The Herald - The Herald Magazine
5 MINS WITH BRIAN SKERRY
AS Earth Day approaches on Thursday, Disney+ is here to remind us that the planet – in particular, its expansive oceans – are ours to save.
The brainchild of National Geographic explorer and photographer Brian Skerry, right, a four-part documentary series called Secrets of the Whales shows just how similar humans are to these majestic, oceandwelling giants. Filmed over three years across 24 locations, the series sees Skerry document the lives and interactions of a variety of whale species – including a world first, capturing a sperm whale nursing her calf for the first time.
Narrated by Alien and Avatar actress Sigourney Weaver and executive produced by Titanic and Avatar director James Cameron the series sets out to challenge our perceptions of these warm-blooded creatures. Ahead of Secrets of the Whales arriving, we discover more from Skerry.
What made you want to create Secrets of the Whales?
There’s a multi-billion-dollar whale-watching industry on planet Earth, where people go on boats all over the world to see a whale jump or a tail, they eat a hamburger and then they go home, but they don’t really know so much about those lives. So, with Secrets of the Whales, it was really about bringing people into the lives of these whales.
Are humans and whales more similar than we think?
We’ve often been very clinical about how we view wildlife – we see ourselves apart from it or above it. But if we begin to understand that whales have personality, they give each other names, they isolate by dialect, they have singing competitions, they have food preferences, they mourn their dead – they do all of these things that used to be thought of as only the domain of humans but are not so. So we’re sharing this planet with this alien intellectual species that does things like we do.
How did Avatar director James Cameron become involved in the project?
He can create everything from fictional characters and scenes and sets and story narratives, he can invent the equipment that’s needed to film it in 3D and do things that haven’t been done before. But he’s also a pioneering ocean explorer who, you know, builds his own submarines and goes to the deepest part of the ocean to understand.
And you managed to get actress Sigourney Weaver involved?
Bringing in Sigourney Weaver as the narrator was fantastic. I always thought that would have been fantastic because that female voice, especially for these whales, that are often led by females, was brilliant. So, yeah, on every level, it was sort of organic.
How can humans play their part in helping save the oceans?
We’re dumping 18billion pounds of plastic every year into the ocean, and we’ve lost 90 per cent of the big fish in the ocean since the Second World War and we’ve lost half the world’s coral reefs... It can be as simple as finding better ways of fishing and not having vertical lines that animals get entangled in – and that’s going to take some collaborative efforts. Or it could be just being better consumers, informed consumers, voting for people who care about conservation and science. Secrets of the Whales from National Geographic Thursday, on Disney+