Island of the Sea Wolves
(3 x 45 min.)
Dir. Jeff Turner
Meet Cedar, Dagger, Jasper, and Blaze. They’re a handful of the sea wolves that roam Vancouver Island. These handsome creatures are unique to the island, with only 200 or so left roaming the shores. They’re the stars of Netflix’s latest nature doc series Island of the Sea Wolves. Narrated with jocular gravity by funnyman Will Arnett, doing a fun spin on the voice-of-god narration favoured by the Sir David Attenboroughs of other nature series, Island of the Sea Wolves creates vivid characters with the animals that inhabit the island. The series observes animals’ struggles to raise families, feed their young, and keep pace with climate change. Amazing cinematography captures the animals at their cutest and fiercest as the call of the wild beckons them. Island of the Sea Wolves offers much to teach audiences of all ages about the cycles of Vancouver Island’s rich, dense, and intricate ecosystem.
Island of the Sea Wolves structures its story across three seasons as the animals anticipate a harsh winter. Episode one, “Spring,” introduces Cedar as the key wolf in the pack. She is pregnant, but also forced out of her group amid a “love triangle.” Alpha girl Dagger is also pregnant with the pups of alpha male Jasper. Jasper’s fondness for the stronger female, moreover, leaves Cedar foraging the forest for scraps. While Arnett’s voiceover gears the series towards younger audiences by anthropomorphizing the animals, there’s a novel dramatic angle to the rivalry. Director/series producer Jeff Turner creates compelling emotional arcs with Cedar and her pups. Without oversimplifying the nuances of the animal kingdom, or the complex ecosystem, the series situates the wolves’ fight for sustenance within the hardships of the food chain.
“The Great Exchange”
For example, as animals bring fish into the forest and inevitably leave scraps behind, Arnett describes “the great exchange.” This process explains how predators like Cedar and Dagger bring prey from the shore to the woodland. Island of the Sea Wolves shows how the unique cycle of sea/land decomposition contributes to the lush greenery of the old growth forests. “The ocean nurtures all life on the island,” Arnett explains. Later episodes highlight the role of spores, fungus, and salmon spawning within the circle of life. As Cedar et al search to feed their young, their story intersects within other wildlife on the hunt.
Spiro and Misty, for example, are two bald eagles raising chicks in their nest. They compete with similar challenges among the elements. Spiro, a shoddy fisher, struggles amid high winds and storms. Breathtaking drone footage captures the eagles in flight and gets right into their nest to observe their chicks and the harsh reality of survival. There’s some truly spectacular footage here, particularly when the doc focuses on the eagles. It lets viewers witness an eagle’s growth from hatching to first flight to mighty hunter. Island of the Sea Wolves rewards the film team’s patience as there’s great drama of these birds in action. They scrap with rivals, scoop fish from the water, and face tragic loss.
Sea Otters Delight
Then there are the true stars of the series. Sea otter Sky and her son Rocky arguably steal the show. They float in the ocean as Sky keeps Rocky warm with her body. The danger here is that she leaves Rocky unprotected—cold and vulnerable to predators—as she dives for clams to feed them. While young viewers might find themselves rapt with suspense as Rocky floats defenselessly, there is no sight to be found in the series quite like this mother-son duo scarfing down clams. It’s rivalled only by Rocky’s delight with sea barnacles, which he attacks like a kid in a candy store. The crisp, intimate footage gives audiences a proximity to animals one could never enjoy in the wild
Island of the Sea Wolves finds further drama in the sister duo of Bonnie and Esmerelda. These girls are among a dwindling pack of relocated marmots. They come and go from their safe box atop a rocky lookout. However, a hungry cougar preys upon the pack. The series constructs some action sequences as Bonnie and Esmerelda tag team their expeditions for food. The drama with the sisters is a series highlight, as is the impressive footage of the role that teamwork plays in the marmots’ survival. Riveting eyeline matches and shot/reverse shot editing constructs some gripping hunting sequences as the girls evade and outwit the cougar.
While Island of the Sea Wolves doesn’t rewrite nature documentary conventions, it creates an engaging portrait of the Canadian wilderness. The documentary gives audiences a trip to the zoo complete with the full audio tour from the comfort of home. From the spectacular imagery to the memorable characters, the series offers informative, entertaining, and strikingly cinematic viewing.