Courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council

November 9, 2016

Sonic Sea: An Ocean of Emotion

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It’s no secret that humans are destroying the earth at an alarming rate. However, not much is being done because not enough people care. The 60-minute documentary Sonic Sea explores the impact of noise pollution on whales and other marine mammals and presents possible solutions and measures that can be taken to prevent more harm.

The documentary opens with an animation of the sea, along with soothing music, setting the stage for an emotional journey that could make any landlubber want to do anything in their power to save our oceans and marine mammals.

The film first explores the increasing number of whale and dolphin beachings and features several scientists each giving their take on the situation, as well as mildly graphic images of the stranded animals. Among the first to speak is Dr. Christopher Clark, senior scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. There is a certain feeling that comes with being a Cornell student and seeing a Cornell researcher on a documentary that won six awards and was a featured selection at 16 film festivals; the impact of the film becomes greater due to that connection.

Once the problem has been established, the documentary goes on to explain what ocean noise is and how it negatively affects marine mammals. Throughout most of the film, there is an underlying attempt to grab ahold of the audience’s emotions and empathy. When ocean noise is being explained, as well as throughout most of the film, examples of the ocean cacophony are played, all unpleasant and loud noises. Additionally, one of the speakers mentions that “the whales can’t turn the volume down” the way we are accustomed to when we wear headphones.

Occasionally, short animations are included to illustrate points and present information such as statistics clearly. They did not distract from the main point or diminish the gravity of the information being presented, but rather made it more understandable, especially to people who do not devote their life to research on ocean noise or marine mammals. Additionally, the documentary focused on information that we don’t normally think about, such as how much more sound travels underwater than on land, and just how much louder the ocean is.

To increase empathy and encourage the audience to take action, Rachel McAdams, who appeared in Mean Girls, The Notebook and Wedding Crashers, narrated the documentary, and the musician Sting spoke several times. They were both presented to the audience to demonstrate that well-known individuals are working to reduce ocean noise and get more people to make an effort.

There was a segment during which three of the researchers, including Dr. Clark, described their first real encounter with whales. One individual said, “When you look in the eyes of a whale, they see your soul.” This line was meant to touch the audience and induce even more emotion, and it did so. The whole documentary targeted the audience’s emotions, as tends to be the case when it comes to issues regarding wildlife. As I glanced around the theater, I could see that everyone was immersed in the film. I could see that everyone felt something, and I did too.

Following this emotional climax, solutions to ocean noise are presented and explored. While oil companies, shipping and the military are blamed, only a few of these groups are given a chance to speak in the documentary, making the film seem slightly one-sided. However, there did not seem to be a need to include opinions from them, as it was made clear that they were the culprits.

Towards the end of the documentary, Dr. Clark said that “it’s easier not to do anything than to do something.” When the screening was over, Dr. Clark hosted a question and answer panel, in which he was more than willing to answer anyone’s questions or listen to any comments. He made it clear that the whole point of the film was to expose the impact of ocean noise on marine mammals and that anyone can do something to help, rather than make the audience feel that because they lack a Ph.D they cannot contribute to the cause.

Overall, Sonic Sea was neither a boring documentary full of meaningless facts nor one that simply induced pity for a cause, but rather the perfect medium. It featured various speakers, emotional moments, and great writing and information. While the method used to grab the audience was mostly empathy and emotion, it was not overdone at all. Sonic Sea can definitely captivate and move an audience in a beautiful way.

Viridiana Garcia is a freshman in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]