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Mysteries of the Great Lakes Marketing Guide


 
Editorial Ideas

Mysteries of the Great Lakes is a timely film. All across the Great Lakes basin, there is a renewed interest in the health of the Great Lakes, and an increased awareness of the importance of this freshwater resource to North America. Known as ‘inland seas’ by early European explorers, the Great Lakes have some of the most spectacular wilderness scenery on Earth, and a fifth of the planet’s freshwater. Today, 25% of all Canadians, and 10% of Americans live alongside the Great Lakes. In addition, one in every three Canadians and one in every seven Americans rely on the Great Lakes for their freshwater.

Mysteries of the Great Lakes highlights the need for preservation and conservation. It also showcases the amazing geography, ecology, science, and history of the lakes region.  Each of these topics, including the making of the film itself, provides a multitude of editorial opportunities.

The Making of the Film
Health of the Great Lakes-Environmental Issues
The Story of the Lake Sturgeon
The Story of the Bald Eagle
The Story of the Woodland Caribou
The Great Lakes – Geography and History
Shipping on the Great Lakes
Shipwrecks

The Making of the Film

If you could take everyone on this continent on a voyage of discovery from one end of the Great Lakes to the other, you would change the way they look at these amazing natural treasures.  That of course is impossible to do, but we can take them on that journey through the power of IMAX®, often dubbed “the next best thing to being there”. 

Mysteries of the Great Lakes is as much a celebration of Earth’s greatest freshwater ecosystem as it is a rallying cry for protection.  The story takes audiences on a beautiful journey through these amazing inland seas, with some key stops along the way that highlight the different messages that can be shared through the stories of three key species. The film also turns the camera on us, as humans – touching on the human interface with the lakes including the vital role of shipping to commerce, the use of water by the millions of people who rely on it for life, and the general sense of wellbeing that people get from their association with these massive bodies of water. 

The scenery and wildlife captured through the IMAX lens for Mysteries of the Great Lakes is spectacular, and unlike anything ever captured for this medium before.  Filming took the production crews from the Wolf River in Wisconsin - where thousands of lake sturgeon, the world’s largest freshwater fish, thrashed in the shallow rapids en route to their spawning grounds – to 80-feet above the wilds of Wisconsin.  It was there that wildlife photographer Neil Rettig managed to capture extraordinary footage of wild eagle behaviour as the birds tended to their tiny, fluffy eaglets.  This spectacular footage was almost lost however, when the shoot was cut short due to a storm.  According to Director, David Lickley, the camera, footage, and crew almost became a part of Lake Superior’s shipwreck lore when their boat began taking on water after picking up Rettig.

The filmmakers also captured some amazing footage of woodland caribou while shooting in Lake Superior’s Slate Islands.  Over the course of the first two days of shooting, the crew saw almost 20 individual caribou of various sizes. The Slate Islands are home to the largest remaining woodland caribou herd in the Great Lakes region, and over the course of their 100 plus years on the Islands, they have evolved some unusual biological adaptations.  The caribou on the Slate Islands weren’t shy about settling their differences in the presence of humans either, and this unusual situation provided our filmmakers with a picturesque, once-in-a-lifetime shot of two male caribou battling for dominance, with a glorious Lake Superior sunset as a backdrop.

As with all giant screen productions, creativity is key when attempting to capture the ideal shot. While shooting Niagara Falls for Mysteries of the Great Lakes, an IMAX camera was suspended out over the edge of the Falls on a remote-controlled crane.  In Lake Superior, the crew used a flat rock that was a hundred feet off shore and submerged under four feet of water to anchor the tripod before carefully attaching the camera to it in order to get a shot that would do justice to the primitive native pictographs on a cliff face.

These are only a few of the behind-the-scenes events that went into the making of Mysteries of the Great Lakes.  There are hundreds of stories to be shared by the film’s director, and film footage that shows the majestic beauty of the Great Lakes region and the wildlife that inhabit it.  More of this information is available to media.

By the time the film’s final credits roll, people will have uncovered many of the mysteries of the Great Lakes in a powerful and unforgettable way. Studies indicate that people remember IMAX films for years due to the immersive nature of the medium.  Mysteries of the Great Lakes is a film that will take all who see it on a voyage of discovery that will lead to a greater appreciation of this vitally important lake system, and foster a lasting commitment to preserving it.

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Health of the Great Lakes-Environmental Issues

Taken for granted for centuries and used as a dumping ground by cities and industries, the Lakes are at a crucial stage in their history.  They are the lifeblood of a continent, a vast reservoir vital to the health of millions of people, as well as flora and fauna on both sides of the border.  Water quality and sustainability are major issues in today’s world—and both are at risk.

Over 360 chemical compounds have been identified in the Great Lakes -  a system that contains one fifth of all of the planet’s freshwater.   Many of these identified chemicals in our water are potentially dangerous to humans.  They are also proving detrimental to aquatic ecosystems and are having an impact on the survival of various species of fish, as well as the birds and mammals that consume them. 

Pollution is not the only stressor affecting the health of the Great Lakes.  Climate change, caused by human activity, is having an impact as well, and may be leading to the high evaporation rates that are contributing to low water levels in the Great Lakes.  In fact, the Great Lakes are now at lows that have not been seen since the mid-1920s.  Over the last century, the difference in water levels has ranged from nearly 4 feet (1.2 m) for Lake Superior and between 6 and 7 feet (1.8 and 2.1 m) for the other Great Lakes.

One of the most disturbing developments in the Great Lakes story is the introduction of nearly 150 invasive species to date. They’ve entered in the ballast water of freighters; they’ve swum up the river systems, and some have even been purposely introduced. The results have been catastrophic for the indigenous wildlife of the Lakes, as many of the aliens have overcome the native species and are now part of the ecological makeup of the region. Notable invaders include the lamprey eel, the alewife, the round gobi and the zebra mussel.

Human consumption is also taking a hefty toll on the Great Lakes system. We may live on a blue planet where 75% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, but the real issue is the amount of freshwater available.  Freshwater resources in North America, and around the world, are unequally distributed.Only about 1% of the water found on Earth is available for direct human use, with the rest locked up in our oceans, glaciers and polar ice caps. In addition, the demands of the 40 million people who live on the Great Lakes, along with the water needs of industry, power plants, farms and urban sprawl continue to grow.

Global water needs are increasingly attracting attention, and some experts are predicting that a catastrophic water crisis is looming.  The steps we take over the next few decades with regard to water conservation, preservation and sustainability will impact generations to come. 

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The Story of the Lake Sturgeon

The life thread through the Mysteries of the Great Lakes story is about a remarkable species of fish that pre-dates dinosaurs and the efforts to bring it back from the edge of extinction.   The lake sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in the world.  This living fossil has survived for over 100 million years, virtually unchanged.  It can grow to weigh an astonishing 300 pounds (135 kg), and can live to be nearly 200 years old. 

At one point, lake sturgeon was so plentiful that it represented 90% of the Great Lakes’ biomass.  In the late 1800s, due to over-fishing and the destruction and pollution of their spawning beds, the sturgeon populations crashed. 

Bringing back the sturgeon population is a momentous task.   This fish species is particular about the streams and rivers they spawn in.  They need fast-moving water, with a minimum flow-level for the larval fish to survive.  Lake sturgeon will travel huge distances over their lifetime, but will always return to the stream in which they hatched to spawn.

Mysteries of the Great Lakes portrays the work that is being done to solve the mysteries surrounding this fish species, and the efforts that are being undertaken to bring it back from the brink.  The sturgeon is a threatened species in the USA.  Biologists are working to study the sturgeon, and fertilize its eggs, which will be protected in mobile hatcheries until the new fish can be released. 

Work is also underway to clean up rivers to make them suitable once again.  Studies about the spawning beds these fish use have led to new experiments to create spawning beds with a variety of artificial materials such as gravel and boulders.

In many ways, the story of this fish is the story of the Great Lakes.  If we can save the sturgeon, we can save the Great Lakes.

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The Story of the Bald Eagle

The amazing recovery of the Bald Eagle is another story featured in Mysteries of the Great Lakes.  The Bald Eagle was once a common sight in the skies throughout North America, including the Great Lakes shoreline.   However, due to the effects of the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) in the 1950s they all but disappeared and the Bald Eagle faced the possibility of extinction.

DDT was a pesticide that was sprayed regularly along wetlands, shorelines and in agricultural areas, from the late 1940s to the 1970s.  Exposure to this toxic chemical interfered with the eagles’ ability to reproduce.  Canada and the United States restricted the use of DDT in the early 1970s, and over time, due to a significant reduction in the use of toxic chemicals around the Great Lakes, the eagles’ reproduction rates began to climb.  Today, Great Lakes Bald Eagles are recovering slowly.  The highest concentration of Bald Eagles is in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior. 

The story of the Bald Eagle is an important one.  In fact, some scientists and conservation groups consider the birds as a bio-sentinel species, due to their sensitivity to toxic chemicals.  They feel the birds should be viewed as a reliable indicator of the health of aquatic ecosystems in the Great Lakes region. 

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The Story of the Woodland Caribou

The story of the woodland caribou introduces us to the Slate Islands – an ecological haven, protected by the elements, that has allowed the caribou to follow its own evolutionary path.  The island is home to the largest remaining woodland caribou herd in the Great Lakes region.   Estimates put the number of caribou living in this area at anywhere between 200 and 500.   

The caribou arrived on the Slate Islands in the early 1900s when Lake Superior froze over.  They have since been thriving and over the course of their 100 plus years on the islands, they have also evolved some unusual biological adaptations – the female caribou on the Slate Islands have stopped growing antlers since there are no natural predators on the Islands.

Another advantage of island life for the Slate Islands’ caribou, is that moose and deer are absent, therefore, there is less competition for food.  Also, moose and deer carry a parasite that can be fatal to caribou, so their absence has direct health benefits to the caribou.

In 1985, the Slate Islands were protected as an Ontario Provincial Park. There are no facilities and the islands can only be accessed via boat or airplane.  The Slate Islands are located in northern Lake Superior, south of Terrace Bay.  They are also part of the new Lake Superior Marine Conservation Area that stretches from Isle Royale to the Slate Islands, and includes territory on both sides of the border.  It is one of the largest freshwater sanctuaries in the world.

The Slate Islands were formed by a meteorite impact and are home to spectacular rock formations.

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The Great Lakes – Geography and History

The Great Lakes – Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan - are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth.

Lake Superior alone holds as much water as all four of the other lakes combined. It is also the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area.  In the Ojibwe language, the lake is called Gichigami, meaning "big water". 

The size of Lake Superior creates a localized maritime climate, which is more typically seen in locations such as Nova Scotia. The storms that lash Superior are oceanic in scope and scale. Just such a storm sent the legendary lake freighter, S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, to the bottom in a matter of minutes in November 1975. The Edmund Fitzgerald is still one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world, thanks – in part – to being immortalized in Gordon Lightfoot’s song of the same name.

Lake Michigan is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume, and the third-largest by area.  It is also the only Great Lake that is entirely in the US.  This long, deep lake has over 2,000 miles of coastline bordering on four different states.

Like most of the Great Lakes, the bottom of Lake Huron is a graveyard of thousands of floundered ships. At Fathom Five National Marine Park in Tobermory, Ontario, the unusual clarity of the water and high concentration of shipwrecks have made it a paradise for underwater exploration by recreational SCUBA divers.  There are over 30,000 islands in Lake Huron, including the world’s largest freshwater island – Manitoulin Island -  and that, along with the purity of its waters, is why the area is renowned by sailing enthusiasts around the world.  The geological history of the region is also evident all around the Lake. During the last ice age, the movement of glaciers carved the shoreline into undulating, polished ribbons of rock.

The shallowest of all the lakes, Erie is somewhat of an ecological anomaly. Part of its shoreline contains remnants of a Carolinian forest more akin to areas further south. Long spits of land at Rondeau, Long Point, Point Pelee and Presque Isle, stretch like fingers into the water and are stopovers for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds and butterflies.

Years of industrialization and development have taken their toll on Lake Erie. It was declared an ecological disaster a few decades ago. A massive cleanup effort appears to have had some effect, as water quality has improved, and fish populations are rebounding.  However, new threats are on the horizon. Climate change models predict a significant drop in lake levels, drastically altering the coastline of all the lakes.

The smallest of the Great Lakes in surface area, Lake Ontario is home to a thriving sport-fishing industry worth millions of dollars.

The first Lake to see significant European settlement, Ontario has a long and rich history, by new world standards, with centuries-old forts still dotting the shoreline. The first and last war to control the Lakes was fought in the early 1800s and today all the Lakes but Michigan are split in half by an imaginary border separating Canada and the USA. With environmental control of the water lying in multiple jurisdictions, the ongoing effort to clean up the Lakes is an international undertaking, requiring co-operation among scientists and governments on both sides of the border.

No tour of the Great Lakes would be complete without a plunge over one of the acknowledged Wonders of the Natural World. All of the water from the upper Great Lakes eventually must drop 360 feet (110 m) from Lake Erie through the Niagara Gorge to Lake Ontario. Niagara Falls is constantly flowing, and loses nearly a foot (0.3 m) of its rock face per year.

As the ultimate outlet to the sea, the St. Lawrence is the final part of the Great Lakes story. At one end, a series of locks connects Lake Ontario to the river and on peak days cargo ships, each measuring more than two football fields in length, are backed up waiting their turn to enter. Commerce and transportation have always been driving forces in the Great Lakes story. Lumbering, mining, shipping and fishing have all played a role in the continent’s development. The attempt to balance human needs with the needs of the environment is an ongoing struggle throughout the region.

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Shipping on the Great Lakes

While the Great Lakes have a long history as a major mode of transport for bulk goods and for moving people, these days, domestic ships mainly move bulk cargoes.  Iron and steel products, and grain exports, are among the major shipping commodities on the Lakes. 

The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, in April of 1959, opened up the Great Lakes basin as an economical inland navigation route for international shipping.  The Seaway extends 2, 340 miles (3,700 km) from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes and includes a system of locks that lift ships up and down over three areas where barriers to shipping are encountered.

Together, the locks make up the world's most spectacular lift system. The Seaway can accommodate vessels 740 feet (225 m) long, 78 feet (24 m) wide, and loaded to a draft not exceeding 26 feet, 6 inches (8.08 m).  Ships are routinely raised to more than 590 feet (180 m) above sea level, as high as a 60-story building. The ships are twice as long and half as wide as a football field and carry cargoes the equivalent of 27,000 tons (25,000 tonnes).  Annual commerce exceeds 200 million net tons (180 tonnes).

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Shipwrecks

Despite its advantages, commerce is a risky business. The Great Lakes are prone to sudden and severe storms, and have claimed many ships often with partial or total loss of crew.  It is estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 ships have sunk or been stranded since the early 1800s. 

The most famous shipwreck happened on November 10, 1975 when Lake Superior claimed the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald – the last major freighter to be lost on the Lakes. 

The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 is the worst Great Lakes storm on record. The storm included hurricane-force winds, whiteout snow squalls and produced waves over 25 feet (11 m) high.  The storm affected ships on four of the five Great Lakes.  More than 250 people were killed, 19 ships were destroyed and 19 others were left stranded.  This was the deadliest, and most destructive natural disaster ever to hit the Lakes.  More than 75,000 tons (68,000 tonnes) of cargo was lost, and the financial loss in vessels was nearly $5 million dollars (or about $100 million at current value).

One of the most concentrated and best preserved archeology sites in the world is the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. An estimated 116 historically significant shipwrecks are found in this area of Lake Huron.

Fathom Five National Marine Park, located at the mouth of Georgian Bay, is another diver’s paradise featuring 22 shipwrecks and several historic lighthouses.  This underwater national park is Canada’s first National Marine Conservation Area and is a popular destination for SCUBA divers and glass-bottom boat tours.

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