Why did Wild Lens make a film about the Vaquita?

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Wild Lens was born out of a strong desire to halt species declines and prevent wildlife extinctions. Our first film focused on the endangered California condor, a species that very narrowly escaped extinction in the 1980s.  While working on that film, I interviewed many of the biologists who were involved in California condor conservation work at that time when the species was teetering on the brink of extinction.  I learned from these experts that many who were involved in the recovery effort thought that it was probably too late to save the condor – yet they persisted despite this sense of hopelessness. The intensity of that moment, when critics were calling for “death with dignity” while biologists were desperately scrambling to figure out how to save the species, was something that stuck with me from those interviews I conducted.

We compared the extinction crises faced by the California condor and the vaquita in this episode of the Eyes on Conservation podcast. Click the photo to listen.

We compared the extinction crises faced by the California condor and the vaquita in this episode of the Eyes on Conservation podcast. Click the photo to listen.

Years later, when fellow Wild Lens filmmaker Sean Bogle approached me with the idea of making a film about the vaquita, I was almost immediately drawn back to those interviews and that moment when the condor teetered on the brink of survival.  The vaquita was in a very similar situation, but the vaquita’s extinction crisis was not a historical event – it was happening now! Although it seemed that the chances of the vaquita going extinct were quite high, all I could think about was the critics who said the same thing about the condor in the 1980s.  Those critics were proven wrong by a dedicated team of wildlife biologists.

So I saw the opportunity to tell the vaquita’s story as a chance to document a crucial moment in the history of conservation and the environmental movement.  How does humanity choose to deal with a fellow species in dire peril? Sean and I thought that this story, regardless of the outcome, could become an invaluable resource for future conservation efforts.

Wild Lens filmmakers Sean Bogle and Matthew Podolsky in the Upper Gulf of California.

Wild Lens filmmakers Matthew Podolsky (left) and Sean Bogle (right) in the Upper Gulf of California.

Wild Lens is also an impact focused organization, and we also saw this project as an opportunity to have an impact on the outcome of the issue.  We weren’t deceiving ourselves that a documentary by itself could turn the tide for the vaquita, but we believed that through the establishment of key partnerships we could play a significant role in the larger conservation effort for the species.

For these reasons, Sean and I decided to embark upon this adventure, which has resulted in the release of our 30-minute film, Souls of the Vermilion Sea, numerous short educational videos and podcasts, and the forthcoming feature length film, Sea of Shadows.  We collaborated with Terra Mater Factual Studios on the production of Sea of Shadows, and are very excited that the film will have it’s premiere as Sundance Film Festival in January of 2019.


After more than three years of involvement with the vaquita issue, it now seems almost certain that the vaquita’s fate is sealed – extinction is likely inevitable.  That said – the fight for the Northern Gulf of California and endangered species all around the globe must continue. This is where our film comes into play – by presenting the story of the vaquita from a variety of unique perspectives, we hope that people all around the globe can learn from mistakes that were made, and ensure that what happened to the vaquita never happens again.