8 user 24 critic

Sea of Shadows (2019)

The vaquita, the world's smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the "cocaine ... See full summary »


Richard Ladkani, Sean Bogle (co-director) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 4 wins & 15 nominations. See more awards »




Credited cast:
Romel Eduardo Ledezma Abaroa Romel Eduardo Ledezma Abaroa ... Self
Rafael Pacchiano Alamán Rafael Pacchiano Alamán ... Self
Hector Capetillo Hector Capetillo ... Self
Andrea Crosta ... Self
Marc Davis Marc Davis ... Self
Carlos Loret de Mola Carlos Loret de Mola ... Self
Jack Hutton Jack Hutton ... Self
Jacqueline Le Duc Jacqueline Le Duc ... Self
Oscar Parra Oscar Parra ... Self
Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho ... Self
José Eduardo Calzada Rovirosa José Eduardo Calzada Rovirosa ... Self
Cynthia Smith ... Self
Ana Lucía Hernández Sánchez Ana Lucía Hernández Sánchez ... Self
Alan Valverde Alan Valverde ... Self
Javier Valverde Javier Valverde ... Self
Learn more

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The vaquita, the world's smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the "cocaine of the sea." Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multi-million-dollar business. Written by Production

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Cartels, The Black Market and the Fight to Save a Species.

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, language and some violence | See all certifications »

User Reviews

A pedantic storyline that completely misses the boat
4 December 2019 | by naq-1See all my reviews

Unfortunately for this particular reviewer, the glowing reviews for this film do not stand up to examination.

The documentary is about the extinction of one special dolphin-like whale species, the vaquita, which is the species that will become extinct because of overfishing for another, highly valuable species of fish. (We never hear much about the other MORE valuable species, although one can assume that there might not be a finite number of those particular fish.)

So one species is now threatened for complete extinction and it happens to be a very attractive looking dolphin-like creature, which naturally inspires audience sympathy. Of course, we all want to save a doomed species; that goes without any argument. But the storyline of this documentary is a combination of showmanship and diversion: the actual 'Elephant in the room' is hardly never discussed in detail--that Elephant is the Chinese elite.

The filmmakers pride themselves on following the perpetrators who are the lowly fishermen, desperately doing whatever they can to survive (and one almost expects another documentary will be made next year, taking the point of view that this documentary is taking away the fishermen's livelihood). Up to this point, the fishermen have a livelihood based on these expensive fish bladders, and so we can understand why they don't want the filmmakers to take that lifeline away. And we hear that the local police force and even the military are in on the take, accepting bribes to allow the renegade fishermen to roam free in the waters, capturing and killing whatever species that gets in their way of making a big payoff. This is human nature, yet another documentary.

But what is missing here is the explanation of why this is happening in the first place: it is mentioned in passing in the doc that there is a certain belief among the Chinese oligarchy that the bladders of these fish are worth millions. Why is this so? We really never know. And the filmmakers never bother to explore this peculiar point that is central to the story. They also don't bother to follow up on a tip that brings them face to face with some of the Chinese oligarchs. Why? We don't know.

Now, one can only surmise from all this that the filmmakers, NatGeo, and Leonardo diCaprio have decided that it would not be in their financial interest in discussing the particular reason for the Chinese obsession with fish bladders. Maybe it's because Leo's films would be banned in China and therefore Leo loses a couple of million dollars? Maybe because they couldn't make a deal at Cannes unless they removed that information so the distribution deal would be a few hundred thousand less? This leads to one imagining a scene of the filmmakers sharing caviar and champagne on a yacht off the Croisette with the same exact Chinese billionaires who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain the fish bladders.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the film, which is filled with sympathetic characters: the handsome young Greenpeace Volunteer, who is a verified chick magnet (played by Zac Efron in the Disney adaption); the Jane Goodall-type earnest woman scientist with a heart of gold (Susan Sarandon); the good-looking daddy figure who leads the chase of the uncaring fishermen, (who would be played by none other than Harrison Ford), and the tough-talking, non-nonsense Journalist (Antonio Banderas) who goes on an investigative binge, only to fall down the rabbit hole when all the police and military he interviews are a part of the giant conspiracy. There is one point where the Journalist is earnestly grilling the heads of state and a senior military gent, which comes off as naive as we in the viewing seats realize that the very same officials who are supposed to be guarding against this crime are themselves on the take.

But the reason why the documentary does not hold any water (pun intended) is because the filmmakers continually go back to the low-lying fruit of the fishermen, as if they were the only ones who caused the devastation. In any honest analysis, the fishermen are only small pawns in a much bigger game, (as are the police and the military) and are being played by huge multi-billionaires, who are the ones pulling the strings and manipulating everyone like the Puppet Masters they are. Even the great Leo diCap himself is probably a puppet who was allowed out of the cage to promote this doc so that we can keep on scrambling after 'Shadows', and therefore, the real perpetrators who are in control are never to be seen or ever revealed.

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Austria | Australia | Germany | USA


English | Spanish

Release Date:

12 July 2019 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Sea of Shadows See more »

Filming Locations:

Sea of Cortez, Mexico See more »


Box Office

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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