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Sunday, May 9, 2021

The Last Unknown, an epic documentary

The Last Unknown (TLU,) is an acclaimed discovery+ documentary by award-winning photographer, author, film and television producer, conservationist, and educator Ian Shive; TLU engages the audience on an epic adventure in the Aleutian Islands (AI). Located in the freezing sea between Siberia and Alaska, the AI are one of the wildest, most pristine, and remote places on Earth. The AI showcase natural wonders, treacherous existence, and astounding beauty, mostly untouched by human interference.

Ian and his four-person crew joined the United States (U.S.) Fish & Wildlife Service's (FWS) on board the Tiglax research vessel as they traversed one of the wildest places on the planet. Most of the remote islands are completely devoid of human intrusion with no docks, trails, or services; access is challenging and weather may prohibit a safe landing. TLU offers a glimpse of Nature in her untamed state and leaves the viewer in a state of awe.

Discovery Executive Vice President of Multiplatform Programming, Factual & Head of Content, Science Scott Lewers validates Discovery's investment in TLU:

“Ian’s journey takes viewers to a part of the world that few people will ever get to see in real life. Showcasing the vital work being done to protect our diverse wildlife and ecosystem is an important part of Discovery’s heritage and we are thrilled to share this latest addition to the vast collection of natural history documentaries available on discovery+.” 

The FWS research assesses the overall ecosystem health via evaluating the marine-mammal and bird-population status. When it feeds at sea, a bird essentially captures thousands of ocean samples with each bite. By studying the bird populations, scientists examine huge swatches of ocean health. Vibrant predator populations are indicators of strong prey populations and ocean-marine life.

During their three-week voyage, Ian and his crew face perilous elements as they visit five of the AI and tell the story of untamed places where no one, or at least only a few, have ventured.

Auklet swarm at sea
Photo: Tandem Stills + Motion
Island Explorations
The first stop is Akutan Island where the crew witnesses an endangered Steller sea lion colony. Beginning in the 1970's and accelerating in the 1980's and 1990's, the rapid decline of the Steller sea lion population is most likely due to depleted food sources from over fishing.

On Kiska Island, Ian and his crew find an exceptionally healthy auklet population. According to the Audubon Kiska Island Colonies page, Kiska Island is home to seven seabird colonies consisting of fourteen seabird species and an estimated 3,333,961 birds. In TLU, the footage of the huge auklet swarm undulating in the sky within geometric patterns was breathtaking and a phenomena few humans will ever experience.

Cynthia Martinez, Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) for the FWS, confirms the amazing experience:

"Watching swirling clouds of tiny seabirds at Kiska Island is one of the most awe-inspiring wildlife spectacles I have ever seen. The thousands of islands that are home to millions of birds and marine mammals make the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge an iconic example of our National Wildlife Refuge System. I’m excited that viewers will get to experience the beauty of the Aleutian Chain, the traditional homelands of the Unangax̂ people."

Though generally devoid of human activity, remnants of World War II (WWII) occupation by the Japanese survive in the harsh conditions on East Kiska Islandthe crash-landing site of a B24 in December 1942 is one of the WWII relics. Additionally, Ian explores one of the Japanese underground bunkers dug into the hillside.

FWS field techs Sarah Youngren and Dan Rapp welcome the film crew to Aiktak Island where they completed their 500th day on the island this season. The island is home to an active puffin colony. While the parents feed at sea during the day, the pufflings remain in the security of the burrow among the island's rocky landscape. Weekly, Sarah and Dan weigh and measure select pufflings to monitor their progress and assess the overall ocean-health status. The featured puffling did not gain weight over the past week, signaling potential ecosystem-health challenges.

Active volcano
Photo: Tandem Stills + Motion
Tanaga Island, the highest point in the Western AI, is an active volcano with a constantly changing landscape filled with magnificent waterfalls and connected shoreline caves. The drone footage of the spectacular island is masterful. According to Ian, the landscape is surreal and reminds him of an amusement park.

On Bogoslof Island, the final island visit, an estimated 100,000 -140,000 fur seals occupy the island as their annual breeding grounds. Once nearly extinct, the fur seals thrive on the island, which is the top of enormous volcano. Orca (killer whales) patrol the fur seal-abundant waters for their next meal. 

The first to arrive at the breeding grounds from as far away as Los Angeles, over 3,000 miles to the south, male fur seas return to the territory claimed in years past. Once on the island, the males oversee their harem and do not leave for two months, not even to feed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that 36,015 pups were born on the island in 2019. The excellent TLU fur seal footage captures the magnitude of the island population along with showcasing the aggressive, often simply grouchy, male behavior.

Active since the late 1700's, the Bogoslof Island volcano erupted seventeen times in the last 70 years; the last major eruption was in 2017. Ian gives an up-close tour of the volcano heart complete with steaming thermal vents and bubbling water pools. Using a laser thermometer, Ian records temperatures as high as 199 degrees Fahrenheit. It is fascinating to witness Ian traverse the steaming and gurgling volcano!

TLU provides viewers a glimpse of thriving ecosystems in one of the most remote, treacherous, and inaccessible places on earth. Via masterful cinemaphotography, TLU is a rare opportunity to witness Nature's raw magnificence 

AI Topography and History*
Comprised of 80 large volcanoes, the AI is one of the of the most volcanic places in the world and is the northern anchor of the Pacific Rim of Fire, a zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Though immediately disruptive, volcano eruptions are essential to the AI ecosystem; eruptions carry minerals from the Earth's core to the surface, create nutrient-rich land and seas, and support food sources for the predator and prey populations.

Stunning AI landscape
Photo: Tandem Stills + Motion

A rugged, wild network of 2,500+ islands that stretch into the middle of the Bering Sea, the AI span 6,821 square miles. Though the majority of the islands were devoid of land mammals, including humans, the eastern islands closest to the Alaskan mainland were inhabited by native Unangax̂. When they arrived on the AI in the mid-1700's, the Russians wreaked havoc on native human, marine mammals and avian species.

In 1750, the Russians released captured artic blue foxes on some of the islands to support the lucrative fur exploitation. As they lived in an habitat with no land-roaming predators, the AI birds evolved as ground nesters. The foxes, and later the introduced rats, feasted on the avian eggs devastating the island-bird populations. By 1768, the Russians drove the 25-foot-long Steller’s sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) to extinction in a mere 27 years; later the flightless spectacled cormorant was also extinct.

Between 1786 - 1787, Russians decimated the Unangax̂ population from an estimated 16,000 to 1,900 due to relocation, slaughter, and enslavement. 

By 1800, Russian fur traders exported a total of more than 400,000 fur seals, 96,000 sea otters, and 102,000 fox pelts from the Pribilof and Aleutian islands and the Kodiak Archipelago.

Slow-moving, docile bowhead whales, who yield around 100 barrels of oil per whale, were hunted to near extinction. In 1852 alone, 2682 bowhead whales were harvested by New England whaling ships. 

After the American Civil War in 1867, the U.S. purchased the AI from Russia for $7,200,000. In 1869, Congress created the Pribilof Islands Reservation to protect fur seals on their main breeding grounds. Yet, the American government continued to use fur seals as a cash crop until 1983.

Auklets are one of the many AI
ground-nesting avian species.
Photo: Tandem Stills + Motion
By 1892, Americans released artic blue foxes on 450 of the AI and left them to feed off the ground-nesting birds, whose populations were annihilated. Later fur farmers purposely released mice onto the islands to serve as winter food for the foxes.

The turn of the century brought wildlife protection to the AI. In 1900, the Lacey Act prohibited the commercial sale or hunting of birds and animals to sell as meat, feathers, or skins. President Theodore Roosevelt established a series of refuges in 1909 to protect AI native wildlife and restore diminished populations.

By 1932, sea otter populations expand under the wildlife-protection acts. In the mid 1930's, warnings arose of native ecosystem disruption caused by the introduced foxes and other land-based mammals to the islands. By 1940, regulations prohibited fox farming on some of the islands.

Post WWII, underground atomic bomb tests were detonated on Amchitka Island. The final five-megaton atomic bomb test - the largest underground atomic bomb blast in U.S. history - was in 1971. Though underground, the atomic blasts wreaked havoc on the island's tundra and streams.

Healthy fur seal population on
Bogoslof Island
Photo: Tandem Stills & Motion
President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980 and created the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (AMNWR). Totaling 4.9 million acres, the AMNWR combined eleven existing refuges as well as other land to create the world's largest seabird refuge. The RiA article, An Evolutionary Call-to-ACTION, gives the NWRS history, purpose, and how it relates to National Parks and National Monuments.

With the formation of the AMNWR, the AI are doubly protected via its remote location as well as a national wildlife refuge. Under this new-found protection, assistance arrives to let nature prevail with restoration of the ecosystem.

* Information from the AMNWR Historical Timeline document substantiated the copy in the AI Topography and History section.

Nature Prevails
The AI natural-ecosystem destruction caused by human activities and the subsequent restoration once activities were ceased or reversed substantiate the Elemental Impact (Ei) Nature Prevails platform. Within the Nature Prevails premise, the Earth heals herself and nurtures renewed life forms, no matter the calamity caused by humans or extraterrestrial activities.

Nature Prevails: green plants rise from the remains
of the California Lake Fire. Photo: @IanShivePhoto
Tragic, human-caused outcomes may be avoided by aligning human-created systems with The Principles of Nature. Ei defines The Principles of Nature are defined as:

  • Diversity
  • Dynamic Balance & Nutrition Cycles
  • Necessity of Cover & Ability to Roam

The RiA article, Nature Prevails; an action plan, defines The Principles of Nature and explains how human-made systems are ruled by the principles.

Within the AMNWR protection, the AI ecosystems realigned with The Principles of Nature and restoration of damaged maritime populations flourished.

Ian Shive: a man with a mission
After almost ten years in media and publicity at Sony Pictures Entertainment working on over 60 motion pictures including the Spider-Man franchise, Ian left the corporate world in 2007; Ian's photography career was already thriving. An amazing photographer who follows his inner calling, Ian built a well-earned reputation as the “leading chronicler of America's national parks."

Over the next decade plus, Ian segued from an accomplished nature photographer into a respected multi-media artist incorporating author, film and television producer, conservationist, and educator into his professional repertoire. 

An Evolution with Impact
In 2014, Tandem Stills + Motion (TSM,) Ian's company founded in 2009, segued into short-film production via a Nature Conservancy three-minute plus film Conserving Cuba's Coral Reef. Via a pitch to the Discovery Channel, Ian and his team organized logistics, filmed (on land & underwater,) and produced the Tiburones: The Sharks of Cuba, a first-ever Cuba adventure for SHARK WEEK. 

TSM segued into cinema films in 2016 with the four-minute plus film, Rob Krar: Chasing the Distance, which explored the lives of husband and wife ultra-running team Rob Krar and Christina Bauer. Ian's stunning drone photography, along with stellar time-lapse sky clips, augmented the story as well as showcased the Grand Canyon landscape.

A Laysan albatross tending to her chick
serves as the Midway promo image.
Photo: @IanShivePhoto
The 2017 Battle of Midway: 75th Anniversary Commemoration Film (Battle of Midway) produced by TSM in cooperation with the FWS honors the two fierce World War II (WWII) battles on the atoll. 

Until the Battle of Midway, Ian's proven expertise was in documenting natural phenomena in stills and motion. With the Battle of Midway, Ian exhibited compassionate interviewing and filming skills as he coaxed the surviving veterans to share their traumatic, emotional battle experiences. Close-up images captured the lingering pain in the veterans' eyes as  tears rolled down their weathered cheeks.

Inspired, Ian used the extensive motion clips and stills captured during the two-week Midway Atoll visit to create the 40-minute film Midway: Edge of Tomorrow (Midway.) Though the World War II significance is prominent, the film's prime focus is on the regeneration of the atoll's ecosystem; the Laysan albatross are stars of the film!

Midway is available on iTunesGoogle Play, and Amazon Prime.

Hidden Pacific
Produced by TSM and directed by Ian, Hidden Pacific was distributed by Giant Screen Films in 44 cities in late 2019 | early 2020. Designed for IMAX theatres, Hidden Pacific is a cinema phenomena, especially when viewed on the big screen.

Hidden Pacific transports the viewer to the magical world of three atolls hidden within the massive Pacific Ocean volcanic seascape: Palmyra Atoll within the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa, and the Midway Atoll within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Aerial view of Rose Atoll
Photo: @IanShivePhoto

On the Rose Atoll, Ian and his team are the first photographers (and probably the only ever) permitted to make the extensive travels necessary to visit the pristine atoll, devoid of direct human activity. Thus, the stills and film captured are literally a global treasure.

As with TLU, Hidden Pacific gifts viewers with a virtual visit to remote, inaccessible destinations that showcase nature's magnificence when undisturbed by human activity.

In mid-film promotion the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the globe; Hidden Pacific screenings were cancelled as theatres closed their doors and the film promotion went dormant.

Yet Hidden Pacific's storyline is timeless. Its imperative narrative will gain exceptional traction once the global community emerges from the pandemic cocoon.

A printed masterpiece
REFUGE, America's Wildest Places, Exploring the National Wildlife Refuge System (REFUGE) published in October, 2020 features Ian's stunning photography. As with Ian's prior books, films, and other mediums, REFUGE is a masterpiece and serves as a portal to explore our planet's intrinsic beauty.

REFUGE  is a glimpse into the magnificence and sacred nature of the NWRS, one of the largest protected land and water networks in the world. The NWRS encompasses land and water ecosystems coast-to-coast within the continental U.S. as well as the Hawaiian Islands, Alaska, and U.S. territories.

An impressive series of essays augment Ian's images and showcase the book's importance and far-reaching impact. Additionally, REFUGE is an excellent resource with the 560+ refuges listed with those open to the public earmarked. Additionally, a two-page-spread map of refuge locations is included. 

Many of the featured refuges are difficult, if not impossible, for the public to visit due to intricate travel requirements and/or NWRS restrictions. Thus, REFUGE is one of the few, if not the only, vehicles to travel vicariously through the expansive system of connected refuges. Though most are not contiguous, many refuges are connected by migratory bird routes, other natural phenomena, or simply via intention. 

Many still images captured during the TLU filming are included in REFUGE.

The previously mentioned RiA article, An Evolutionary Call-to-ACTION, showcases and applauds REFUGE.

From behind the camera to host and on-air talent
In January 2019 Ian's evolution continued at Discovery Channel's Nature in Focus where he moved from behind the camera to the front. As the Nature in Focus host, on-air talent, and executive producer, Ian transports viewers around the globe for short photography and education adventures within natural paradigms.

TLU is a major milestone in Ian's illustrious professional career. Ian pitched, coordinated with FWS for the two-week ALI visit, wrote the script, and directed, produced, and hosted the incredible film. In addition to his front-of-the-camera presence, Ian contributed to the film's still and motion images.

Ian Shive in the AMNWR
Photo: Tandem Stills + Motion
A Personal Driver
For Ian, a personal driver is the responsibility to give back to the Earth; humans take so much from nature and it is important to gift back from the heart. As an educator, Ian's intentions are to inspire others to take individual and collective action to protect and restore the fragile land and marine ecosystems.

In Ian's words:

"I am a photographer and a filmmaker, that much is obvious, but I see my actual role very differently. The camera is just a tool, like a bridge that gets you across a river to the other side, the camera is a bridge to places that people may otherwise never have the opportunity to visit or appreciate. I'm motivated by the idea that I can be more than just the maker of pretty pictures and films, but also be an educator and connector to the ecosystems and places that are so important, so valuable to our planet and to the tens of millions of wildlife that rely on our action to keep them protected. How can we care if we have no idea what is at stake?"

Ian encompasses an effective strategy: the viewer falls in love with the amazing images, whether stills or motion. Then, Ian slips in human-created scenarios impacting the vitality of the wildlife and corresponding ecosystem. Viewers are then inspired to take action.

Tremendous Impact
With his profound commitment as a conservationist and educator, Ian is destined to make a tremendous impact with his past, current, and future timeless masterpieces. Ian's evolution from stills to motion to cinema to on-air persona expands his audience, reach, and potential influence.

The Last Unknown is simply Ian's first step into new dimensions of impact - stay tuned!


About Elemental Impact:
Elemental Impact (Ei) is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2010 as the home to the Zero Waste Zones, the forerunner in the nation for the commercial collection of food waste for compost. In June 2017, Ei announced the Era of Recycling Refinement was Mission Accomplished and entered the Era of Regeneration. Current focus areas include Nature PrevailsSoil Health | Regenerative Agriculture, and Water Use | Toxicity.

To work with industry leaders to create best regenerative operating practices where the entire value-chain benefits, including corporate bottom lines, communities, and the environment. Through education and collaboration, establish best practices as standard practices.

Ei’s tagline – Regeneration in ACTION – is the foundation for Ei endeavors.

The following mantra is at the core of Ei work:

Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

For additional information, contact Holly Elmore at 404-261-4690 |