‘Sea of Shadows’ documents fight for endangered species’ survival

Sea of Shadows | Saturday, 9 p.m., National Geographic

The treacherous world of marine conservation is exposed in the documentary “Sea of Shadows.” In graphic and violent detail, the Richard Ladkani film shows how teams such as Earth League International are thwarted by Mexican cartels, the Chinese mafia and law enforcement officers. The deceptively serene Sea of Cortez and Baja Calif. town of San Felipe become a battleground for the extinction of the vaquito, the world’s smallest cetacean, and the capture of the totoaba fish, whose swim bladders are prized in China. Local fishermen earn $5,000 per fish and their bladders are then sold in Tijuana for $12,000 to $15,000. From there, they are exported to China, where they fetch prices anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000.

“Many of the Chinese store them as they would store gold,” says Ladkani, 46. “They cook them in a soup. It’s good for their skin. Instead of buying a Ferrari, they buy a bladder or two.”

“Sea of Shadows” also explores scientists’ efforts to treat the vaquita in captivity. Lurking beneath the Sea of Cortez is a series of nets that trap larger fish. Aboveground, the nets have their equivalent in Oscar Parra, whose murder of a member of the Mexican Navy is captured on camera.

Ladkani spoke to The Post from LA.

How did you become aware of the plight of the vaquita?
[Executive producer] Leonardo DiCaprio has been involved with the vaquita for years. He met the president of Mexico. He called us and said, “We need a movie on the vaquita and I can open doors for you, if you’re interested.” All that was one phone call.

What problems did you encounter while making the film?
This is the most dangerous film I’ve ever been involved in. We went in thinking we were going to shoot a nature doc. As soon as we saw how the mafia and the cartels were taking control of the fishermen and that the Navy brought their warships, it didn’t take [long] until we were being shot at. Bullets started richocheting off the walls of our boat. We had bodyguards and a big security company and changed locations often enough so that the cartel did not find out where we were.

A vaquita trapped in the ghost nets in the Sea of Cortez.
A vaquita trapped in the ghost nets in the Sea of Cortez.National Geographic

What is a swim bladder?
The fish fill them with air and gas and use them for buoyancy. They’re used like a lung. The Chinese are crazy for them. The cartels are dealing in swim bladders instead of cocaine. In order to get it, they’ll kill everything else.

How much does the vaquita weigh?
I’m a kilogram guy. I’ll say 150 pounds.

What are the nets made of?
Nylon. The fish swim and their gills get caught in the nylon string and they can’t get back out again. Small species swim through them. They’re only good for catching larger fish. Large whales, turtles.

What is the Earth League?
Earth League International is the only crime-investigating agency for the planet. They’re all ex-CIA, ex-FBI and NSA. They’re people with a heart for the planet and the skills of James Bond and they’re using those skills to target the traffickers.

Do you feel “Sea of Shadows” has made an environmental impact and, if so, what?
Yes. We are right now at peak impact. The Mexican government is sending in troops, going after traffickers and establishing a zero-tolerance zone. This is also because we had four screenings at the United Nations at the invitation of Ivonne Higuero, the Secretary General of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). There were reps from all the countries of the world. People were very emotional. Out of that screening, the UN threatened Mexico with a huge embargo in a year if they don’t protect the vaquita.

And here’s what else to watch this week:

This Is Us | Tuesday, 9 p.m., NBC

Deja (Lyric Ross) pushes the boundaries of Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) trust. In the past, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) invite Randall’s new teacher over for dinner.

Rebecca (Mandy Moore) gathers the extended family for Thanksgiving.
Rebecca (Mandy Moore) gathers the extended family for Thanksgiving.Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Riverdale | Wednesday, 8 p.m., The CW

Caught between Hiram (Mark Consuelos) and Hermione’s (Marisol Nichols) double trial, Veronica (Camila Mendes) grapples with what the future holds for her family.

Stumptown | Wednesday, 10 p.m., ABC

Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders) is bisexual in the graphic novel on which the show is based. In this episode, Dex’s ex, a rock musician named Fiona X (Ionna Gika), comes to Portland and Dex must protect her from a stalker.

Cobie Smulders and Cole Sibus in a scene from "Stumptown."
Cobie Smulders and Cole Sibus in a scene from “Stumptown.”ABC

Watchmen | Sunday, 9 p.m., HBO

FBI agent Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) heads to Tulsa to take over the recent murder investigation. The Lord of the Manor receives a harshly worded letter and responds accordingly.

His Dark Materials | Monday, 10 p.m., HBO

Series premiere. Philip Pullman’s trilogy is adapted for TV. A young girl from another world (Dafne Keen) stumbles on a ring of stolen children. Ruth Wilson co-stars.

Ruth Wilson stars in "His Dark Materials."
Ruth Wilson stars in “His Dark Materials.”HBO

The Unicorn | Thursday, 8:30 p.m., CBS

When Wade (Walton Goggins) visits a local hot spot to meet ladies instead of relying on his dating app, his buddies Forrest (Rob Corddry) and Ben (Omar Miller) accompany him — as wingmen.

The Little Mermaid Live | Tuesday , 8 p.m., ABC

Auli’i Cravalho stars as Ariel in this new spin on the animated film, which blends live singing with animated clips from the original, 30-year-old movie. With Queen Latifah as Ursula and Shaggy as the crustacean Sebastian.

Queen Latifah as Ursula
Queen Latifah as UrsulaABC

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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