She already was a successful news anchor for Beijing’s China Central Television, but journalism major Neela Eyunni (BA ’08) found herself heading in another career direction after a 2015 vacation to the Philippines. Her encounters with companies offering tourists the chance to swim with whale sharks left her feeling uneasy, and her journalistic instincts took over.
“What I wasn’t aware of, going into it, was that [the sharks] were being fed,” she says. “After being a tourist and seeing what was happening, I was really interested in learning more about that and how it was impacting the sharks.”
Eyunni returned with a film crew two months later to begin work on what would become “On the Brink: Uncharted Waters,” a documentary film that takes an in-depth look at the booming whale shark tourism industry in the Philippines and its potential threat to marine life.
“When we did the production, we got a lot of those answers to our questions,” says Eyunni, who left her job in Beijing in December and returned to the U.S. to work full time on marketing the film. “The sharks are being conditioned to follow boats, which puts them more at risk to poachers; they are getting injured by boat propellers; and it is actually impeding their migration, which is affecting everything from their nutrition and food to their reproductive behavior.”
The documentary had its U.S. premiere in March at the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, where it was awarded the 2016 Conservation Award. In October, it will be featured at the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival and will air on the National Geographic Philippines cable channel.
“We are using this documentary not just for entertainment purposes, but as a driving force to change legislation regarding whale shark interactions, as well as legislation for interacting with turtles, dolphins and whales,” says Eyunni, who worked closely with Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines on the film. “It sets stricter guidelines, which is good for the country, good for the locals and ultimately good for marine life.”