets and it has taken a toll on their existence.
Sea of Shadows is a gripping and urgent narrative following this supply chain and the investigators and conservationists. What the viewer is watching is an emergency call to action, trying to get governments to act and save the marine life and the vaquita. It’s a devastating watch, seeing what traffickers are doing to our oceans while the Sea Shepherds work frantically to get rid of the nets. In the middle of it all is a web of corruption that spans far beyond the Sea of Cortez.
The demand requires the supply, but does the swim bladder really have healing purposes? Either way, the cartels have a business, and they’re working on acquiring those bladders.
Ladkani gathers Andrea Crosta (Elephant Action League), Cynthia Smith (VaquitaCPR), Carlos Loret De Mola and others to tell his urgent story. He uses drones to capture fishing boat pursuits by night. He interviews with faceless investigators who don’t want to risk being exposed as they bring us this truth. It raises an awareness that we need to act now or continue to destroy our planet and oceans.
When Ladkani’s The Ivory Game was released, the film exposed the dark world ivory trade and after its release, the ivory trade was banned in China.
Sea of Shadows is a gripping watch, there’s the thriller aspect as we go into the world of trafficking, but ultimately, it transcends a nature documentary; it is an ecosystem crisis that led to Leonardo Di Caprio getting involved to help spread the word via his platforms. At the premiere the other night, Jane Goodall came out to speak at the event and show her support. The documentary has traveled to Washington. Work is being done. The film is being seen. One can hope that with this spotlight on the film, we can triumph in saving the Vaquita from extinction and that governments will pay attention.