Film: “The Secret Lives of the Humpbacks”


In “Bermuda is for lovers in whale community,” Sekou Hendrickson (The Royal Gazette) brings attention to Andrew Stevenson’s documentary film The Secret Lives of the Humpbacks, a sequel to his 2010 film Where the Whales Sing. Stevenson has spent many years observing North Atlantic humpback whales off Bermuda. 

Bermuda’s unique role as a meeting place for humpback whales to find safety in numbers is to be explored tonight with the premiere of a new documentary on the elusive giants. Andrew Stevenson, the conservationist and film-maker, will screen The Secret Lives of the Humpbacks at the Speciality Cinema in Hamilton this evening. The film, a sequel to his 2010 documentary Where the Whales Sing, shines a light on the relationship between the mammals and Bermuda’s waters.

Mr Stevenson explained: “I discovered that they are feeding here, which people were sceptical about. I proved that beyond doubt.”

Humpbacks are a familiar springtime sight off Bermuda, but the researcher said it “also seems like they’re meeting here”. Mr Stevenson’s recordings have captured “powerful” humpback songs in the seas off Bermuda that suggest the island is a rendezvous for the whales. He said: “I’ve recorded some whales here for a two-week period, so they’re not just going by like we thought they were. “Are they using Bermuda as a meeting point to go up north? That’s what it’s looking like.”

Mr Stevenson’s film, a labour of eight years, has revealed humpback behaviour off Bermuda markedly different from that seen in Canada and the Caribbean. He said: “Up north, they’re preoccupied with feeding and down south they’re preoccupied with breeding, but here in Bermuda we see activities that nobody else sees. They seem to have feelings like us, they seem to have happiness and playfulness like we do, and it’s clear that these animals are not simple eating and breeding machines.”

Mr Stevenson believes that humpbacks join up around Bermuda for protection from predators. “More than half the humpback whales that we see here have orca scars on them, so if they’re deliberately meeting here, perhaps it is because they want to move farther north together.”

Although this behaviour might not be unique to Bermuda, Mr Stevenson said the island’s special vantage in the middle of the ocean allowed us to see this in action. Mr Stevenson added: “I’ve found out that if a whale has been seen before, we’re very likely to see it on the same calendar days in succeeding years. It seems to me that it’s like they want to meet the same cohorts that they met in the past and that’s why they’re coming up here at the same time. I think the basic takeaway is that you realise humans are not unique in this world and that other animals are very intelligent, very caring, very sympathetic, and capable of love and play.”

Mr Stevenson said that he hoped the documentary would “appeal to the next generation” and spark a concern for marine conservation. He added that he had his daughters, ten-year-old Somers and 15-year-old Elsa, narrate the film.

He explained: “The first film was narrated by my daughter Elsa when she was 6 and I’ve watched it scores of time with audiences, and kids are just riveted when they hear another kid. I saw the effect that it has on a younger audience, and then for adults it’s kept in a layman’s language and not using scientific language too much.”

Mr Stevenson said that the release tonight will be its only cinematic showing, but added that he hopes to use the film for educational purposes.


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