In "Life Among Whales," Roger Payne makes a personal statement about the intelligence and creativity of cetaceans. Unique in this film's approach is that Payne connects to whales not only as a biologist but as a musician. His research into their songs reveals that it is, in fact, actual music, and his efforts to share and popularize the songs of the humpbacks over the years have bolstered awareness and conservation efforts. Also of interest is the fact that whale songs can be heard through thousands of miles of ocean, which suggests an amazing communication network. I'm a former cruising sailor and also an avid musician, so this film appealed to both my love of the oceans and of music. Not mentioned in the film is the possibility that sonar, marine equipment and industry could be creating sub-ocean noise pollution that could be socially disrupting or even damaging to cetaceans.
Payne is neither glamorous, not self-celebratory. He's a humble, compassionate scientist interested in sharing what he knows and in inspiring concern for the impacts of man's inhumanity on the oceans and potentially back on ourselves.
The cinematography balances scenes of brutal whale slaughter against some beautiful underwater footage that shows the grace, size and agility of these incredible animals in their own environment.
Overall, it's an excellent overview of the lives, politics and magic of whales, a good place to start if you want the big picture condensed into a compelling one-hour documentary.
I'm docking it one star because it doesn't ultimately conclude with specific recommendations for taking action. There's no website to accompany the film where viewers might connect to news or find links to conservation organizations, join mailing lists or sign petitions. It takes a regrettable "build it and they will come" attitude that suggests awareness will lead to action.
There are also a number of related documentaries this film could refer viewers to without losing sales...and let's face it, films like this are made for love, not money anyway. These films include "The Cove" and "End of The Line." I would also encourage interested viewers to read Farley Mowat's "Sea of Slaughter" for background on the long-term history of man's war against the oceans.