Want to educate yourself about whales and the issues they face around the world? Documentaries are a great way to stay informed – we’ve put together five of our top recommendations. 

The Whale and the Raven 

Director Mirjam Leuze’s film is centred around the remote Gill Island, just off the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. It’s a biodiverse area at the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. Along with the whales and ravens namechecked in the title, the island is also home to wolves.

Two whale researchers, Hermann Meuter and Janie Wray, are drawn to the island to establish the Cetacea Lab. It studies this unique marine environment where humpback whales, orca, fin whales and porpoises live.

But a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exporting plant is being planned in the nearby community of Kitimat, bringing different factions into conflict. The whale researchers, the Gitga’at First Nation, the gas industry and the British Columbia Government are all players in what will unfold and the impacts on whales and other wildlife that call this region home.

2019. 1 hr 41 mins.

Born to be Free 

A ground breaking documentary made by three women, all of whom are free-divers who love to swim with dolphins and whales (Gayane Petrosyn, Tatian Beley and Julia Petrik). It investigates the dark and murky world of trading wild sea mammals.   

The idea for the film was sparked by news headlines in 2013 about the export of 18 beluga whales from Russia to the U.S. The sale was eventually blocked (in no small part due to campaigners around the world). While the three free-divers were delighted to hear the news, they were also left wondering what was the fate of the belugas.  

The team set out to find them, a journey that brought them to remote parts of Russia. It also made them witnesses to shocking treatments of whales, dolphins and walruses, fuelled by human greed.  

2016. 1 hr 24 mins.


The highly influential and often shocking documentary came out in 2013, three years after the death of SeaWorld orca trainer Dawn Brancheau.  

The unravelling of exactly what happened on the day of her death serves as the jumping point into the documentary. It then follows the story of Tilikum who spent only one year of his life as a wild orca in Iceland before he was captured and sold first to Sealand of the Pacific in Canada and then to SeaWorld Orlando.  

It forensically traces the environment and actions that shaped Tilikum’s behaviour and the tragic outcomes that ensued (the death of Dawn Brancheau was the third human fatality he was involved with). The film also reflects on the sad and lonely life of Tilikum himself, who would go on to die four years after the documentary’s release.  

Blackfish features plenty of other stories of whales in captivity and also highlights the death of trainer Alexis Martinez, fatally attacked by an orca at Loro Parque in Tenerife in 2009. One of Blackfish’s key strengths is the fascinating eye witness testimony provided by former SeaWorld orca trainers.  

The film opened the eyes and minds of millions of people around the world about how orca are treated in captivity and the ethics of keeping them in marine parks in the first place.

2013. 1 hr 30 mins.

The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 

This documentary is set around a goal – to follow an expert team of scientists searching for an elusive whale, the ‘52 Hertz Whale’.  

It’s believed this whale (thought to be a fin or blue whale or possibly a hybrid of both) has spent its entire life in solitude and uses a frequency different from other whales. Both of these factors make it the loneliest whale in the world. 

‘52’ was first discovered in 1992 when his mating call was picked up by US Navy underwater surveillance in the Pacific Ocean, and the story went viral thanks to a 2004 New York Times article.  

The film, directed by Joshua Zeman, follows the bioacoustics team’s quest to find ‘52’ and weaves in other stories to do with whales. These include the history of whaling, noise pollution and how it disturbs whales’ behaviour, and how the 1970 bestselling album Songs of the Humpback Whale introduced us to the beautiful vocals of our ocean giants and made us care more about their fate.  

2021. 1 hr 36 mins.

Sonic Sea 

Narrated by Rachel McAdams, this documentary takes a close look at sound in the ocean and how vital it is to the survival and prosperity of marine animals.  

The increasing amount of human activity in our waters is distributing this delicate balance and the film goes through several examples of this. The impact of industrial and military ocean noise on whales and other marine life is explored, including the link to unexplained mass strandings and the more long-term disturbance to whales’ behaviour and their ability to thrive and survive.  

Featuring interviews with a wide range of contributors including Ken Balcomb, the former pilot and acoustics expert who, more than 20 years ago, uncovered and exposed how naval sonar is killing whales.  

2016. 1 hr.