We begin with the welcome sight of Sir David perched at the bow of a ship, who tells us that our oceans are changing at a faster rate than ever before. Blue Planet II has come at just the right time, as showing viewers the beautiful fragility of these ecosystems on a worldwide platform is the first step towards engaging everyone in conservation.
The first scene that takes place beneath the waves sees a family of bottlenose dolphins rubbing themselves against the fronds of a Gorgonian coral, a species which is thought to possess anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. The adult dolphins’ ability to introduce their young calves to this peculiar form of underwater skincare points to the animals’ well-documented intelligence, as does their fondness for surfing and playing with one another. In fact, the bottlenose dolphin possesses the second-largest brain-to-body-weight ratio of any animal, behind only humans. To see them for yourself, the northern coastline of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province – also known as the “Dolphin Coast” – offers a prime location.
The first episode’s final scene takes place in Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Circle that is a favourite of Natural World Safaris clients. Despite its northerly position, the Gulf Stream current makes Svalbard habitable for humans as well as an array of native wildlife. Walruses and polar bears share the coastlines and ice floes, which we find are melting at an alarming rate. Climate change trends are most pronounced in the polar regions, with the extent of Arctic sea ice in the summer having been reduced by 40% over the last 30 years. For your chance to visit this imperilled yet beautiful land, our range of Svalbard safaris allow you to spot wildlife among its fjords, glaciers and mountains while in the company of expert guides, photographers and climate researchers.
We know less about the deep than we do about the surface of Mars, 30 million miles away. This quite astonishing fact shows just how difficult it is to explore our oceans. 12 people have walked on the moon; just three have made it to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, almost seven miles from the surface.
After last week’s episode, which saw families of dolphin, orca and walrus living near the ocean’s surface, we witness a weird and wonderful cavalcade of bizarre creatures which at times beggars belief. We see a bioluminescent siphonophore, which is not one creature but a colony of tiny interconnected organisms that are capable of cloning themselves as they drift through the ocean, making it essentially ‘eternal’. The barreleye is a fish whose skull is filled with transparent jelly, allowing it to look straight up in order to keep track of potential prey.
The episode’s final two scenes feature two underwater spawning displays that were jaw-dropping for their alternating savagery and beauty. Near a French Polynesian atoll, thousands of groupers gather at the edge of a reef to engage in mass reproduction, but they’re not being given any privacy. Hundreds of reef sharks descend upon the fish, the groupers’ flesh and blood mixing with their eggs and sperm as the prey sacrifice themselves in an effort to fertilise. Elsewhere, in a stunning example of synchronicity, a vast swathe of individual corals all release their gametes into the water at the same time, creating a beautiful underwater snowstorm that will hopefully ensure the survival of the coral species for years to come, as they drift away to settle in whichever portion of the seafloor that the currents take them. To experience these astonishing habitats for yourself, Natural World Safaris offers a range of marine holidays to some of the most beautiful marine destinations in the world, including the azure waters of the Indian Ocean and the coral reefs of St. Helena, Borneo and the Kenyan coast.
Just as the sea lion sequence was all about coordination, this next one was all about timing. On the coastline of Brazil, Sally Lightfoot crabs must wait until the tide goes out to uncover the route to their feeding grounds, algae-covered rocks that were submerged beneath the waves just hours before. The crustaceans demonstrate remarkable agility as they bound from rock to rock, but they’re certainly not jumping for joy. This journey is in fact a deadly gauntlet, with predators lurking in the shallows awaiting a fatal slip or misjudged leap. The chain moray eel can grow up to 18” long and is capable of launching itself out of its hiding place to drag unsuspecting crabs to a watery grave, and it can even slither along the rocks like a snake. The plucky crustaceans must also contend with another predator capable of moving across land: an octopus. Unlike the octopus-grouper partnership in Episode 3, however, there seems to be no coordination with the nearby moray, and the eight-armed hunter goes hungry this time.
“Coasts” showed us that the natural world can serve up marine wonders even in shallow waters, and that the place where land meets sea is not a place where two habitats meet, but rather a habitat all of its own. Natural World Safaris operates trips to a number of destinations featured in this episode, including an island-hopping adventure to the Galápagos and a British Columbia safari to see humpback whales, porpoises, sea lions and orcas. Brazil offers plenty of opportunity, as does Norway – where one can actually swim with killer whales and humpbacks – while our 2018 South Georgia safari will be in the company of award-winning photographer David Yarrow.
In Episode 1, we witnessed the spectacle of a Norwegian herring hunt that attracts hundreds of humpback whales and one of the largest gatherings of orca on the planet, as well as a flotilla of fishing vessels. NWS Gemma dived with these whales on her recent trip to Norway. Here these three mammal species, although not necessarily working together, co-exist peacefully in their joint efforts to reap the sea’s bounty. But by looking behind the scenes we discover that this is only possible thanks to strict fishing regulations and the work of dedicated conservationists. Billions of herring flock to these fjords every winter, but 50 years ago the population here was almost wiped out. Although a veritable conservation success story, the close-quarters nature of the herring hunt still poses a danger to the whales that participate in it: one large orca becomes trapped in a fishing net onscreen, and only survives once the fishermen onboard their boat receive permission via radio that they are able to release the net. Thousands of miles of fishing nets and lines enter the world’s oceans every day, and bycatch is one of the biggest threats facing a host of marine animals: each year, it kills over 300,000 cetaceans, around 250,000 turtles and as many as 100 million sharks.
Learning more about the animals we share our planet with is another way we can work to save them. In Episode 4, we saw how scientists took great strides in unravelling the mystery of where whale sharks give birth, and in this final episode we accompany shark biologist Jonathan Green as he embarks on this journey. The world’s largest fish – classified as endangered by the IUCN – is killed in the thousands each year by fishermen, so understanding where the sharks give birth is integral to protecting new generations. Green dives with the sharks, attaches remote cameras to them and even dives to great depths in a submersible to follow the animals as they descend so far down into the waters surrounding the Galápagos Islands that all light from the surface disappears. But despite the mother-to-be getting away from Green, he is able to see – with the help of the lights on his submersible – the environment where whale shark pups likely live out their first years, far down enough to be protected from possible predators. They will eventually grow large enough that they will have no natural predators; apart, that is, from humans.
To find out more about us, start designing your journey or get some expert travel advice, click the button below to speak to one of our Destination Specialists.