Blue Planet takes an­other dive be­low the sur­face

Blue Planet II takes a hard look at ocean pol­lu­tion

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - KARLA ADAM

The most watched tele­vi­sion LON­DON pro­gram in Bri­tain last year was a na­ture pro­gram about gen­der-bend­ing fish and dol­phins that like to surf. The sev­en­part BBC doc­u­men­tary, pre­sented by a beloved nona­ge­nar­ian nat­u­ral­ist fo­cused on the dis­as­trous im­pact of plas­tic waste in the world’s oceans, spurring politi­cians to vow re­me­dial ac­tion.

The sump­tu­ously shot series, which be­gins air­ing on BBC Earth on Jan. 20, took four years to make, with film­mak­ers trav­el­ling to ev­ery con­ti­nent and ev­ery ocean.

It could be that “the mo­ment is right” for a doc­u­men­tary on the state of the oceans, said David At­ten­bor­ough, the show ’s hu­man star, in a re­cent in­ter­view. “There are peo­ple world­wide talk­ing about what we are do­ing about the seas.”

At 91, he is a Bri­tish trea­sure — some­thing like Jac­ques Cousteau, Carl Sa­gan and Jane Goodall rolled into one.

In per­son, At­ten­bor­ough is a mas­ter sto­ry­teller. He has a shock of white hair and bright blue eyes, and speaks with the same dis­tinc­tive ca­dence and whis­pered con­fi­dences that have en­tranced Bri­tish view­ers for decades.

He is also a born broad­caster, his vel­vety voice pro­pel­ling footage of tool-us­ing tusk fish and gi­ant trevally fish that catch birds in mid-air.

Some of At­ten­bor­ough’s pre­vi­ous pro­grams have drawn crit­i­cism for pulling punches about hu­man threats to the en­vi­ron­ment. Martin Hughes- Games, a fel­low BBC pro­ducer, has ar­gued that in one series, the footage was so jaw-drop­ping that it lulled view­ers into a “false sense of se­cu­rity.”

Blue Planet II, a se­quel to a 2001 series about marine life, fea­tures fish with trans­par­ent heads and a nail-bit­ing chase scene in­volv­ing a crab, eel and oc­to­pus that will make you think twice about your next frolic in shal­low seas. It also ad­dresses is­sues such as plas­tic pol­lu­tion, over­fish­ing and cli­mate change.

At­ten­bor­ough in­sists the BBC didn’t set out to make an “axe-grind­ing pro­gram.” But, he added, “If you come across the sit­u­a­tion that we have come across, you can’t just say, ‘Well, we don’t like that be­cause it’s an un­com­fort­able or awk­ward truth.’”

At­ten­bor­ough is op­ti­mistic that a so­lu­tion to the plas­tics prob­lem can be found. “If we are clever enough to be able to in­vent it, surely we should be clever enough to be able think of ways of de­stroy­ing it,” he said.

If part of the so­lu­tion, as the series im­plies, is for a con­certed global ef­fort, what does At­ten­bor­ough make of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to pull out of the Paris cli­mate agree­ment?

“It would be ab­surd to say it didn’t have an im­pact. It’s the most pow­er­ful na­tion on Earth, so of course it mat­ters a lot.”

But at the same time, he said, “It is against the tide of hu­man in­ter­ests. I mean China, for heaven’s sake; In­dia is be­hind it. The world is be­com­ing aware of this.”

Blue Planet II was also a hit with the crit­ics, who have called it “as­ton­ish­ing,” “awe-in­spir­ing” and “play­ing a dif­fer­ent sport from most of what makes it onto our screens.”

As a boy, At­ten­bor­ough col­lected fos­sils and he stud­ied zo­ol­ogy at Cam­bridge Univer­sity.

He joined the BBC when he was 24, al­though his first ap­pear­ance on tele­vi­sion was not an over­whelm­ing suc­cess.

In his mem­oir, Life on Air: Mem­oirs of a Broad­caster, he re­called dis­cov­er­ing a note a pro­ducer wrote after his de­but say­ing At­ten­bor­ough was “intelligen­t and promis­ing,” but not to be used again on air be­cause “his teeth are too big.”

Now, he’s at the crest of a wave.


A Por­tuguese man-of-war at dawn.

A male kobu­dai, right, and smaller fe­male swim in the wa­ters near Ja­pan. When a fe­male kobu­dai reaches a cer­tain size and age, she can turn into a male. Once the change has oc­curred, the new male com­petes with other males for the right to mate with...

This anemone was found in rock­pools along the Pa­cific coast of Canada.

The fang­tooth has the largest teeth rel­a­tive to body size for any fish in the en­tire ocean.

En­dan­gered green tur­tles come to feed in the trop­i­cal wa­ters off the is­land of Si­padan, off the east coast of Malaysia.

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