Making Waves: Great Lakes documentary on invasives unveiled

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It is hard to think of invasive species, such as this round goby photographed at 31st Street Harbor, being artful, but the documentary, ``Making Waves: Battle for the Great Lakes’’ approaches that artful status.
Credit: Dale Bowman

When Bill Kurtis arrived from Kansas in 1966, he did not realize he was only a block from Lake Michigan in Rogers Park. When daylight came, he saw water that did not end to the east and smelled dead alewives, then at their peak.

Phil Willink, senior research biologist for the Shedd Aquarium, remembers “slaloming” between dead alewives when swimming as a kid while visiting relatives in Michigan.

Panel discussion at the Shedd Aquarium–Bill Kurtis (L-R), Jessica Walsh, Brendan Walsh, Phil Willink–after a preview of “Making Waves: Battle for the Great Lakes.”<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

Panel discussion at the Shedd Aquarium–Bill Kurtis (L-R), Jessica Walsh, Brendan Walsh, Phil Willink–after a preview of “Making Waves: Battle for the Great Lakes.”
Credit: Dale Bowman

At least when it comes to olfactory contact, alewives remain one of the most noted of the 185 or so invasive species found in the Great Lakes.

Those memories led off off the panel discussion at the Shedd after a preview Wednesday evening of “Making Waves: Battle for the Great Lakes.’’

The first-part of the documentary, by the husband-and-wife team of Brendan and Jessica Walsh of Great Lakes Media, will air at 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, on WTTW-Channel 11; the second part, at 5 p.m. Sept. 18.

Having spent five years on “Making Waves,’’the Walshs–he grew in Chicago’s Lawn area, she in Plainfield–speak aptly of a “labor of love’’ and “our baby.’’

Lampreys still from“ Making Waves:”

Lampreys still from“ Making Waves:”

Brendan said that invasive species on the Great Lakes felt like a “giant knot” and they needed to “unravel it and find a story that made sense.”

They tell a story that both makes sense and has cinematic worth.

In explaining the cool underwater shots, Brendan said it involved snorkeling or putting a camera on a pole, “Getting the camera in the right place and getting lucky.”

It was more than luck. Brendan has worked around the world on shows for PBS, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, CNBC, A&E, the History Channel, FOX and TLC. Jessica is an editor and was a print journalist.

Coolest part of the preview, a condensed hour of the two-hour documentary, was from Smelt Fest in Duluth, Minn. (Remember smelt, those tasty invasives?) Biggest audience response was for the ritualistic biting off the head of the first smelt netted.

“This is a real documentary,” Kurtis intoned as the panel discussion began. “This is the equivalent of a thesis for a graduate degree. . . . It should be in every city around the Great Lakes.”

Being a real documentary, meant lots of effort to fund it, as well as gathering footage and writing the story. Major funding came from The Nature Conservancy, with support from Fortune Brands Home & Security; Chicago Marine Heritage Society and BoatU.S. Foundation.

“Making Waves,’’ which focuses on the most significant invasives and those easiest to capture visually, intermingles interviews with most of the top researchers around the Great Lakes, as well as regular citizens and how invasives impact them.

“The days with a cane pole over the shoulder with a cork bobber are gone.” said Jack Vadas, irascible former owner of Vet’s Bait on Chicago’s Southeast Side, on the crash of native yellow perch.

Other Perch America members appearing in the film include Bruce Caruso, Ken Schneider, John Hindahl and Bill Meyer.

One sign of hope in “Making Waves’’ comes from the evolution of cisco in Traverse Bay, where they are growing quicker and bigger.

When asked about what is on the horizon for invasives, Jessica obviously mentioned Asian carp, then “Killer shrimp.”

That’s right, “Killer shrimp,’’ the tiny crustacean (Dikerogammarus villosus), could be coming.

Click here for more “Making Waves.’’

Scene from “Making Waves.”

Scene from “Making Waves.”

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