Impact Updates

Sea Of Shadows


A looming disaster in one of the most spectacular environments on Earth sparks a rescue mission unlike any other in SEA OF SHADOWS, a riveting new documentary with the intensity of a Hollywood thriller from National Geographic Documentary Films and winner of the Sundance audience award. When Mexican drug cartels and Chinese traffickers join forces to poach the rare totoaba fish in the Sea of Cortez, their deadly methods threaten to destroy virtually all marine life in the region, including the most elusive and endangered whale species on Earth, the vaquita porpoise.

SEA OF SHADOWS follows a team of dedicated scientists, high-tech conservationists, investigative journalists and courageous undercover agents as well as the Mexican Navy as they put their lives on the line to save the last remaining vaquitas and bring the vicious international crime syndicate to justice.




  • Andrea Crosta

    Earth League International (ELI)
  • Carlos Loret de Mola

    Investigative Journalist (Televisa)
  • Dr. Cynthia Smith

    Program Manager of VaquitaCPR (NMMF)
  • Jack Hutton

    Drone Pilot (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
  • Javier & Alan Valverde

    Fishermen of San Felipe

Directed by

  • Richard Ladkani

Director of Photography

  • Richard Ladkani

Edited by

  • Georg Fischer

  • Verena Schönauer

Additional Camera by

  • Tobias Corts

    2nd camera
  • Holger Fleig

    drone pilot
  • Jürgen Christa

    drone pilot
  • Abdull Nurdin-Hussein


Location Sound by

  • Roland Winkler

Music by

  • H. Scott Salinas

Produced by

  • Walter Köhler

  • Wolfgang Knöpfler

  • Leonardi diCaprio

    Executive Producer
  • Jennifer Davisson

    Executive Producer
  • Phillip Watson

    Executive Producer
  • Scott Z. Burns

    Executive Producer
  • Dinah Czezik-Müller

    Executive Producer
  • Michael Frenschkowski

    Executive Producer
  • Carolyn Bernstein

    Executive Producer
  • Ryan Harrington

    Executive Producer
  • Laura Nix

    Executive Producer
  • Rebecca Cammisa

    Executive Producer

Production Manager

  • Anita Ladkani

Field & Impact Producer

  • Ru Mahoney

Associate Directors

  • Matthew Podolsky

  • Sean Bogle

Sound Design

  • Michael Plöderl

  • Bernhard Zorzi

Graphics & Animation

  • Felix Geremus

  • Alexander Siquans

In The Media

UNODC | 5 March 2020

UNODC celebrates World Wildlife Day with 'Sea of Shadows' screening in Brussels

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Indiewire | 7 Nov 2019

The Director of ‘Sea of Shadows’ Faced Down Cartels to Show the Fight to Save the World’s Smallest Porpoise. Director Richard Ladkani captures the struggle against violent groups who are threatening the Vaquita with extinction.

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GoldDerby | 7 Nov 2019

Exclusive video interview: Richard Ladkani on exposing the ‘organized crime attacking planet Earth’ in ‘Sea of Shadows’.

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Professional Production | Oktober 2019 (German)

Nach "The Ivory Game" startet Richard Ladkanis nicht minder spannende Doku "Sea of Shadows" am 09.11. in 172 Ländern bei National Geographic.

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Los Angeles Times | 6 Nov 2019

Four documentaries to watch as the race to the Oscars begins. There’s a kaleidoscopic array of styles and themes at play in this year’s contenders for the Academy Awards’ documentary prize: From out-of-this-world archival adventures to gritty, life-or-death stories to intimate portraits of forgotten ways of life, all of them tied together by the extraordinary personalities before the camera. Here are four films to look for when the documentary shortlist is announced in December.

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Monsters & Critics | 6 Nov 2019

The film Sea of Shadows brought to the screen by National Geographic Channel is a top pick by Monsters and Critics for one of the best documentaries of 2019.

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Hollywood Reporter | 02 Oct 2019

Feinberg Forecast: The Hollywood Reporter's awards columnist offers his first assessment of the Oscar race... Check for Sea Of Shadows in the Best Documentary Feature top 10.

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The Sun | 28 Sep 2019

The National Geographic documentary SEA OF SHADOWS premiered in London this week and revealed the latest shocking statistics about the plight of the vaquita whale.

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Buckrail | 27 Sep 2019

SEA OF SHADOWS wins BEST THEATRICAL at Jackson Wild 2019 Media Awards. Jackson Wild Media Awards are like the “Oscars®” of nature film. The awards celebrate excellence and innovation in nature, science, and conservation storytelling.

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Sky News | 27 Sep 2019

Sky News Live Interview: Sea Shepherd's Jack Hutton and director Richard Ladkani got amazing exposure for Sea of Shadows' theatrical launch in the UK on primetime evening news.

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BBC Radio London Clip 2 | 27 Sep 2019

Interview Clip 2: Jo Good talks with Richard Ladkani and Jack Hutton.

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BBC Radio London Clip 1 | 27 Sep 2019

Interview Clip 1: Jo Good talks with Richard Ladkani and Jack Hutton.

Listen to interview

The Times | 27 Sep 2019

Review ★★★★☆: Sea of Shadows — high‑octane documentary about endangered porpoises. Sea of Shadows is a serious environmental film wrapped up in action-movie tropes. National Geographic continues its sudden ascent from fuddy-daddy nature mag to must-see movie brand.

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Hollywood Reporter | 24 Sep 2019

Savannah Film Fest: Directors of 10 Top Docs Set for Hollywood Reporter Panel, amongst them is Sea of Shadows.

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The List | 23 Sep 2019

Excellent, eye-opening environmental catastrophe documentary that plays like a twisty crime thriller. The tiny vaquita whale may not seem like the catalyst for a sprawling tale of crime, corruption and environmental catastrophe but, as this excellent, eye-opening film makes clear, it's become the figurehead for a bloody battle between protection and profit; one that puts the writing indelibly on the wall for humanity's precarious relationship with – and appalling treatment of – the natural world.

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Der Standard | 21 Sep 2019 (German)

"Sea of Shadows": Das Fischernetz, in dem ein ganzes Ökosystem verendet. Richard Ladkanis Dokumentarfilm berichtet vom verheerenden Schattenhandel mit dem Totoaba-Fisch im Golf von Kalifornien.

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CHEDDAR | 20 Sep 2019

Live interview with Richard Ladkani after the Social Good Summit in New York City.

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Der Standard | 18 Sep 2019 (german)

Dokumentarist Richard Ladkani: Allein gegen die Fischmafia. Ladkanis Dokumentarfilm "Sea of Shadows" deckt die Schattenwirtschaft rund um die Jagd des Fisches Totoaba auf – und befindet sich damit auf Oscar-Kurs.

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Die Presse | 15 SEP 2019 (German)

Wie ein Film ein Meer retten will: Die Red-Bull-Tochter Terra Mater ist für ihre Naturfilme bekannt. Jetzt will sie auch Tatsachen schaffen: Die Doku „Sea of Shadows“ legtsich mit Kartellen an, die ein Ökosystem bedrohen.

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San Diego Red | 7 Sep 2019

The vaquita marina in the wake of extinction, illegal fishermen, Chinese mafia, seasoned ecologists and scientists, are all real characters of the documentary "Sea of ​​Shadows" directed by the Austrian Richard Ladkani. We exclusively interviewed the director about his experience in Baja California and the documentary to be released soon in cinemas in Mexico.

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KALW San Francisco | 11 Aug 2019

Listen to director Richard Ladkani and protagonists Dr. Cynthia Smith, Andrea Crosta, and Jack Hutton discuss SEA OF SHADOWS on this edition of Your Call's One Planet Series.

Listen to interview

Sea Of Shadows Original Soundtrack | 7 AUg 2019

H. Scott Salinas' hauntingly beautiful original score for Sea Of Shadows is now available on Apple Music, Amazon, and Spotify.

Listen to soundtrack

Great Adventures | 27 Jul 2019

Podcast: Andrea Crosta joins Charles Thorp to talk about Earth League International - ELI’s covert operations and the fight against wildlife trafficking in the latest episode of “Great Adventures!”

Listen to podcast


Op-Ed by Richard Ladkani: How cracking down on organized crime could save a tiny porpoise from extinction. Why should you care about the vaquita, a tiny porpoise you have probably never seen, living in a sea you may have never touched, with a fate tied to a fish you likely didn’t know existed? Because the vaquita is a powerful symbol of what we are losing on our planet.

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ScreenRant | 17 Jul 2019

Interview: We were lucky enough to speak with Andrea Crosta, executive director and co-founder of Earth League International, and Richard Ladkani, the director of this powerfully, impactful documentary. To get to the root of this documentary and find out why it should be required viewing for so many of us that call this planet home.

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Awards Daily | 13 Jul 2019

Review: New Documentary ‘Sea Of Shadows’ Is An Urgent Call To Action. The vaquita porpoise is one of the smallest mammals in the world; it’s also one of the most elusive mammals and it is on the brink of extinction. Richard Ladkani directs Sea of Shadows and if you’re familiar with Ladkani’s work and you’ve seen The Ivory Game (Netflix), you’ll know that of Sea of Shadows is not going to be a documentary that just looks at the vaquita. We’re not going to be watching a Planet Earth type show gawking at this mysterious creature. He takes us into the Sea Of Cortez to show us how humans need to act now to save not just the Sea of Cortez, not just the planet, but the vaquita.

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Nonfiction Film | 12 Jul 2019

Dr. Jane Goodall joined the team behind Sea of Shadows at the LA premiere. Meet the cast and crew at the red-carpet premiere at NeueHouse Theatre in Hollywood.

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Roger Ebert | 12 Jul 2019

Review: Paints an engrossing portrait of mankind’s encroaching, self-inflicted demise, with moneyed interests leading us, like the pied piper, off the cliff and into the sea.

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Los Angeles Times | 12 Jul 2019

Review: Eco-crisis documentary "Sea of Shadows" lives up to its sinister title.

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New York Times | 11 Jul 2019

Review: A Suspenseful Story of Saving Porpoises A National Geographic documentary on the threat to an endangered species in the Gulf of California has a violent twist.

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Slant Magazine | 7 Jul 2019

Review: The Eco-Thriller Sea of Shadows Casts a Wide Net in Its Messaging. Richard Ladkani’s documentary bristles with drama and a panicky sense of righteous anger.

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ABC Nightline | 9 Jul 2019

The filmmakers of "Sea of Shadows" talk about their quest to save the porpoise, of which there are less than 15 left in the wild, from a web of illegal fishing, Mexican cartels and the Chinese mafia.

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Variety | 21 Feb 2019

Review: An audience award winner at Sundance, Richard Ladkani's latest eco-minded doc compellingly investigates marine endangerment in the Gulf of California.

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For the wild | 21 Feb 2019

Interview: Sea of Shadows begins at 7m10s. Other films covered in this interview include: Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, The Infiltrators, Advocate, Words from a Bear, Merata: How Mum Decolonized the Screen, and Tigerland.

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Solzy at the movies | 14 Feb 2019

Interview: Richard Ladkani and Andrea Crosta took some time to speak with Solzy at the Movies about Sea of Shadows during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The interview took place a few days after the premiere but before the film took home the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary.

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Park City TV: What’s Reel | 5 Feb 2019

Christine Napier chats with Richard Ladkani and Andrea Crosta about their Sundance Film, Sea of Shadows.

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Hollywood Reporter | 30 Jan 2019

Sundance '19 Review: Richard Ladkani's eco-thriller ventures into the front line of efforts to save the planet's most endangered sea mammal.

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Nonfics | 28 Jan 2019

Sundance '19 Review: 'Sea of Shadows' is Mexico's Answer to 'The Cove'. Director Richard Ladkani and producer Leonardo DiCaprio re-team with 'The Ivory Game' investigator Andrea Crosta to try to save the vaquita.

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Moveable Fest | 28 Jan 2019

Sundance ’19 Review: “Sea of Shadows” Brings an Ecological Crisis To Light. Giving the rescue effort for one of the world’s most vulnerable fish the import of a Hollywood blockbuster, Richard Ladkani’s nonfiction eco-thriller commands attention.

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Sundance Film Festival: Meet the Artist | 8 Jan 2019

Meet Richard Ladkani, director of Sea of Shadows, playing in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

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Andrea Crosta


Andrea Crosta is relentless in his mission to protect wildlife through undercover investigations around the world. His organization, Earth League International (formerly Elephant Action League), currently comprises 12 international teams on three continents. His team of undercover investigators is extremely efficient and includes many operatives from China — the country where most of the illegal products are being shipped — but also former FBI and CIA operatives who have dedicated their lives to saving our planet’s wildlife. His investigation of the syndicates behind the totoaba trade started back in 2016, and a preliminary report into the Chinese trade was released in the summer of 2017. The investigation depicted in SEA OF SHADOWS targets Chinese traders in Mexico, and because it also involves the drug cartels, it is one of the most dangerous he has ever conducted.

Earth League International (ELI)

Carlos Loret de Mola


Carlos Loret de Mola is one of the most famous celebrities in Mexico. Wherever he shows up, he is recognized and welcomed. But he is also known as a tough-as-nails investigative journalist who does not shy away from exposing corruption and sinister dealings. His most famous investigation helped expose high-level officials who were implicated in drug kingpin El Chapo’s escape from prison. When the vaquita became a national priority in 2015, Loret de Mola started covering the story and quickly discovered that major drug cartels were taking over the business, referring to totoabas as “cocaine of the sea.” It was on his daily TV show, which has more than 30 million viewers, that Loret de Mola exposed the dealings of traffickers such as Oscar Parra (whom the government has nicknamed the “El Chapo of Totoabas”) and government officials vowed to protect the vaquitas.

Dr. Cynthia Smith


Dr. Cynthia Smith, DVM, is passionate about the conservation and protection of marine mammals around the world. She serves as the Program Manager of the VaquitaCPR conservation project, a bold attempt to rescue the endangered vaquita porpoise from extinction. Her background as a lead veterinarian for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill investigation made her a perfect fit to co-lead the VaquitaCPR team, working side-by-side with Dr. Lorenzo Rojas, Mexico’s leading vaquita scientist. Dr. Smith is also the Executive Director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation, a nonprofit based in San Diego, California, with a mission to improve and protect life for marine mammals. The team focuses on urgent issues related to conservation biology & medicine, human-made environmental change, and endangered species recovery. Dr. Smith remains hopeful that we still have enough time to save vaquitas, as long as swift action is taken to conserve the animals, the sea, and the coastal communities that rely on them.

National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF)

Jack Hutton


Jack Hutton joined Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro in the Sea of Cortez as first officer to help save the “aquarium of the world” and the vaquita porpoise from imminent extinction. His biggest idol is Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Just 21, Hutton brings a unique skill set to this operation: He is a master drone pilot. A key instrument in this mission, aerial reconnaissance enables Sea Shepherd to locate poachers and ghost nets, even at night. Whenever illegal activities are detected, Sea Shepherd moves in to chase off poachers and pull their nets from the ocean before any damage can be done. This has made Sea Shepherd many enemies in the upper Sea of Cortez, which is why it now operates under the protection of the Mexican Navy. Despite multiple armed attacks on Sea Shepherd vessels and the shooting down of their drone, Hutton remains eager to keep on fighting against the destruction of the vaquitas and the Sea of Cortez ecosystem.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS)

Javier and Alan Valverde


Javier and Alan Valverde are local fishermen who would love to see the vaquita porpoise survive but struggle with the government ban on gillnet fishing, which prevents them from making a living, while illegal fishermen make huge profits. Javier’s family members are among the founders of San Felipe, making him a very respected person in the town. But because he stands with the government when it comes to the protection of vaquitas, he also has many enemies. His entire family, including his two sons and grandsons, are dedicated to the cause and help the government with the removal of illegal gillnets off the shores of San Felipe. After the Vaquita CPR mission was aborted, Javier and his grandson Alan vowed to do everything in their power to stop illegal fishing from flaring up in the area, but their hands are tied when it comes to the cartels. Should the cartels take control of the totoaba business, nobody — not even the government — can stop them.

SEA OF SHADOWS is currently in select theaters in the U.S., Mexico, U.K., and Austria.

It will launch on National Geographic Channel on November 9th, 2019.

See full List of Cinemas

A critically endangered vaquita, smallest porpoise on earth

A dolphin, killed in a totoaba ghost net

Andrea Crosta explaining totoaba trafficking

Andrea Crosta with investigators Mark Davies and Oona Layolle

Illegal fishermen of Santa Clara

Javier Valverde, legal fisherman from San Felipe

Carlos Loret de Mola with Ana-Lucia Hernandez

Carlos Loret de Mola in the Televisa news room

Dr. Cynthia Smith, program manager of the VaquitaCPR mission

Sea pen designed to hold rescued vaquita

Sea Shepherd's "Sharpie" surrounded by dolphins

Jack Hutton, first officer on the "Sharpie"

National Geographic Documentary Films presents a Terra Mater Film Studios production,
in association with Appian Way, Malaika Pictures & The WildLens Collective.