Sonic Sea

This Emmy award–winning film shows viewers how the underwater racket caused by human activities is destroying marine life.

Oceans are a sonic symphony. Sound is essential to the survival and prosperity of marine life. But man-made ocean noise is threatening this fragile world. 

Sonic Sea is about protecting life in our waters from the destructive effects of oceanic noise pollution.

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2017 EMMY Winner Laurel: Nature Documentary
2017 EMMY Winner Laurel: Music & Sound
2017 EMMY Nominee Laurel: Graphic Design & Art Direction
CINE Golden Eagle Award for Professional Media
Motion Picture Sound Editors
2016 Princeton Environmental Film Festival Stan Waterman Award Winner
2016 Wild & Scenic Film Festival Jury Award Winner
2016 Wild & Scenic Film Festival John de Graaf Environmental Filmmaking Award Winner
2016 San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival Environment Award Winner
2016 Science Media Awards Science of Life Award Winner
2016 Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit Best Broadcast Documentary Award Winner
2016 Yosemite Film Festival Best Documentary Feature Winner
2016 UNAFF International Documentary Film Festival Best Documentary Award Winner
2016 GreenMe Global Festival for Sustainability Winner
2016 Byron Bay International Film Festival Official Selection
2016 Wild Water Festival Official Selection
2016 Sedona International Film Festival Official Selection
2016 Pariscience International Science Film Festival Official Selection
2016 GreenMe Global Festival for Sustainability Official Selection
2016 Friday Harbor Film Festival Official Selection
A headshot of Kenneth Balcomb

Kenneth C. Balcomb III

Executive director & senior scientist, Center for Whale Research

Balcomb earned a BA in zoology from the University of California, Davis in 1963 and was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be a field biologist in a whale-marking program. He pursued graduate work at the University of California, Santa Cruz with Dr. Ken Norris, a renowned marine mammal biologist. Balcomb served as an aviator and oceanographic specialist in the U.S. Navy. He pioneered photo identification of cetaceans, made the first known observations of living Longman’s beaked whales, and, in the aftermath of a mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas in March 2000, helped prove that naval sonar kills whales.

A hedshot of Rachel McAdams

Rachel McAdams

Narrator

McAdams is an actress and environmental advocate. She has starred in films such as Mean Girls, The Notebook, Wedding Crashers, Southpaw, Sherlock Holmes, and the HBO TV series True Detective. McAdams ran the eco-friendly lifestyle website GreenIsSexy.org and gets around by bicycle and electric vehicles when possible.

A headshot of Christopher Clark

Christopher W. Clark, PhD

Imogene Powers Johnson Senior Scientist at the Bioacoustics Research Program, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Clark helped develop and apply advanced acoustic technology to record and analyze the sounds of wildlife around the globe. His work advances the understanding of animal communication and the health of wildlife populations. He has listened to and studied whales for more than 40 years, with a focus on endangered North Atlantic right whales.

A headshot of Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle, PhD

Oceanographer, author, and National Geographic Explorer in Residence

Earle has led more than 100 ocean expeditions and logged over 7,000 hours underwater. Named a "living legend" by the Library of Congress, she earned a BS from Florida State University and a PhD from Duke University. Earle, who helped develop early SCUBA gear, authored more than 190 publications, including The World is Blue: How our Fate and the Ocean’s are One. In 1990, she was the first woman named chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her goal is to “ignite public support for the protection of Hope Spots—special places that are vital to the health of the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”

A headshot of Michael Jasny

Michael Jasny

Director of marine mammals, NRDC

Jasny is a leading expert in the law and policy of ocean noise pollution. For more than a decade, he has directed high-profile litigation, lobbying efforts, science-based policy development, and public advocacy to improve the regulation of this emergent global problem. His work also focuses on securing protection for endangered marine mammals and their habitat, opposing development projects that threaten marine mammals off the U.S. and Canadian coastlines, and improving management of fisheries, whale-watching tourism, and other sectors that impact these vulnerable species. Jasny is the author or coauthor of numerous publications in legal, policy, and scientific journals. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a JD from Harvard Law School.

A headshot of Sting

Sting

Musician; human rights & environmental activist

Sting (Gordon Sumner) is a musician, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and activist. He was the principal songwriter, lead singer, and bassist for The Police. He wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical The Last Ship, inspired by his experiences growing up amid the shipbuilding industry in the north of England. He founded the Rainforest Foundation Fund to help save the Brazilian rainforests and protect Indigenous Peoples, and he has supported human rights campaigns for decades.

A headshot of Leila Hatch

Leila Hatch, PhD

Marine ecologist, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA

Hatch is a marine ecologist with the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. This area has experienced dramatic increases in shipping, and she studies how low-frequency noise emitted by large ships and other vessels impacts marine mammals who also rely on low-frequency signals for communication, foraging, navigating, and caring for their young.

A headshot of Paul Spong

Paul Spong, PhD

Founder and codirector, OrcaLab

Originally from New Zealand, Spong is a neuroscientist and cetologist who has immersed himself in orca research since the 1960s. Early in his career, he studied the captive orcas, Hyak and Skana, at the Vancouver Aquarium where he grew to appreciate their intellect and exceptional use of sound. He later advocated to keep whales out of captivity and in 1970 founded OrcaLab with the goal of studying marine mammals without interfering in their lives and habitat. Spong and his assistants share their research findings from the remote Hanson Island in British Columbia via live streams.

A headshot of Molly Patterson

Molly Patterson

Research assistant, OrcaLab

Patterson worked at OrcaLab as a research assistant. She joined other volunteers from around the world who visually and acoustically monitor the orcas 24 hours a day during the summer and fall months.

A headshot of Brandon Southall

Brandon Southall, PhD

Senior scientist, Southall Environmental Associates, Inc.

Southall grew up in landlocked East Texas but developed a passion for the oceans. He is the former director of NOAA’s Ocean Acoustics Program, where he helped develop acoustic exposure criteria for marine mammals. Southall continues to study the behavioral responses of marine mammals to human-produced sounds.

A headshot of Katie Moore

Katie Moore


Program director, Animal rescue, International Fund for Animal Welfare

As IFAW’s program director for Animal Rescue, Moore directs IFAW’s animal rescue team and collaborates with partner organizations around the globe to save animals in crisis, including disaster response, marine mammal rescue and research, and wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and release.

In Madagascar, Moore used techniques developed by IFAW's Marine Mammal Rescue & Research team in an attempt to save more than 100 melon headed whales—deep-water animals that had stranded themselves inside an estuary. She also provided guidance in gathering data to determine the cause of the incident.

A headshot of Bjornar Nicolaisen

Bjornar Nicolaisen

Coastal fisherman, former secretary, Norwegian Fisherman Union

Nicolaisen is a Norwegian cod fisherman. When offshore oil exploration increased in the region, he noticed a 60 percent decrease in fish populations. Concerned for his livelihood, Nicolaisen became an outspoken voice against the use of “seismic shooting” as a tool for oil exploration.

A headshot of Jean-Michel Cousteau

Jean-Michel Cousteau

Explorer, founder & president, Ocean Futures Society

Explorer, editor, environmentalist, and filmmaker Cousteau has dedicated his life to communicating the critical bond between humans and the sea. The son of Jacques Cousteau, he began exploring the ocean as a young boy. He’s produced more than 80 films and received the Emmy and Peabody awards among others. Cousteau organized efforts to care for Keiko, the captive whale of Free Willy fame. In 1999, he founded the Ocean Futures Society. Cousteau is an impassioned diplomat for the environment, traveling the world to meet with everyone from school children to global leaders, urging us all toward positive change.

A headshot of George Prochnik

George Prochnik

Author, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise

Prochnik taught English and American Literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He now lives in New York City and is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine. Prochnik's writing spans essays, poetry, and fiction.

A headshot of Joel Reynolds

Joel Reynolds

Senior institutional strategist, senior attorney, Nature program, NRDC

Reynolds is a widely recognized environmental litigator who took on the U.S. Navy over its use of sonar, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court. He has led numerous successful campaigns, including those to protect the gray whale birthing lagoon and World Heritage Site at Laguna San Ignacio in Baja California to reduce ocean noise pollution, to protect the popular California State Park at San Onofre, and, most recently, to stop the Pebble Mine in southwestern Alaska. He has twice been selected California Lawyer of the Year in the environmental category.

A headshot of Kathy Metcalf

Kathy Metcalf

President & CEO, Chamber of Shipping of America

Metcalf graduated with highest honors from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with a BS in marine transportation and nautical sciences. She spent five years as a deck officer aboard crude oil and product tankers. She earned a JD in 1988 from the Delaware Law School of Widener University.

A headshot of Steven Honigman

Steven Honigman

Former general counsel, U.S. Navy

The Honorable Steven S. Honigman served as the general counsel of the navy and is a recipient of the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award. He is committed to supporting naval operations while protecting environmental resources.

A headshot of William J. Parker

William J. Parker III, PhD

Former commodore, U.S. Navy

Parker is a retired senior U.S. naval officer with multiple combat tours who commanded three ships and served as chief of staff for U.S. Naval Forces. He is currently COO of the East West Institute.

A headshot of Michelle Dougherty

Michelle Dougherty

Director, Imaginary Forces

Dougherty is an American designer and director. Born in Mexico City and raised in California, she is a graduate of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In her professional career, she has directed projects ranging from graphic design to commercial directing, including advertising, television and film title sequences, feature film marketing, and experiential design.

Dougherty has created Emmy-nominated main title sequences and has directed global commercial advertising campaigns. Her projects have garnered awards as well as being featured at the Walker Art Center, Hammer Museum, and Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

A headshot of Daniel Hinerfeld

Daniel Hinerfeld

Director of content partnerships, NRDC

Hinerfeld, an Emmy-winning filmmaker and award-winning journalist, oversees Rewrite the Future, an initiative to help Hollywood tell stories about the climate crisis. He founded NRDC's documentary unit and created films including Sonic Sea, narrated by Rachel McAdams; Acid Test, narrated by Sigourney Weaver; Stories from the Gulf, narrated by Robert Redford; and Wild Things. Hinerfeld previously worked at NPR as the senior editor of the Tavis Smiley Show. At KCRW, he produced Warren Olney's daily news discussion program, Which Way, L.A.?, and co-created the nationally syndicated political analysis show, Left, Right, and Center. Hinerfeld covered Southern California as a reporter for KQED's statewide news program, the California Report, and reported regularly for the NPR national news programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. He has written for the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. Between public radio stints, he spent four years in Los Angeles City Hall as a senior deputy to then-councilmember Mike Feuer. Hinerfeld graduated cum laude in philosophy from Vassar College and did post-graduate work at the London School of Economics, where his dissertation, "A Critique of Anarchy, State and Utopia," was awarded distinction. Hinerfeld is married to the photographer Laura Kleinhenz and they have two children. 

A headshot of Mark Monroe

Mark Monroe

Writer, Diamond Docs

Monroe is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose theatrical writing credits include:

Fed Up (Sundance 2014); The Summit (Winner, Best Editing Sundance 2013); Who is Dayani Cristal? (Winner, Best Cinematography, Sundance 2013); Sound City (Sundance 2013); The Cove (Winner, Best Documentary 2010 Academy Awards & Best Documentary Script, W.G.A. 2010); The Tillman Story; Chasing Ice (Winner, Best Cinematography Sundance 2012); Stolen Seas; Last Play at Shea; Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, (W.G.A. nomination Best Documentary Script, 2007); Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who; and writer/director, Morning Light, Disney Pictures.

A journalism graduate from the University of Oklahoma, Monroe began his career in television as a newswriter for CNN in Atlanta. Before writing for film, he produced more than 60 hours of biography-style programming for TV. Currently, Monroe is working on Racing Extinction, Academy Award winner Louis Psihoyos's follow-up film to The Cove, as well as Sonic Highways an eight-part docuseries follow up to Dave Grohl’s Sound City.

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Brought to you in partnership with IFAW

With projects in more than 40 countries, the International Fund for Animal Welfare rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats.

Learn more