Let the fresh water flow: Our great rivers are the world’s arteries, but we’ve been clogging them up. Let them run freely and everything from bears to birds and buffalo will benefit
Hollywood A-listers with colossal egos love to let the director know when they’re ready for a close-up.
On the African savannah, it can be harder to know when the star is about to perform.
Camera veteran Sophie Darlington was trying to film lions around the dry rivers of the Ruaha National Park in Tanzania for the Fresh Water episode of Our Planet, without much luck.
Though she is one of the most experienced lion-watchers in the world, the cats were proving elusive – perhaps because, during a severe drought, they’d gone to find water far away.
‘A team of us would set out before dawn,’ Sophie says.
One of the most astonishing action scenes is when a jaguar leaps onto a caiman. Camera veteran Sophie Darlington was trying to film lions around the dry rivers of the Ruaha National Park in Tanzania for the Fresh Water episode of Our Planet, without much luck
‘We have to find our stars every morning.
‘In the dark, the best way to track lions is with your ears, listening for their grunts and the occasional roar.
‘But as the sun comes up, you can find their footprints.
‘My local guides were good trackers, but we just couldn’t find our lions.
‘I film with a long lens, and I’d framed up on a herd of buffalo that had come down to the river, or what was left of it, to drink.
‘Suddenly my guide shouted. He’d spotted the pride – sitting directly below the herd, on the bank.
‘It gave me a shock, we simply didn’t know they were there.’
Sophie’s long lens captured a hunt, as an exhausted buffalo tried to fight off three lionesses.
It escaped, but was badly mauled: if the lions didn’t finish it off, hyenas soon would.
Water shortages are making life difficult for all the animals in Ruaha.
Elephants need hundreds of litres a day, and even when the streams are underground, they can dig wells with their tusks and feet, and suck up mouthfuls with their trunks.
A brown bear dives in a stream for a sockeye salmon on its way to spawn in Alaska’s Katmai National Park
But during recent droughts, the worst in living memory, the elephants have been forced to rip the bark off baobab trees and chew the pulp to squeeze out what moisture they can get.
DID YOU KNOW?
200 litres of water are needed by an elephant each day – and they’re skilled at finding it too, able to smell springs that are 20km away.
Until 30 years ago, the rivers in Ruaha never ran dry.
But since much of the water was diverted away to irrigate crops, the wetlands have shrunk to arid pools.
Hippos are now crammed like commuters on a Tube train into narrow ditches of mud, and squabbles frequently degenerate into savage fights.
The world’s great rivers are our planet’s arteries.
Their flows maintain the water cycle, carrying rain falling on the land back to the oceans, from where it evaporates into the air to create more rain.
They are also breeding grounds and thoroughfares for nature, linking the planet’s ecosystems.
Rivers bring water from mountains to deserts.
They bring migratory fish from the oceans to their spawning grounds far inland.
A male gharial crocodile babysits the hatchlings from around eight to ten females on India’s Chambal River – the species’ last stronghold
In Alaska, up to 60 million sockeye salmon make the journey annually, a high point of the year for predators such as bears, wolves and otters.
The rivers also bring rich silt that keeps floodplains fertile.
Above all, they bring life – for the fish that live in them and to sustain humanity.
Almost all ancient civilisations began on major rivers, including ancient Egypt on the Nile, Mesopotamia on the Tigris and Euphrates, and China on the Yellow River.
Most of the world’s great cities, such as New York, Shanghai and London, sit on river estuaries.
DID YOU KNOW?
50 per cent of all the world’s fish species live in rivers. And hundreds of millions of people depend on their flow for their food.
But in recent decades, humans have been barricading these life-giving arteries.
Dams either divert water down irrigation channels to fields or to city water‑supply systems, or pour it through turbines to generate electricity.
This water rejoins the river downstream – out of season and often deprived of fertile silt – disrupting ecosystems all the way to the ocean.
Today almost two-thirds of the world’s great rivers no longer flow freely because of dams.
The Mekong has a cascade of them on its upper reaches in China, with more planned downstream in Laos and Cambodia, while the Colorado River Delta in Mexico is now a shrivelled wasteland thanks to damming.
All Europe’s large rivers are dammed. The last outside Russia to escape, the Vjosa in Albania, is earmarked for seven barriers.
Even the Amazon is dammed on many of its biggest tributaries.
On the flood plain of the Platte River in Nebraska (above), flocks of sandhill cranes take a rest during their migration from southern America to Alaska
An important part of the natural wealth of the world’s rivers comes from the wetlands along their banks – the swamps and marshes, the floodplains and fens that are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems.
The mix of water and nutrient-rich silt trickling across the land is super‑productive for nature.
The world’s largest freshwater wetland is the Pantanal in South America, an area the size of Greece.
ANOTHER MESS WE’VE MADE
On the flood plain of the Platte River in Nebraska (above), flocks of sandhill cranes take a rest during their migration from southern America to Alaska.
The place is a haven for them on a long and perilous journey, but the river is not what it was.
Dams upstream have siphoned off two-thirds of the river’s flow, and it is now often blocked or choked. But it continues to perform a vital role.
The cranes are so exhausted and have been prey to so many dangers before they arrive that the colony is on a hair trigger – one sudden movement or noise and they will panic and take flight.
And if they leave before they replenish their reserves, thousands could die on the next leg of the journey.
That meant the Our Planet crew had to be silent and invisible.
‘It was one of the hardest shoots,’ says camerawoman Sophie Darlington.
‘You can’t let the birds know you’re there.
‘One day I spent 27 hours in a hide, waiting for them to leave.
‘I had nothing to eat except a cucumber sandwich – which had frozen.’
Pressure to build more dams on the river continues, but a plan to restore 40 square kilometres of sandbars and water meadows brings hope that this vital refuelling stop can be preserved.
As forests and grasslands beyond are taken over by farmers, the wetland is of increasing importance as a refuge for wildlife, and it provides footage of another hunt in this episode that is even more spectacular than the lions, as a hungry jaguar goes looking for dinner.
For sheer drama, this might be the most astonishing animal action sequence you’ll ever see.
It begins at Iguazu on the border of Brazil and Argentina, the largest waterfall on the planet.
But even the thousands of gallons that crash over the rocks every second are dwarfed by the water that rises as vapour from the canopy of the Amazon.
One tree can give off 1,000 litres, or about 220 gallons, every day – and 20 billion tons of water evaporates from the forest daily. Much of it falls as rain on the Pantanal.
But even here there are dry seasons, when the river channels shrink and the jaguars can take advantage of banks teeming with thirsty prey.
One young cat has its mind set on a capybara, a sort of giant rodent the size of an Alsatian.
Capybaras are not the brightest, and the jaguar has spotted an especially dozy couple having a paddle at the water’s edge, like grandparents on an outing to Blackpool.
But as the cat slinks up on its target another capybara sounds the alarm, and all along the bank animals plunge into the water for safety.
Jaguars are strong swimmers, but they can only make a surprise strike on land.
The hunt begins again.
Another capybara is in the jaguar’s sights… until a twig snaps underfoot and gives the game away.
More failures follow, so the jaguar changes tactics.
Caimans are basking in the open, oblivious to danger.
One of these small crocodiles will provide enough meat to feed a jaguar for a week.
The problem is that, unlike the capybara, they are deadly, with powerful tails and razor teeth.
The cat has one chance in a fight with a caiman. It must strike from above and take the caiman’s neck in its jaws so neither teeth nor tail can harm it.
Then it has to hang on like grim death. Crawling out on a branch overhanging the river, the jaguar judges its leap, gathers its nerve – and drops.
The caiman thrashes, but nothing can loosen those jaws.
A jaguar has the most powerful bite of any big cat, and this one is fighting for its life.
The battle goes on for 20 minutes, until the jaguar, half dead itself, emerges the winner.
The camera has captured a desperate struggle.
Slowly, we are finding a way to revive the natural wealth of our rivers.
In recent years in North America, dozens of dams have been torn down, and French engineers are rewilding the country’s longest river, the Loire.
In Spain dams are being cleared from one of its largest rivers, the Duero.
There are more than 57,000 large dams worldwide, which are more than 15 metres high, or taller than a four-storey building. There are around 7,000 in Europe, with Spain having the most – more than 1,000
Meanwhile on the Danube, Europe’s second longest river, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Austria are reinstating floodplains.
Earth is the water planet.
Water is its ultimate life-giver, and our planet’s natural water cycle provides more clean water in the rains.
Even rivers that we empty or pollute can flow again when rains next fall.
So the good news is that, if we learn to value flowing water, the restoration of rivers and wetlands can happen faster than for most other ecosystems.
How deserts feed the seas: Mineral-rich desert dust storms blown over the oceans provide nutrients for the algae that feed the fish – making them the raw ingredient for life
Adam was confident the Willises, who pioneered the use of camera traps, had a great chance of filming leopards.
Working with Omani conservationists, they set up equipment by rocks where the leopards sometimes left scent sprays as a calling card.
But no one could have predicted the animals would choose to mate square in the centre of the picture.
‘This footage is astonishing, probably the most intimate view anyone has ever had of an Arabian leopard,’ Adam says.
A rare camera trap image of an Arabian leopard in Dhofar, Oman. Working with Omani conservationists, the Our Planet team set up equipment by rocks where the leopards sometimes left scent sprays as a calling card
‘It looks as if it has been beautifully framed up by a cameraman sitting there watching, and yet the camera is a small box hidden among the rocks, positioned in just the right place.
‘The first time I played it back was the most rewarding moment.
‘It feels such a privilege to have an insight into their world.
DID YOU KNOW?
20 per cent of the world’s land is desert, and the driest of all is the Atacama in Chile, where in some parts not a drop of rain has ever been recorded.
‘But there is a lot of pathos in the shot because you know that, unless this environment is protected, their future looks bleak.’
Desert in the Gulf region is threatened by human expansion, as urban infrastructure encroaches and destroys the delicate dune system.
It might seem as though this land is ripe for development because it appears lifeless, but look closer and it plays a crucial part in our own food chain.
‘Deserts provide the raw material for life,’ says Sir David Attenborough.
‘Every year, winds sweep up two billion tons of dust into the sky. At least a quarter of that falls into the sea.’
This mineral-rich desert dust provides nutrients for the plants and algae in the water that feed the fish.
Without that, there would be much less life in the oceans.
Elephants and cattle in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. Only when their waterholes dry up are the farmers allowed to take their herds into the park to drink
Its importance is revealed in satellite pictures of an Arabian desert storm.
After the red dust clears, luminous green swirls, miles long, glow in the sea.
These are the algae blooms, the staple of life, and they are fed by the desert.
Far from being wasted space, barren and devoid of life, most deserts have unique ecosystems, with specially adapted plants and animals found nowhere else.
Plants have evolved bulbous stems to store water and special root systems, and small animals avoid the heat by staying underground or moving just at night.
DID YOU KNOW?
500 species of plant can be found in Africa’s Namib desert, where temperatures can reach 60°C and the sand dunes rise to 300m high.
Deserts also offer safe refuges for species from outside.
Socotra cormorants, an endangered species found only on the Arabian peninsula, live in vast colonies 50,000 strong perched on desert-like islands in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, safe from predators.
Conditions are intense, with temperatures regularly as high as 40ºC.
Like all birds they are unable to sweat, and with no shade the white chicks can only cool off by opening their beaks and panting.
Every day the adults make the long trek out to the deep waters to catch fish, which they bring back for their chicks in their throat pouches.
As soon as one lands it is mobbed by babies desperate to feed, but the parent knows its own chick and will not give up its precious catch of fish for any other bird’s offspring.
Of the world’s deserts, some get rainfall once a decade, or less frequently.
Gemsbok crossing sand dunes in the Namib desert. Deserts also offer safe refuges for species from outside. 500 species of plant can be found in Africa’s Namib desert, where temperatures can reach 60°C and the sand dunes rise to 300m high
When that happens, dazzling phenomena occur.
The dry lands burst into life.
Seeds that have lain dormant for years erupt within a few hours.
After an unexpected cloudburst in Atacama, Chile, two years ago, more than 200 plant species bloomed in a riot of colour that brought botanists from around the world.
Our Planet has footage of the southern Californian deserts seen from space, drenched in colour as if a paintbox has been spilled over the land.
This extraordinary sight was caused by something that here in Britain seems very ordinary: rain.
In central China, the Gobi desert – the fifth-largest desert in the world and the biggest in Asia – is growing so fast that it’s estimated to be gobbling up an area twice the size of London each year.
The patience required for moments like this is immeasurable.
Wildlife film-making is not a job for people in a hurry. And it’s not cheap.
‘The budget was not unlimited,’ says Adam, ‘but it was very healthy.
‘Deciding what to try to film is an exercise in balancing cost against impact.
‘We never go out thinking that we have a dead cert – every shoot is a gamble.
‘But the generous budget allowed us to go further to achieve a unique view of this planet.
‘With editing, we had many hundreds of hours of footage for every episode.
‘It was so difficult to narrow it down. When you know the effort that went into getting it, it’s very hard to say, “Sorry, but that shot doesn’t quite work.”
‘The secret is to concentrate on making every moment of the documentary as powerful as it can be.
‘Don’t include a shot just because you know how much time it took.’
In one sequence that simply couldn’t be omitted, a herd of rare desert elephants are seen crossing the sands in Namibia in search of food and water.
‘Namibia is home to desert versions of many animals, including the gemsbok which is a large desert antelope.
A lion prowls across the desert in Namibia. Far from being wasted space, barren and devoid of life, most deserts have unique ecosystems, with specially adapted plants and animals found nowhere else.
‘The elephant matriarch leads the herd: she learned about this remote oasis from her own mother and aunts.
‘In elephant families, the older females are the source of all wisdom.
But an elephant herd is hard to miss, and a pair of hungry desert lions find them.
‘A calf would make the perfect meal.
‘For mile after mile, the lions lurk while the elephants keep their babies close.
Then comes a magical moment.
The trees with precious green foliage that the elephants have come so far for are at the bottom of a sandy hollow.
There’s only one way down: sliding.
The elephants launch themselves down the dunes on their chests, dragging their back legs behind them, like they’re tobogganing.
It’s undignified, but it looks like a lot of fun.
They pick themselves up, shake the sand off and saunter away.
Of all the sights in Our Planet, this one really must be seen to be believed.
The treasure of our coast: The coral reefs, kelp forests and mangroves around our coastlines are havens for sea otters, sharks and turtles – and we can help them to thrive again
Of all the episodes of Our Planet, the one exploring the seas around our coasts is the most colourful.
Vibrant with shimmering shoals of tropical fish and clouds of silvery herring and anchovies, it is a constantly moving kaleidoscope.
But it also contains the starkest, most fearful vision of what the near future holds unless we take urgent action.
‘Jellyfish are taking over coastal waters,’ warns Sir David Attenborough in the episode.
DID YOU KNOW?
25 per cent of all fish in the sea make their homes in coral reefs, which cover only around a tenth of one per cent of the ocean floor.
It’s estimated that more than 3,000 fish species use mangrove systems, and 1 square kilometre of mangrove forest in the Philippines can yield 40 tonnes of fish, shrimps, crabs, molluscs and sea cucumbers a year
‘They provide very little sustenance for other wildlife, or us, and these immense swarms are increasingly common, a worrying sign of a serious imbalance in our shallow seas.
‘Unless we start to fish sustainably, our seas will be filled with little more than jellyfish.’
But the goal of this series is to inspire us to protect our world, so the focus is on conservation triumphs that prove it is not too late to change the course of history.
Sea otters, which munch on the urchins that devastate the kelp forests in California, are thriving.
Mangroves that protect the coastlines in Indonesia are being replanted and sharks and stingrays are bouncing back thanks to protection in French Polynesia.
‘We need to turn a third of coastal seas into a protected area,’ Sir David says.
‘Then the fishing grounds would recover and help sustain both humanity and the natural world.’
An octopus swims among a bright coral reef off the coast of South Africa. Of all the episodes of Our Planet, the one exploring the seas around our coasts is the most colourful
Green turtles graze on the seagrass at Komodo National Park, Indonesia. The oceans episode of Our Planet is vibrant with shimmering shoals of tropical fish and clouds of silvery herring and anchovies – it is a constantly moving kaleidoscope
Pictured, a colony of Guanay cormorants at Punta San Juan off the desert coast of Peru
A bottlenose dolphin creates a curtain of mud around a shoal of fish in Florida so the pod can pick them off
Blacktip sharks and stingrays in French Polynesia. Mangroves that protect the coastlines in Indonesia are being replanted and sharks and stingrays are bouncing back thanks to protection in French Polynesia
A young California sea lion rests in the canopy of a forest of giant kelp in Santa Barbara Island, Channel Islands in Los Angeles
Red mangrove roots in the marine reserve at Misool in Indonesia
Our poles are bare! Nowhere is climate change felt more fiercely than at our frozen extremes where the ice is melting – and we could all suffer as a result
For the Adélie penguin, speed is a lifesaver.
This boisterous little bird must brave the seas at the edge of the Antarctic for months on end in order to eat its fill of small fish and krill, a crustacean that lives in clouds of billions in the seas under the ice.
But the penguins are constantly in peril from leopard seals, which will tear an Adélie to shreds with a couple of bites.
In open water, the penguin has an advantage.
It can dive, twist and turn, and with luck evade the seals.
But when it clambers out of the water, onto the ice shelf, it is at its most vulnerable.
Evasive manoeuvres are impossible when it’s half in, half out of the water.
An adult and baby polar bear rest on the ice during the summer. Nowhere is climate change felt more fiercely than at our frozen extremes where the ice is melting
So the Adélie has developed a trick. Instead of climbing out, it rockets, like a cork from a champagne bottle.
Swimming full pelt into the ice, it uses the ledge as a ramp – and, with an extra kick of its feet, propels itself into the air.
It’s a remarkable sight… and just one of the many wonders to be found at the poles.
DID YOU KNOW?
300,000 king penguins crowd into St Andrews Bay on the island of South Georgia in Antarctica, to nest and raise their young.
Too often we think of the Arctic and Antarctic as an icy wilderness.
Naturalists say it would be better to consider them as highly fertile ecosystems that feed millions of animals from baby penguins at one pole to the world’s biggest land carnivores, polar bears, at the other.
Intriguingly, some of the most spectacular coral formations in the world lie on the cold, deep beds of the Arctic Ocean too.
This coral serves the same purpose for marine life as the reefs in warmer waters: it provides a habitat.
The most northerly cold water coral is on Karasik Seamount on the Langseth Ridge north of Svalbard, about 400 kilometres from the North Pole.
‘It is teeming with life,’ wrote German marine biologist Antje Boetius after she sent a minisub down to explore and take photographs.
‘There are huge white starfish, blue snails, red crabs and white and brown clams, between giant sponges up to a metre in size and hundreds of years old.’
Narwhals feed in the Canadian High Arctic. Their behaviour – where they eat and give birth – is tied to the annual expansion and contraction of the sea ice
Warmer waters mean these corals risk being invaded by other fish, ones that thrive when the temperature is slightly higher.
That could change the essential ecology of the seabed.
Back on land, on the island of South Georgia in the Southern Ocean, there is a huge colony of king penguins.
DID YOU KNOW?
2.5 metres is how much the depth of the Arctic sea ice decreased between 1975 and 2012, taking it to an average of just 1.2m deep.
The birds choose this nesting site because, in the slightly warmer sub-Antarctic latitudes, their chicks stand a better chance of surviving the winters.
But four of the king penguin’s cousins, the emperor, Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins, go to Antarctica to breed.
One of the animals’ main food sources is krill.
They form the base of the polar food chain: they might not look so important, but without them nothing can live here.
And what do krill eat?
Billions of tons of algae, which grows underneath the roughly 19 million sq km of sea ice that surrounds Antarctica.
A humpback whale feasts on krill in the Antarctic. 2.5 metres is how much the depth of the Arctic sea ice decreased between 1975 and 2012, taking it to an average of just 1.2m deep
Though they’re no more than 5cm long, krill can live for seven years.
They use their rake-like bristles to scrape the algae from the ice, or swim to the surface where they feed on phytoplankton.
They’re so nutritious that humpback whales will swim 8,000 kilometres from tropical feeding grounds to gorge on them.
Humpbacks are found in the northern ocean too, but some whales are strictly animals of the Arctic – including the narwhal, with males and a small number of females having the graceful unicorn’s horn.
They dive under the ice in search of their favourite food, Greenland halibut – though they also hunt polar cod and swallow smaller fish, squid and crabs by sucking them up like a vacuum cleaner.
They don’t have dorsal fins, which means they can breathe in narrow gaps in the ice if they need to.
But the shrinking sea ice makes them vulnerable to their own predators, killer whales, which aren’t so well adapted to the ice.
Their cousins the bowhead whales can live to be 200 years old.
That means there could be bowheads swimming in the Arctic that were born before Queen Victoria came to the throne.
Small Adélie penguins shoot themselves out of the water to evade leopard seals. Less ice means fewer safe havens for them
Their heads are big and tough enough to be used as battering rams, smashing through the ice and creating breathing holes.
Though bowheads are huge, they live on plankton.
They congregate in open water areas surrounded by sea ice, called polynyas, which are rich in wildlife because they make a fertile breeding ground for algae.
Arctic ice reflects the sun’s radiation back into space. So as it dissolves, more solar heat is absorbed. Scientists fear that if all the ice disappears in the summer, the consequences will be devastating for us all
Lots of algae means lots of krill, which attracts seabirds, such as little auks, and seals.
Where there are seals on the ice, there might be polar bears.
For a ringed seal, even breathing can be a dangerous business.
Much of their lives are spent hunting beneath the ice.
But they are mammals, and they must come up for air.
This means a game of cat-and-mouse with the polar bears.
The seals have claws on their flippers which they use to scratch holes in the ice – but the bears know that a hole is the perfect place to wait and grab a seal.
To improve their chances, the seals scrape several holes.
Thinner ice might make it easier for the seals to cut the holes, but it makes hiding harder.
Melting ice is deadly for seal pups, which can’t swim for the first week of their lives, so are unable to follow their mothers into the water.
A king penguin with its hungry chick. Penguins are constantly in peril from leopard seals, which will tear an Adélie to shreds with a couple of bites
The babies have to be hidden, in dens dug into snowdrifts caught in ridges of fractured ice, creating a sort of igloo.
But because the sea ice is forming later in the year, it is smoother and flatter, which means winter storms aren’t creating the ice fractures needed for the snowdrifts and the seals are forced to give birth to their pups on the open ground next to ice holes – exposing the pups to hunting bears.
Too young to swim for safety, the babies have no hope of survival once a polar bear, fox or even a gull has spotted them.
Thanks to an international treaty, the hunting of polar bears has been restricted.
But their habitat is melting away, particularly in Canada where the Hudson Bay ice now disappears for four months of the year each summer.
With less sea ice around, the bears are spending more time on land, bringing them into increasing conflict with human populations.
In towns in Canada and in Russia, polar bears have been seen going through bins and breaking into underground food stores.
They have also started breeding with local grizzly bears, with the hybrid babies dubbed ‘grolar bears’ by naturalists.
It is not known yet whether grolars can have their own cubs or whether, like mules (which are horse-donkey hybrids), they will be sterile.
Either way, bears that look for food inland will not be building up the vital fat reserves they get from consuming seal blubber.
And cubs that grow up underweight will have a lesser chance of survival.
Aware that no animal symbolises the perils of climate change as dramatically as the polar bear, the Our Planet team wanted to capture exceptional footage of them – and they did.
‘Out of everything in the series,’ says executive producer Alastair Fothergill, ‘my favourite is the polar bear sequence.
We used a mobile camera system and getting this to work on the ice was hard.
Once we cracked it, the pictures created a wonderful sense of movement.
Thanks to patience and planning, we got footage of a male hunting, and of a mother and cub hunting.
People have tried for years to film polar bears hunting properly – I’ve tried, and it’s difficult.
So I’m particularly proud of that sequence.’
Another spectacular shot gives us an aerial view of an iceberg more than half a mile across breaking free from a glacier, 75 million tons of ice plunging into the sea causing a tidal wave twice as high as Nelson’s Column.
Glaciers have always ‘calved’ but these huge breakaways are happening twice as often as ten years ago, due to the warmer climate.
It’s a breathtaking sight… but one that, like so many in Our Planet, gives grave pause for thought.
We saved our whales, now let’s save their oceans
The Our Planet episode focusing on the High Seas features the most intimate footage of a blue whale baby ever shot.
In the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico, a newborn blue whale is snuggling up to its mother.
Suckling at her side, the one-month-old female breaks off to wobble to the surface and take a gasp of air.
Her double blowhole opens and splutters as she swallows a breath.
Then she dives back down for more milk – she drinks 50 gallons a day.
It’s certain to affect the way millions of people feel about these gargantuan mammals, about whose daily lives we know little because they spend most of the year in the deep open ocean.
A baby blue whale stays close to Mum off the coast of Mexico. The Our Planet episode focusing on the High Seas features the most intimate footage of a blue whale baby ever shot
Sperm whales gather to socialise in the Indian Ocean. David Attenborough says in the documentary: ‘We once thought the high seas were too vast for us to damage, but in the past few decades we have done more harm to the oceans than ever before’
A century ago blue whales numbered around 250,000 worldwide and were found all over the planet.
By the early 1980s, however, there were just a few thousand left.
DID YOU KNOW?
200 tons is the weight of a fully grown blue whale. They’re the largest animal that has ever lived – bigger than any dinosaur.
But the international ban on commercial whaling in 1986 came just in time to save this gentle giant, and now their numbers are steadily increasing.
Even more spectacular is a spinner dolphin hunt, filmed off Costa Rica in the Pacific.
These slender, acrobatic mammals are so-named because they leap from the water to whirl like ballerinas through the air.
The pod, or dolphin herd, may be 10,000 strong, and the sea is whipped to a froth by hundreds of twirling trapeze artists.
The deeper the cameras go, the weirder their discoveries.
The wandering albatross’s 3m wingspan keeps it aloft over the seas for months
Many of the denizens of the depths glow with light, a process called bioluminescence, to attract prey.
The dragonfish, for example, has lights beside its mouth.
The deep-sea anglerfish has a glowing lure on the end of a spine coming out of its head.
The deepest-living fish we know of is the small, translucent hadal snailfish. These have been found more than five miles down, where they can withstand pressure 800 times that at the surface
Other fish use different methods.
The chimaera, a relative of the shark, uses electrical sensors to detect prey buried in the seabed.
Where the continental plates meet on the seabed, hydrothermal vents send jets of superheated water bubbling up, in clouds known as ‘black smokers’.
These vents are thought to be the origin of all life on earth, billions of years ago.
But today even these precious environments are at risk: gold and silver deposits have been found in the smokers, and mining companies are competing to dig out the riches.
Spinner dolphins swim for their lives, chased by false killer whales. These slender, acrobatic mammals are so-named because they leap from the water to whirl like ballerinas through the air
Millions of blue sharks are caught each year in nets and on lines set for other fish
Off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula an Atlantic sailfish tucks into a shoal of sardines
‘This is the ocean beyond the boundary of any country, wild and lawless,’ says Sir David Attenborough.
‘We once thought the high seas were too vast for us to damage, but in the past few decades we have done more harm to the oceans than ever before.
‘A third of all fish stocks have collapsed.
‘Only with global co-operation will our oceans recover and thrive once again.
‘We saved the whales by international agreement, now it is time to save our oceans.’
- Our Planet is available on Netflix on April 5. The book of the series is out April 2.
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Our deserts feed the seas, our great rivers are clogged up, our oceans need saving and our ice-caps are melting: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS previews David Attenborough's new Netflix series Our Planet have 6002 words, post on www.dailymail.co.uk at March 22, 2019. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.