‘Secrets of the Whales’ Wins Best Documentary Series at the 2021 Emmys

The Disney+ documentary series that offered a deep dive on whale culture won the Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.
Kathryn Hahn Emmys 2021 Red carpet
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Secrets of the Whales,” the Disney+ docuseries that offers a deep dive on whale cultures, won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series on Sunday afternoon.

The documentary series, which was filmed in two dozen locations over three years, premiered on Disney+ in April 2021. Disney’s description for the show reads:

“‘Secrets of the Whales’ plunges viewers deep within the epicenter of whale culture to experience the extraordinary communication skills and intricate social structures of five different whale species: Orcas, humpbacks, belugas, narwhals, and sperm whales. Throughout this epic journey, we learn that whales are far more complex and more like us than ever imagined.

The project beat out PBS’ “American Masters,” National Geographic’s “City So Real,” Netflix’s “Pretend It’s a City,” and HBO’s “Allen v. Farrow” for the Emmy — the latter of which was heavily favored to win.

National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, whose work was featured in “Secrets of the Whales,” discussed the challenges of photographing sea life for the documentary series during a panel at the CTAM Winter 2021 Press Tour in February.

“As an underwater photographer, we don’t have the luxury that our terrestrial counterparts do. I can’t sit in a camouflage blind in some remote location and use a 600 mm lens on a tripod and wait for some elusive animal to come wandering past. We can only stay underwater as long as the air supply on our back will last,” Skerry said. “In the three years of filming ‘Secrets of the Whales,’ that’s all free diving, just snorkeling or breath-hold diving. So I’m only underwater for a couple of minutes, maybe, at best. Even in the clearest of water, you need to get within a few meters of your subject. But inevitably, throughout all those years, I’ve been amazed at how these animals are curious. They have to let me into their world in order to make these pictures in order to tell these stories.”

“The Secrets of the Whales” was also nominated for Outstanding Narrator (Sigourney Weaver) and Outstanding Cinematography for a Non-Fiction Program. The Disney+ program lost to Sterling K. Brown, “Lincoln: Divided We Stand” and Gavin Thurston, “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,” respectively.

The 73rd Primetime Emmys will air on Sunday, September 19 on CBS at 8 p.m. ET. The three-hour event will be hosted by Cedric the Entertainer and, for the first time, be available to stream on Paramount+. Check out IndieWire’s Emmy predictions to get the scoop on which series and stars are expected to win big throughout the event. Follow IndieWire on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Emmys news, including live updates, as the virtual awards ceremony airs Sunday night.

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