VIFF Film Review - Coextinction (2021)

Still of Southern Resident killer whales from Coextinction

The southern resident killer whales have been a marvel of beauty in the waters of the Pacific North West for almost one million years. These incredible creatures lost 1/3 of their population due to captivity for our entertainment starting in the early 1980’s. Today they continue to suffer and are at risk of extinction in less than five years if no babies are born and survive. Currently there are only 74 killer whales left. Coextinction is a documentary that follows two filmmakers who work with activists, Indigenous leaders and renowned scientists in their search to find out why the remaining killer whales are dying and what we can do to save them before it’s too late.

I’m going to be really transparent here; so many emotions came up when I watched this film, mostly sadness. We’ve heard in the news for years about the plight of killer whales. The most recent being the awful and tragic story of J35 carrying her dead calf for 17 days back in 2018. Whale researchers feel she was trying to tell us something and express an urgent need for help. This documentary leads you through all of reasons why the killer whales are suffering, from not being able to find enough food due to Pacific salmon shortage, to being interrupted while searching for food by oil tankers and freight ships. The source of these problems is all man made and continue to increase. One big looming threat is the Trans Mountain pipeline. It will increase tanker traffic by 700% off our coast adding more stress to the whales and an even bigger risk for oil spills.

If the imminent extinction of the southern resident killer whales wasn’t enough heartbreak, other apex predators like the grizzly bears are suffering as well. As Pacific salmon populations continue to dwindle the grizzly bears are starving. The rivers are becoming empty and grizzlies are being forced to migrate to areas they’re not usually known to live in search of food. There are several reasons why our salmon are endangered. The water dams in the Snake River of the Pacific North West make it nearly impossible for salmon to migrate, and closer to home, the Atlantic salmon farms frequently carry disease which infect and kill our Pacific salmon. If there’s no salmon to feed our apex predators like the grizzly bears and killer whales we are headed to an impending eco system collapse. We must change the way we view nature and be willing to fight for the preservation of these species. Honestly, this maybe one of the most important films you’ll see all year.

You can also get more information by following the filmmakers on Instagram

Coextinction will be available to stream via VIFF Connect and limited in-cinema screenings.

The 40th annual Vancouver International Film Festival runs Oct 1 – 11.

Tickets and info visit

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