Entangled Review: The Fight to Save Right Whales

Doc looks at both sides of a manmade disaster

4 mins read

Entangled: The Race to Save Right Whales from Extinction
(USA, 75 min.)
Dir. David Abel


The fight to protect the whales is at the heart of several environmental movements. From the Save the Whales campaign with Greenpeace and much earlier anti-whaling legislation in the USA, these large marine mammals have become symbols for humankind’s devastating impact on the natural world. Entangled looks at a new chapter in the plight of the world’s whale population: that of entanglement, which happens when whales become caught in the fishing lines strewn about the ocean. The consequences of entanglement, at best, lead to quick deaths for whales that suffocate. Whales that aren’t so lucky suffer slowly as the undulations of the waves cut the fishing line through their flesh and into the bone, leading to overdrawn painful deaths.

The doc looks at how entanglement harms right whales specifically and how the fight to save these creatures is tangled up in the plight of a fragile economy on which coastal communities survive. Charting through the waters at breakneck speed — the doc’s broadcast-style editing is a little dizzying — Entangled zeroes in on a conflict between lobster harvesters in Maine and environmentalists seeking to save right whales from the lines of lobster traps. The film speaks with scientists and activists who have the data to prove that right whale populations are plummeting. Their research, moreover, directly attributes the deaths of North Atlantic right whales to human activity in most cases in which they can determine the cause of death. They say the whales will be extinct in 20 years without immediate changes in human behaviour.

The lobstermen, however, generally offer saltier perspectives. They know the whales are dying and they don’t see much purpose in working around the inevitable. “Fuck ‘em,” is literally the response of one lobster fisher.

Not all the lobstermen are so crass, however, and Entangled admirably observes as both sides come together in search of a viable solution. Entangled explains the complexities of the lobster-driven economy and shows the burden that families and small businesses carry when they shoulder the brunt of a global issue. Similarly, it unpacks the human activity to show the scale of devastation on whale population—and offers some gnarly, graphic images of whales that have been killed by entanglement. (Footage of a necropsy is not for the squeamish.)

Entangled covers a lot of terrain and the hurried pace of the doc sometimes makes the info hard to digest, and the excessive editing proves occasionally disorienting, especially when the doc bridges dialogue between speakers and shots. Entangled nevertheless offers an informative, balanced, and carefully considered approach to an immediate crisis and a larger challenge at hand. If humans are directly responsible for the harm caused to the natural world, should the solutions not come from us as well?

Entangled screens in Montreal and Vancouver as part of the Impact Series beginning June 18.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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