In 1967, American bio-acoustician and environmentalist Dr. Roger Payne made the groundbreaking discovery of whale song. The 1970 release of his inspired recordings, Songs of the Humpback Whale, publicly demonstrated for the first time the elaborate and beautiful vocalizations of humpback whales… exuberant, uninterrupted rivers of sound with long-repeat themes, often lasting up to 30 minutes and sung by entire groups of male humpbacks in chorus.
The album was an unexpected public phenomenon, going multi-platinum and becoming the most popular nature recording in history with 10.5 million copies in its first release. By raising awareness of the intelligence and culture of these magnificent mammals, the record launched the worldwide Save The Whales movement and was the foundational musical, artistic cornerstone igniting modern day environmentalism.
Inspired by Payne's work and his own emotional response to Songs of the Humpback Whale as a young man, Bill Haney wrote and directed the documentary A LIFE AMONG WHALES nearly 20 years ago. Weaving together natural history and biography, this 55 minute film explores the unique relationship between humans and whales told firsthand by biologist and activist Dr. Payne.
Growing up playing cello, Payne always wanted his work to involve music though “no one would ever pay me a nickel to play, myself!" His solution was to study the sounds of animals – early on, through bat, moth and owl echolocation. Payne's interest in whale vocalizations came about entirely by chance. In the 1960s he heard on the radio that a dead whale had washed up on a beach near Tufts University in Boston, where he was working, and drove out to see it. By the time he arrived that evening, souvenir hunters had hacked off the flukes, carved their initials in its side, and stuffed a cigar butt into its blowhole. It was a life-changing experience. “I removed the cigar and stood there for a long time alone in the dark and rain with feelings I cannot describe. Everybody has some such experience that affects them for life... that night was mine.”
A LIFE AMONG WHALES chronicles Payne's humble research beginnings living with his family for years in tents on an isolated bay in Patagonia to study Southern Right Whales, through his remarkable discovery of whale song and the fundamental connection between human and whale singing, and then his tireless, dedicated, decades-long fight to ban commercial whaling – a ban which today, nearly 30 years after an international moratorium was imposed, is threatened.
With haunting, evocative early footage of whales, Payne implores us to live in a world without destroying it, and to question our stewardship of the earth through coexistence with some of its most intriguing creatures. He challenges us to become the greatest generation of all - that by saving Earth's largest creatures, we can open the door to understanding our own profound role in the biosphere.
A charismatic and passionate individual, Payne's pioneering spirit and persevering work has dramatically advanced the boundaries of science and ecological activism over the last four decades. As we approach Earth Day, we wish to thank Roger and his colleagues for their lifelong dedication, and hope you get a chance to learn more by watching the film.
At Uncommon Productions we believe it is essential to tell stories like A LIFE AMONG WHALES that bring attention to the environment and inspire efforts to help achieve equality for all creatures of the earth.
Globally, whales face increasing threats to their existence owing to destructive human activities. Climate change, noise pollution affecting communication, ocean plastics, deep sea mining and commercial over-fishing have devastating, long-term impacts on the survival of ocean species, including whales. And, populations of many whale species are still recovering from decades of uninhibited industrial whaling.
As we approach Earth Day, we invite you to watch, free on our new website, the moving short film A LIFE AMONG WHALES… as we each endeavor to spread awareness on this important issue.