Hollywood will bring Alaska’s Arctic to theaters nationwide next month when Drew Barrymore stars in the movie “Big Miracle” about the 1988 effort to rescue three endangered gray whales trapped by sea ice off the coast of Barrow, the northernmost community in the United States.
We’re eager to see the film and find out how an Arctic Ocean drama is portrayed on the big screen. The filmmakers likely will exercise some artistic license with the event, which led the U.S. and Soviet governments to work together on a plan to use a Soviet icebreaker to create a path for the whales to reach the open ocean.
The whales’ plight drew worldwide news coverage and, for a short time, focused the attention of millions of people on the Arctic and its Alaska Native residents. Twenty-three years later, maybe those whales — or at least their Hollywood stand-ins — can again draw attention to the remote and imperiled Arctic Ocean.
Gray whales are believed to live up to 70 years so, for all we know, the unfortunate three that inspired “Big Miracle” still return each summer and swim in the same waters. These waters are where the oil industry and the Obama administration are planning a dangerous strategy of drilling for oil on the Outer Continental Shelf, a harsh, forbidding environment that’s far from the infrastructure and resources needed to respond to a major oil spill.
Will those same whales be driven away by the noise from oil exploration and development? Will they, and other Arctic Ocean marine mammals, birds, and fish someday find themselves in oil-slicked waters? Let’s hope not.
More than two decades ago, the world rallied to rescue three helpless creatures, and two nations were inspired to overcome Cold War tensions to save them. The imaginations of millions of people were captured by a place most will never see. If Drew Barrymore’s movie reminds people to care about the Arctic Ocean and Alaska, and all the creatures and people that call those places home, that will be a big — and very welcome — miracle indeed.