The ZDF movie “Das Geheimnis der Wale” (The Secret of the Whales) was flighted on the largest German TV station over the last two evenings, and a large part of the filming was done in Hermanus and Cape Town a year ago. The movie is set in New Zealand.
The movie tells the story of humpback whales beaching. Johannes Waldmann is a highly regarded whale researcher who is studying whale communication, and suspects that whales beaching is due to underwater sonar activity. A thriller movie, it tells the story of a group of oil exploration businessmen who want to rid an area of whales, so that they can explore for gas. They use sonic booms to move the whales out of the sea in the area, but the whales beach, attracting attention and demonstrations against the gas exploration company’s plans.
While the focus of the movie was humpback whales, Southern Right whales were also shown, and often mentioned. This whale species is most often seen in Walker Bay from Hermanus.
German colleagues Veronica Ferres and Mario Adorff, with international actor Christopher Lambert, were the top names of the cast. Whilst the cast and crew were predominantly German, South African actress Lee-Anne Summers (daughter of Sean Summers, ex-Pick ‘n Pay boss and Tannenbaum Ponzi scheme “investor”) had a small part, as did ex-Miss South Africa Jo-Ann Strauss. Cape Town locations for the movie were the Cape Town International Convention Centre (making a believable airport exterior in New Zealand), Hout Bay (with its distinctive Sentinel mountain forming a frequent backdrop), the V&A Waterfront quays, the Whale Well in Queen Victoria Street, and the Royal Cape Yacht Club. An unidentifiable pristine beach was used to film the whales beaching (Since publishing this post, Paul – see comments – has identified the beach to be Kogel Bay, between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els). Local crew were used in part, and Hermanus residents were used as “demonstrating” extras.
After the first half of the movie was flighted on Sunday evening, a ZDF documentary speculated on the reasons for whales beaching. A number of theories were presented: whales can dive down too deep, and suffer from decompression like humans do when they come up for air too quickly, disorientating them, and making them beach; due to climate change the oceans are cooling, releasing more oxygen into the oceans, and thus attracting more sealife, and also whales, to shallower waters; sunspots can also affect the whales, and occur every 11 years – they affect the earth’s magnetism, and therefore the whales’ inner compass, disorientating them.
What is a shame is that the lovely scenery shots will not be recognised by the average German TV viewer as having been done in Cape Town and Hermanus, but will be identified as being new Zealand, due to the story-line. Even the documentary quoted Australian researchers, pertaining to the frequent beachings off Tasmania, and those from the Canary Islands, with no mention of whale beaching in South Africa.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com