The Beacon

Blog Tags: Arctic

Q&A with 'To The Arctic' Filmmakers

ToTheArctic

To the Arctic showcases unique Arctic species like polar bears. ©IMAX

Oceana had a chance to talk to Greg and Shaun MacGillivray, the producers of To the Arctic, an IMAX 3D film that explores the changing landscape of the Arctic and the animals that call it home. Here's what they had to say about survivng the cold and falling in love with a family of polar bears.

Q: Without revealing any spoilers, what is To the Arctic going to show us that we’ve never seen before?

To The Arctic is the first 3D IMAX film ever shot in the Arctic, and because of the immersive, experiential quality of 3D IMAX footage shown on screens 80 feet tall, audiences will feel like they have been transported to this incredibly wild and pristine place without even having to put a parka on. We were extremely lucky while shooting in Norway to find a mother polar bear and her two cubs willing to let us follow and film them at close range for five days straight, which is unprecedented. Polar bears are usually skittish around humans and will avoid them. But this mother was completely comfortable with us and even seemed to like having us nearby. The result is that we were able to capture extremely rare, close-up footage showing the daily lives of a polar bear family in a changing Arctic, and the incredible lengths to which this mother went to protect and nurture her cubs. We saw her fend off four different attacks by hungry male polar bears in five days, and we have it all on film. 

Q: What were some of the challenges filming in Arctic conditions?

In the Arctic we were primarily filming wildlife, which is hard enough in normal conditions. But the extreme cold and wind and remoteness of our locations made it even more difficult than usual. When you’re filming wildlife, there is a lot of waiting and searching for the animals, and then you want to try to capture a variety of animal behaviors, so you have to give yourself lots of time. We were in the field much longer for To The Arctic  than for any of our other films—about 8 months over four years—and we were never really comfortable. On one trip, during our three-week stay aboard an icebreaker in Norway, the showers weren’t working, so we didn’t bathe for 21 days straight! For the underwater crew filming under the ice cap, the conditions were even more challenging. They were filming in water that was 29 degrees Fahrenheit, literally “liquid ice.” Only the salt content in the water kept it from freezing. It was so cold that their longest dive was only 45 minutes. Any longer and their hands would have become completely frozen.

Q: How different was diving in the Arctic compared to California? 

Well, for one thing, we were filming polar bears underwater, which you don’t find too often in California. To get the shots, we relied on Bob Cranston, a brave underwater cinematographer who has photographed alligators, great white sharks, venomous snakes, and now, the fiercest predator of all--polar bears. They are eating machines, so we sent in Bob. He invented a way to film them by diving down below them, then waiting for the bear’s natural curiosity to cause them to investigate our cameras. If the bears got too close for comfort, Bob would sink down out of range. Polar bears don’t like to dive too deep—the deepest we saw them dive was about 20 feet—so as long as Bob picked spots where the water was deeper than that, he felt relatively safe.   


Continue reading...

‘Frozen Planet’ Raises Climate Questions

Sunday night, Discovery Channel aired the final episode of the Frozen Planet series that aired on the BBC last year.

This episode featured Sir David Attenborough visiting both poles – huddled by a sedated polar bear in the Arctic, hollering over the extreme winds at his Antarctic campsite – reminding the audience of a cold reality regarding any species’ survival: it’s adapt or die.


Continue reading...

Shell Sues Oceana, Others Over Arctic Drilling

You’ve probably heard that Shell is planning to drill in Arctic waters. But now the plot thickens: In a bizarre move, Shell has decided to preemptively sue a group of environmental groups, including Oceana, to attempt to silence our voices and remove our right to challenge their spill response plan.

Naturally environmentalists have been fighting against Shell’s plan — the Arctic is a fragile environment, and an oil spill there would be a tragedy for Arctic communities, seals, polar bears, and more. Even the US Coast Guard has said they don’t have the resources to deal with an Arctic spill.

Oceana has been campaigning to prevent unsafe drilling in the Arctic, along with many other environmental groups. Greenpeace made the news recently for protesting aboard an Arctic bound oil-drilling ship with actress Lucy Lawless.

The truth is, there is no known technology to clean up spilled oil in icy Arctic ocean conditions. Shell does not have some magic solution. Clean-up crews at the recent Gulf of Mexico spill were only able to recover about 10% of the spilled oil, and that was in a warm environment with relatively calm seas.

In the icy Arctic 1,000 miles from the nearest Coast Guard station, clean-up efforts would be extremely difficult if not impossible. By saying otherwise, Shell is misleading the public and the government.

We’ll keep you posted as this curious lawsuit unfolds...


Continue reading...

Watch 'Big Miracle' and Help the Oceans

drew barrymore

© Oceana

Last week we had a great time at the Washington, DC premiere of “Big Miracle,” the true story of an activist who spearheads an international effort to save three gray whales trapped in the ice in northern Alaska.

The film stars Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski (“The Office”) and Oceana board member Ted Danson also makes an appearance as – get this – an an oil executive.

The movie comes out this Friday, Feb. 3, and we’re excited to be included in the film’s promotion. Starting today, for every two or more tickets you purchase on Fandango, Big Miracle and Universal Pictures will donate $1 to Oceana – up to $10,000!

So get your tickets to “Big Miracle” and also be sure to check out the cool whale infographics on the movie’s site.


Continue reading...

CEO Note: The Real Economics of Offshore Drilling

oil rig in the gulf of mexico

© Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

If you watched this week’s State of the Union address, you may have heard President Obama announce that he was opening 75 percent of our “potential offshore oil and gas resources.”

The good news is that this isn’t news; it’s simply a reiteration of the administration’s current five-year drilling plan that fully protects the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as much of the U.S. Arctic. The bad news, however, is that plan expands offshore drilling to include much more of the Gulf of Mexico than ever before – and worse yet, some of the Arctic. It’s as if the massive 2010 spill never happened.

In other good news, the President expressed his wish to reduce subsidies for oil companies. The oil companies receive about $10 billion a year in tax breaks, and the Obama administration has proposed cutting $4 billion.

I applaud the President’s commitment to reducing subsidies for the big oil companies, although I wish he would go further and eliminate them completely.

Unfortunately, the State of the Union address, as well as this week’s Republican primary debate in Florida, reiterated that our political leaders still fail to grasp a basic economic fact: that increasing our domestic supply of oil will not lower our prices at the gas pump.

Oil is a global commodity, and prices are set on a world market. Multinational companies who drill for oil – like Shell, B.P. and Exxon – will sell to the highest bidder. That may be the U.S. It may just as well be India or China.

As we learned during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, there’s more at stake. National Journal writer Beth Reinhard asked the right question at Monday’s Republican debate when she noted drilling in Florida will create at most 5,000 jobs, while an oil spill threatens the 1 million jobs that depend upon tourism, which contributes $40 billion each year to Florida’s economy.

That’s a high price to pay to help oil companies continue to make record profits. And yet Rick Santorum, on the receiving end of her question, reiterated his support for more domestic drilling.

Unfortunately, oil companies are powerful players in the election season. They dole out enormous contributions to the candidates, which may explain why we see misinformation on both sides of the political aisle.

Here at Oceana, we’ll stick to the facts. More offshore drilling won’t lower your price at the pump, and we’ll continue to fight to protect our beaches and seafood from dirty and dangerous drilling.


Continue reading...

Melting Ice Beckons Ships, Oil Drills to Arctic

© Oceana

The Arctic’s Northeast Passage is home to walruses, beluga whales, narwhals, and many other marine animals, most of whom have probably never seen an oil tanker or shipping vessel. Unfortunately, thanks to global climate change, that could soon change.

As the planet continues to warm, the coveted Northeast Passage has become ice-free and thus open to cargo ships, oil drillers, and fishing vessels for the first time.

There’s huge incentive for commerce and industry to use the Northeast Passage. The New York Times writes that the opening of the Passage shortens the travel time and reduces costs for shipping between Northern Europe and Asian markets. Companies like Exxon Mobil are attracted to the potential of oil and minerals in the Arctic seabed. And the elusive Arctic “Donut Hole,” a patch of international and unregulated waters in the center of the Ocean, is full of valuable fish including overfished Atlantic cod stocks. 

Offshore drilling, increased shipping traffic, and fishing vessels in the Northeast Passage threatens one of the great patches of marine wilderness in the world. Drilling in the Arctic could mean a spill in a place as remote as Northern Russia, which would make the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup look like a cinch, primarily because cleanup mechanisms such as booms don’t work properly in icy waters.

We’ve been campaigning against offshore oil drilling to protect vulnerable Arctic habitats. We'll continue working with local native communities to ensure that future generations will see a healthy and vibrant Arctic. You can help by supporting our work to fight oil drilling in the Arctic.


Continue reading...

What if an Oil Spill Happened in the Arctic?

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

Less than a year after the Deepwater Horizon gusher was finally sealed, oil companies are claiming they can drill safely in the Arctic Ocean, an even more fragile and forbidding environment than the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, our government seems to be suffering from amnesia, too.

This month, Shell Oil received a conditional approval from the federal government to drill four exploratory wells next summer in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. The company claims that it can end a gushing spill like the Deepwater Horizon in just 43 days and clean up 90 percent of oil lost.

These claims aren’t based in historic experience and have little scientific evidence to back them up. Crews were only able to recover 10 percent of the oil escaping the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, and only 8 percent of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill.

The most recent oil spill drill in the Beaufort Sea was in 2000 and was described as a “failure.” Mechanical systems like skimmers and booms in calm but icy conditions simply didn’t work. The technology has not improved since then. Just watch this video of a failed cleanup test:


Continue reading...

Caleb Pungowiyi: 1941-2011

caleb pungowiyi

We are incredibly saddened by the passing of Caleb Pungowiyi, a longtime Alaska Native leader and Oceana’s Senior Advisor and Rural Liaison.

Originally from the St. Lawrence Island village of Savoonga, Caleb’s work was a critical part of Oceana’s accomplishments in Alaska. He was a passionate yet incredibly humble person who followed his beliefs and led by example. He cared deeply about protecting and nurturing the subsistence way of life and the environment that was his garden. 

Caleb’s decision to work for Oceana was not easy, but once he learned more about Oceana’s work, he embraced us, helped guide us, opened many doors for us, and worked to break down mistrust of outside organizations. 

Prior to joining Oceana, Caleb held many positions, including president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, an international organization that advocates for indigenous people of the North. We are very lucky that Caleb brought his experience and friendships in the Arctic to Oceana.


Continue reading...

Victory! Shell Drops 2011 Arctic Drilling Plans

The Beaufort Sea. [Image credit: NOAA via Wikimedia Commons.]

In a huge triumph for the U.S. Arctic today, Royal Dutch Shell chief executive Peter Voser announced that Shell's 2011 plans to drill exploratory wells offshore in Alaska are canceled due to continued uncertainty over whether it would receive federal permits.

Shell had hoped to drill exploratory wells in 2010 in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, but its plans were put on hold by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Susan Murray, Oceana’s Pacific Director, said of the announcement, “We hope this decision by Shell will also bring a commitment from them and others in the oil industry to fully review the mistakes that led to the Deepwater Horizon blowout with local communities, the public and the government.  We need a truly open discussion about how to determine if we should move forward with oil and gas activities in the Arctic, and if so, when, where and how.”

Oceana has been instrumental in monitoring the permitting process and holding policymakers accountable for upholding the law. The slew of faulty environmental analyses and permit applications make it clear that we are not ready to move forward with oil and gas activities in the Arctic, especially in light of last summer’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.


Continue reading...

Ted Danson Visits the Arctic

Oceana's Mike Levine and Susan Murray with board member Ted Danson. © Oceana

 Tomorrow Oceana board member Ted Danson will testify against offshore drilling in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska (more specifically, Lease sale 193). Danson, a long time ocean advocate, believes that the Arctic is not ready for offshore development. There is a lack of baseline science to determine if offshore drilling can be conducted safely in the region, and there is neither the infrastructure nor the response capability to respond to a large spill.

This past week Danson visited the Arctic community of Barrow, Alaska. Accompanied by Oceana’s Pacific Director Susan Murray, Mike LeVine and myself, Ted visited with Mayor Edward Itta of the North Slope Borough, Director Taqulik Hepa of the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, Chairman Harry Brower of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, and other officials. Oceana hosted a community meet-and-greet where Danson took the opportunity to meet and learn from coastal residents, while sharing his stories and connections to the ocean.


Continue reading...

Browse by Date