Racing Extinction (2015) Script

I was reading The Financial Times, and it was a little, tiny, two-paragraph story that said, "Mankind may be causing a mass-extinction event."

It was, like, buried on like page six or seven.

And l thought, "This is how humanity is dealing with the issue.

"They're not dealing with it."

Check your cellphone.

If you get anywhere near this place, he scrambles the signal.

Louie, man , how are you?

Just curious, how many cameras do you have on you right now?

You mean, like, on my table or--

No, no. On your body.

On my body?

Less than seven, but probably more than two.

Okay, so, we're doing an order here.

One hat cam, two buttonhole cameras, sports bra, one bottle cam, 5. 1 1 tac shirt with the vibration .

-Whenever you're ready. -Oh , yeah .

So you're rolling right now, so you can get the entrance.

And make sure, of course, the straps are gone.


Your reservation's in ten minutes.

All right.

So, we ate Codfish.

Kobe beef and also some sweet shrimp.

I was raised on it.

She brought me here.

Yeah .

We try to be adventurous, yeah.

I started eating it like ten years ago.

l've been having sashimi a lot at my grandpa's.

-Oh , yeah . -We would go out.

Thank you .

This is a special tamari soy sauce from the chef. l don't know.

Yeah, three pieces. We got it.

It's a bingo.

The owners and chef of one of America's trendiest restaurants. . .

. . .are facing federal charges tonight, all because of what they put on customers' plates.

An endangered species.

And behind the undercover sting, some movie makers who went right back to work.

We're making our own road here.

Pretty big, the side of the skull here, yeah.

I did four stories about extinction for National Geographic magazine.

You go to these beautiful landscapes.

There's dinosaurs from horizon to horizon.

And you think, "That was so far back then, "what if it's going on right now and everybody's missing it?"

Each year, about one in a million species should expire naturally.

In the next few decades, we'll be driving species to extinction...

...a thousand times faster than they should be.

It's difficult to estimate precisely how many species we're gonna lose.

In a hundred years or so, we could lose up to 50% of all the species on Earth.

I remember thinking, "This is the biggest story in the world."

It's like we're living in the age of dinosaurs, but we can do something about it.

A friend of mine just reported up in that area.


The blue whale is the biggest creature that ever lived on the planet.

Bigger than any dinosaur ever.

Just like dinosaurs, they're going extinct.

It's coming in hot!

There it is!

Look at him.

Back in the days of whaling,

they were hunted to near-extinction, down to about two percent of their population.

Now they're getting decimated by shipping traffic.

Go for it.

He's coming up to the right.

To the right.

My hope is that if you can show people the beauty of these animals, there's a chance to save these things.

One of the cool things about a blue whale is that it has the loudest song in the animal kingdom, but you can't hear it, because it's below our threshold for hearing.

We look out at the world through these eyes and these ears, and you think, "Oh, that's it.

"That's everything that there is to see."

But there's this hidden world on almost every level.

What I want to do is get people to see it.

We get off the boat, and this fisherman comes up to our interpreter and says, "Can you give me $500?

"I found this buoy. There's a $500 reward.

"lt needs to be returned up to America."

And I said, "Just a minute.

"Let me take a look at this buoy."

And I look at it, and it says, "Return to Chris Clark, Cornell Bioacoustic laboratory."

I said, "I know this guy."

Chris had been pioneering new ways to record whales for 30 years.

He basically proved that these animals could hear themselves across oceans.

And so, to me, finding that buoy was like finding a message in a bottle.

We built these recording systems.

We dropped them in the ocean, and they record continuously.

Whales and dolphins and anything that's out there... we try and record.

So, the first time, I knew there was a blue whale singing nearby. l could see it on the display, but I couldn't hear it.

So what do you have to do? You have to speed it up.

And still, the hair goes up on the back of my neck, and it just, like-- It's like, "Damn! That's fabulous."

As we listen more and more around different parts of the planet,

whether it's frozen Arctic ocean or the deepest jungles of Central Africa, the whole world is singing.

Clicking and grinding and whistling and thumping.

But we've stopped listening.

The Cornell Bioacoustical Laboratory has the largest repository of animal sounds on the planet.

They've been collecting them since the 1 930s.

You can think of it as a museum, just like there could be bird skins or, you know, beetles tacked up on a wall.

So there's this range of sounds from the largest animal ever to live on this planet to the tiniest, little insects.

This is a song recording of a male 'o'o singing on Kaua'i.

These birds mate for life, so he would be singing a duet with his mate, where he sings, and then she sings back and forth.

Here comes the male's song.

There's no response.

Here's the male's song again.

That's the last male of a species, singing for a female who will never come.

He is totally alone.

And now his voice is gone.

In the brief lifetime of this collection, 70 years or so, many of the species that were recorded are now extinct.

So the repository is a living example of the massive rate of extinction that's happening.

There's been five major extinctions in the history of the planet.

There's the Ordovician, the Devonian, the Permian...

...there was the triassic-jurassic, ...and then the K-t extinction, ...the one that killed the dinosaurs.

It's very difficult to comprehend deep time.

You know, 4.6 billion years of Earth's history.

But if you take, say, the history of the Earth and try to squeeze it into a 24-hour clock, where does man fit on that clock?

A few seconds before midnight. That's it.

We're the new kid on the block.

What we're seeing now... called the anthropocene, the new epoch.

Anthropocene means the time of humans.

It's when the impact of humans is leaving itself as a mark in the fossil record of the future.

65 million years ago, there was an asteroid that struck and caused the dinosaurs to go extinct.

When it comes to the sixth extinction event, we have no problem identifying the cause.

Humanity has become the asteroid.

We're on that tipping point now, where it's either... too late or just the beginning of a movement.

So, there's two pieces of whale and one piece of horse.

At the Hump restaurant, we knew that they were selling whale meat.

But there's also something bigger going on.

We heard that the Obama administration was in closed-doors negotiations with the Japanese to go do commercial whaling again.

And I thought, "Well, if we could prove

"that endangered whales are being served right here, "on the shores of America, "we would stop that conversation."

Stop the murder! Stop the death!

Hump restaurant is to blame!

The animal-rights community took it up, but the restaurant didn't close down.

There's this one guy I'd never heard of before, his name is Ady Gil.

He took some gear and put it out in front of the Hump restaurant, as people are going in.

So, what are you doing?

I'm protesting.

Yesterday, there were like 200 people here, protesting, and l thought, you know, somebody needs to keep the pressure on.

If you look at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, those are his screens, and that's all his projections.

And, so, he parks this Ferrari right next to the van, and the owner comes out and tells Ady, he says, "How long are you gonna be doing this?"

And he thought that I was just some hippie, you know, gonna be here for a day or two.

I said, "Listen, man.

"I can be here for a month or two or a year or whatever.

"How long can you survive while I am here?"

Ten days later, the restaurant closes down.

To me, it was a beautiful moment.

Everybody had gone home, and this one guy with this big, bright light, and keeps the light shining on this subject.

Shut it down!

There are thousands of people all over the world, willing and able and changing their careers to save species.

They go to some of the darkest, grimmest, most unsafe places on the planet.

Let's save the shark! Let's save the shark!

Over 800 environmental activists have been killed in just the last decade.

So these guys are doing the tough work, and we never hear about them. They're not household names.

Shawn Heinrichs, I live in Boulder, Colorado.

You can't get any more landlocked than Colorado.

And I found out that there's this incredible ocean activist living right down the street who quit his job as a CFO for a tech company so he could help save endangered species.

Shawn's doing some of the best, most groundbreaking work that I've seen anywhere in the world.

Isla Mujeres was the largest shark-fishing island on the east coast of Mexico.

At least 20, if not more, long-liners...

...were targeting sharks each and every single day.

Shawn helped turn this hunting ground...

...into one of the top places in the world where you can actually go and watch sharks.

Now you have this community of ex-shark fishermen who are making much more money taking tourists out to swim with whale sharks than killing sharks on long-lines.

It's just simple economics.

Shawn often works with his buddy, Paul Hilton, an investigative photojournalist.

They can't help but to get themselves into dangerous situations.

Traveler's paradise.

Paul's a photojournalist, like me, focused on endangered species.

He's brilliant at what he does.

Paul and Shawn try to bust rings selling endangered species.

We're gonna blow the lid off this place, right?

Shawn's pretty full-on. I love his enthusiasm.

He talks far too much when we're on assignment.

There's always that issue of me having to go to him and say, "mate, wind it up."

I think it's the American in him. l'm rolling. l can distract.

And a lot of the situations we go into, it's always nice to go in as teams, because you're going into situations where you get caught up in the moment with the camera, and you'll actually photograph it, and there's no one watching your back.

Ask for the toilet. Where's the toilet?

Paul and Shawn have this technique of... They have a camera sitting around their neck, and most people think you have to put it up to your eye to look through it and to shoot.

And it's actually a video camera, and it's rolling the whole time.

So many.

And this is the Jaws, movie Jaws?

Don't push it too much, Shawn.

Okay, cool. Very cool.

I don't know about you. That's the most fins I've ever, ever seen.

How did you find out about this?

Facebook, basically.

I mean, colleagues, mates...

We just walked straight in, basically.


How long were you there?

Ten, 1 5 minutes.

You did all this in ten, 1 5 minutes?

Oh, yeah, mate.


Are we almost there, Paul?

Yeah, so, it's the next block.

I didn't think that the illegal-wildlife trade would be so overt.

You can go down streets, and every other shop will be full of endangered creatures.

Look at this one right here.

It's not just shark fins.

It's just about everything endangered in the world is for sale there.

With the explosion of demand in China for shark-fin soup, it was estimated that 250,000 sharks are caught for the fin trade every single day.

Probably no other species illustrates what's going on in the oceans right now better than sharks.

Sharks predate dinosaurs.

They survived four mass-extinction events.

And just this one generation that I've been alive, we've cut down their ranks about 90%.

I was following a group of shark finners in Indonesia, and they were moving around camp to camp.

And, then, one morning, I saw something reflecting off in the coral reef in the shallow water.

And what I discovered was just horrific.

There's this beautiful tawny nurse shark, but it had all its fins cut off.

And it was trying to swim, but it couldn't swim.

And it was heartbreaking, 'cause it's like... This is what the reality is.

This is the thing that nobody gets.

Now, are we gonna get... Any luck with us getting in there?


Shawn has an interpreter.

I don't want to say her name, but she's been doing undercover work in China for several decades.

The first place she took us was a place that they couldn't ever get into before.

Basically, the Walmart of the endangered-species trade in Hong Kong.

Over the years, I've actually worked really hard to get into this facility.

So has Paul and so has his friends.

And we've managed to maybe step in the door for 30 seconds.


What's wrong?

His staff would come out and push us away, threaten to call the police.

Hands, machete, kicked out the door, "don't ever come back."

Here's what we'll do.

We have a car waiting with all the stuff in it.

I brought along a couple of colleagues from the Hump bust.

Heather Rally, who does undercover work for us.

And Charles Hambleton, who's sort of my director of covert operations.

In the alley here, on the right-hand side?

We invented a cover.

We pretended like we were on a culinary tour and we were looking for exotic product.

I think we stick to plan.

We're going as culinary tourist interests of Mr. Sawyer, and we're all here, learning and taking pictures of culinary.

You can get into about as much trouble as you can possibly get into with a buttonhole camera in China.

If for some reason, we run into people with badges and uniforms, strip off all the shit.

Just rip it out from under your shirt and throw it over a wall.

Go right in. Go in, go in, go in.


We're starting a business where we want to sell seafood.

We have a seafood shop.

Well, back where we do it, it's mainly tuna and marlin and swordfish.

They want to see something more exciting.

'Cause the Chinese traveler and the Asian traveler has become big business now. It's more than 50%.

We should go. We should probably go.

No, no, no.

-This is nice. -Yeah.

I need to go to the bathroom bad.

There's the bathroom.

Oh, thank you, thank you.


Are these expensive, also?

$44,800 US Dollar per kilo.

No way.

We ended up going down the road to another warehouse on the Hong Kong waterfront.

Louie, look at this.

It must have been 1 0,000-20,000 fins in one location.

This was one of the biggest facilities on the planet.

Look at that. It looks like a blue.

The scale of it was just out of control. l've never seen anything like that before in my life.


I feel like this world is absolutely insane.

I remember once diving the northernmost islands of the Galapagos, Darwin lsland and Wolf Island. You know, islands that Darwin actually never had been to before.

It's the land before time.

I mean, it's like land before humans got there.

And I remember this giant whale shark came by, and then a pod of dolphins came by.

You know, this is back when you shot film.

And the whole frame was just filled with wildlife.

And this dolphin came swimming from behind the front of the whale shark, and it grabbed this tuna, and it brought it and looked right at me and shook it, and it swallowed it, tail first down its throat.

And I thought, "You know, "this is when you want 37 pictures on a 36 roll of film."

It's just magical, absolutely magical.

As underwater photographers, photojournalists really, we're documenting a time and a place that in the future may not be there.

And the clock is moving.

The first photographs I shot...

...the assignment for National Geographic, 1960, I took a total of.. . or eight frames on two and a quarter square film, on ektachrome film, and butted them together.

It was the first underwater, color panoramicever done on the reefs.

And this was when I came back in 1 989.

The beautiful Barrier Reef forest went to hell.

Now I'm looking around and saying, "Well, "what happened here?

"It's not so far off from what happened 65 million years ago."

Extinction is often being driven by... human activity, things like habitat destruction or overfishing.

And then there's global climate change, which is happening in a different way.

So we have these sort of dual things, like the direct hand of man, and the indirect hand of man in the change of climate.

Climate is controlled by the oceans.

The oceans are the big guy. They're in control.

And the oceans now are slowly changing.

And that is the danger we face today.

A mass extinction is driven by a change of the environment...

...and we are changing the environment precisely along the lines that can trigger off one of these great catastrophes.

There's been five mass extinctions, and they've had different causes, but there's been one common factor in all.. .