Star Trek IV is the often maligned Trek movie (I prefer to malign The Wrath of Khan) in which the crew of the Enterprise has to travel back to 1986 to capture a pair of humpback whales to prevent the destruction of Earth in the future. Directed by Spock himself, it gives the crew a chance to experience the archaic world of the 1980s in which it was filmed.
My dad was a long-time Star Trek fan and I’d grown up watching reruns of the original series but it had never grabbed my attention…until Star Trek IV. That image of Spock swimming with the whales became indelibly stuck in my head and I was amused by the crew’s struggles with the world I knew. And those same themes still work with kids – I showed my kids Star Trek IV in the run up to this year’s Comic Con (so they knew what I was going to talk about there) and they loved it too. Of course, the part that amused them the most was just how archaic 1986 looked to them (and to me). We all agreed that 1986 really is a long time ago and none of us know how I survived those times!
The humpback whales that are the focus of the movie, on the other hand, have thrived. Unlike the movie, in which the whales have become extinct in the future, humpback whale populations have improved greatly over the past several decades (three of which have passed since this movie came out, which makes me feel very old!). But no matter how good the crew’s intentions were in capturing two recently released whales and transporting them to the future, they still broke US law to do so.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 very clearly prohibits the capture of any whale (or dolphin, manatee, polar bear, etc.) from U.S. waters. The Endangered Species Act also offers protection to some humpback whales, although nine of the fourteen species of humpback whales were just removed from the endangered species list within the last week. If the whales in the movie had made it to international water before they were beamed up to the Bird of Prey, the laws get a bit murkier. While there are attempts to enforce international protections for whales, not all countries comply with those protection.
Presumably, with the reintroduction of humpback whales in the future, the Federation will ensure that they are protected so that their relatives, ancestors, friends (it was never quite clear who sent the Object) don’t come looking for them again. In the meantime, I have to figure out what Trek movie I should introduce my kids to next!