In September 2015, Mustill and a friend, Charlotte Kinloch, were paddling a tandem kayak in Monterey Bay, California, on a whale-watching tour when a 30-ton humpback breached and came within feet of landing directly on them. They were knocked from their boat and quickly rescued, but video footage of the incident captured by nearby whale-watchers went viral, rapidly racking up millions of views. In the weeks afterward, Mustill found himself watching and rewatching the clip, growing more and more obsessed. As he ruminates in the film, “How can you get that close to something so big, with that much power, and not die?”
It’s a coincidence so perfect that it seems contrived—wildlife filmmaker landed on by a breaching whale, film to come—but Mustill’s background is what makes him the perfect candidate to investigate this case. His deep dive into the behavior of the humpback turned into a wide-ranging look at the precarious state of whales that became The Whale Detective.