Thursday, February 2, 2012

Big Miracle: Greenpeace meets Hollywood

I admit I've been looking askance at the commercials for "Big Miracle," the movie about the gray whales who were trapped in ice on the north coast of Alaska back in 1988. Askance because...you know, the whole Hollywood sappy-clichéd-tearjearker-free-the-whales thing. But...the story was incredible, and I'm holding out hope that Tinseltown does it justice.

The story in a nutshell? The Soviet Union, the United States, Inuits who hunted whales, and Greenpeace worked together to save three gray whales trapped by advancing ice--at the height of the Cold War.

Photo of commemorative t-shirt by Campbell Plowden
Drew Barrymore portrays the character Rachel, based on Greenpeacer Cindy Lowry, who was on the ice through much of the events. Cindy recently did an interview with an old friend from Greenpeace, Kieran Mulvaney. You can read the whole thing at DiscoveryNews, but here is my favorite part:


Even after the Russian icebreakers arrived and carved a channel, it seemed as if the whales might not be able to make it. That must have been a moment of despair.
Really, one of the most amazing experiences for me was when we knew the Soviets were coming, and they were going to make their first pass, and there was just me and one other person out there on the ice, I think it was 1 or 2 in the morning, and the icebreaker kept getting closer. I think the whales could start sensing open water, and they started swimming really fast from hole to hole, and then, where we had a light set up for the Soviet ice cutter to see where the last hole was, they started rushing that last hole, and water would come rushing out of it, like a wave. And I thought, ‘Well, this is it, I probably won’t see them again.’
And I went over and knelt down by that hole, and this one whale came up and blew on me – and because it was 30 below, I had all this whale breath that just froze on the front of my parka. And then he just rested his head on the ice, and we had this most amazing eye contact, and I just said, ‘You know what? You guys are going home.’ 

Is that sappy? Yeah, maybe. And absolutely true.
Commemorative patch photo by Campbell Plowden



(Want to read more about Greenpeace days? Click on the "Search this Blog" box to the right and enter the word Greenpeace.) 

15 comments:

  1. Hi Patty, 
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Big Miracle.  I haven't seen the movie yet.  Yes, I suspect it probably will have some sappy parts, but the emotions at the time were real and very intense.  There were 3 whales that were going to do die in several days if we didn't figure out how to break through 5 miles of ice.  It really was quite amazing that groups that really didn't like each other (and I'm not even talking about the tension between the U.S. and USSR) managed to cooperate long enough to rescue several of the trapped whales at least for a time.  I will be curious to see how the movie describes what led up to the Soviet icebreakers getting there since this is something I had something to do with.  Your readers can learn a bit about what happened behind the scenes of this rescue (at least from the Greenpeace point of view) at a story I wrote at: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/the-big-picture-behind-big-miracle/blog/38821/.  

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  2. Sappy, tear-jerker, real stuff.  Let's face it - there ARE intensely emotional, tear-jerker moments in life.  And it's not a damn thing to be ashamed of.  

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  3. Hey, Campbell! Thanks for letting me snitch the photos of your commemorative t-shirt and patch! (I'm thinking Ryan Gosling should portray you in the movie ;o)

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  4. Folks can read Campbell's Amaazon Journal at http://amazonecology.wordpress.com/category/campbells-amazon-journal/

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  5. I have been feeling the same way, Patricia. It was an incredible event that still makes my heart full. The only error I have read so far is in a review by Roger Moore that said it was parents and a baby. No way the father would be there. It was probably an older male sibling. Thanks for posting the reality angle.

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  6. Wow. That's a great image - the eye contact. Powerful. It reminded me of another whale story I heard on NPR's "The Story" called Whale Savior, about some divers who free a whale tangled in fishing line. It was hopelessly tangled and close to exhaustion and death...but they managed to get it free, and then they had one of those eye-contact moments. The way the storyteller described the feeling of looking straight into that huge eye only inches from his face...and what he could feel about their communication was really amazing. The best stories are the true ones.

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  7. There is no substitute for first hand experience.



    ". . .but the emotions at the time were real and very intense."



    "And I went over and knelt down by that hole, and this one whale came up and blew on me – and because it was 30 below, I had all this whale breath that just froze on the front of my parka. And then he just rested his head on the ice, and we had this most amazing eye contact, and I just said, ‘You know what? You guys are going home.’ "



    Thank you for your passion, your work, your commitment, and your witness to what were moments only those in the arena experience. Writing is action; my reading yours is as close to what I'll experience of your actions; your words speak your voice about your actions and experience. It doesn't get any better! May the movie do something like that for others. 



    Each of you IS the power of one; your story ripples out.

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  8. Wowsie wow. THIS is a good story. Sappy or not---whale breath frozen on her parka!  Eye contact with a whale!  A moment of grandeur, to be sure. 

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  9. What a story.  Hopefully the movie will be half as good.  Put your "Hollywood filter" on and check it out.  Then give us a report.

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  10. Yes! I heard that story too! Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FU3ONHtIkYM  Well worth listening to (tho you probably won't want to watch the distracting bubble lights thing that they did to make up for the fact that it was an audio recording in a video format.

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  11. On a different subject...kind of...I went to see The Grey about a plane wreck-load of guys trying to save themselves from wolves.  I'd love to visit with someone who knows about wolves, because I wasn't buying some of the action....but as a metaphor the movie was beautiful.  Hopefully "big Miracle" has both metaphor and plot correct.

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  12. That movie goes on my list. Here are two more true stories of what looks like whale gratitude. One is a recent account about the rescue of Humphrey from the Sacramento River, including an eye-to-eye moment at the end: Diana Reiss's The Dolphin in the Mirror: Exploring Dolphin Minds and Saving Dolphin Lives (prologue). The main part of the book is about her captive dolphin research and the intelligent behavior they demonstrated. The other book is by Lynne Cox, well-known swimmer in extreme conditions. Swimming off the California coast, she encountered a gray whale calf lost from its mother. They swam together for hours until the mother found them. It's a small but beautiful book that should be read by anyone interested in marine life and animal  behavior. 

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