Hollywood's 'Big Miracle' reminds Americans of the special nature of the Arctic Ocean

Feb 1, 2012

Although it may not appear in the credits, the Arctic Ocean is one of the stars of this week’s release from Universal Pictures, “Big Miracle,” featuring Drew Barrymore as an activist who helps rescue three endangered gray whales after they become trapped by sea ice off the coast of Barrow, Alaska.

Based on actual events that occurred in 1988 and drew the world’s attention to the Arctic and its inhabitants, this film from Universal Pictures highlights a remote and fragile part of the world that is facing unprecedented pressures as climate change opens new shipping routes and oil companies prepare to begin drilling the Outer Continental Shelf.

These changes pose threats not only to a variety of Arctic creatures – quite possibly including the very trio of whales that inspired “Big Miracle” – but to Alaska Natives who depend on the Beaufort and Chukchi seas to support their generations-old culture and subsistence way of life.

As moviegoers enjoy the film’s opening weekend, Shell Oil is making plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer, pending final approval from the federal government. The Department of the Interior appears to be fast-tracking offshore oil development off Alaska despite a glaring lack of scientific knowledge about the Arctic Ocean and how a major oil spill would affect whales, polar bears, fish and migratory birds, not to mention the food supply for indigenous people.

Meanwhile, Shell promises to recover 95 percent of any oil released into the Arctic Ocean, a goal it has never come close to achieving under far more hospitable conditions in other parts of the world. The fact is, effective spill-response technology just doesn’t exist for an environment where ice, rough seas, fog and high winds are the norm.

As moviegoers will see this weekend, rescuing three whales in the Arctic was such a daunting task that it required the United States and the Soviet Union to set aside their Cold War differences.

Maybe we should all consider what would happen if sea ice stranded not whales, but a major oil spill?

Sounds sort of like a Hollywood disaster movie, doesn’t it?