Whales and dolphins conjure a deep sense of wonder in us that's hard to explain. Now, Nature dives into their magical world in Ocean Giants to explore lives full of sex, violence, emotion, and song. From the Arctic to the Amazon, this groundbreaking three-part series goes on a global expedition with world-renowned underwater cameramen as they capture spellbinding moments in the lives of these creatures. The film explores how these mammals hunt, mate, and communicate with each other and with us. Ocean Giants also joins scientists as they pursue their ongoing research into dolphins and whales that will help us better understand these still mysterious creatures.
Nature's three-hour Ocean Giants premieres Wednesday, February 22 at 7:00 p.m. on KUED.
The first hour, Giant Lives, examines the world of great whales, the largest animals that have ever lived on our planet. To these mighty mammals, size matters. In the Arctic, giant bowhead whales survive the freezing cold wrapped in 50 tons of insulating blubber two feet thick, making them the fattest animals on the planet. In addition to being the fattest, they may live the longest. Some tissue samples indicate the whales may be over 200 years old.
The biggest animal on the planet is the blue whale. Measuring 100 feet long, and weighing 200 tons, it is double the size of the largest dinosaur. Surprisingly, scientists discover a group of "tropical" blue whales living in Sri Lanka's warm waters, feeding on krill, tiny crustaceans usually found in cold polar seas. Once again, size is the secret to success. Baleen mesh in their enormous mouths makes the process of catching their tiny prey extremely efficient.
In Hawaii, thousands of humpbacks gather each spring to compete for mating rights in fights so violent they can lead to death. Explosions of bubbles expelled by the biggest males both announce aggression and screen a female from challengers. Then, after competitions that can last all day, the female leaves with her chosen male to mate in private. Despite best efforts, no one has ever seen humpbacks mating.
The size and strength of gray whale mothers are matters of life and death for their calves. Raised in the warm but barren waters off the coast of Mexico, calves must be escorted by their mothers through 6,000 miles of treacherous waters to reach the nutrient-rich seas of Alaska where they can feed. Along the way, killer whales team up and lie in wait for young gray whales. Only the most powerful mothers can protect their calves from the ferocious attack of killer whales.
The second hour, Deep Thinkers, explores the cognitive and emotional lives of dolphins and whales, which have the largest brains of any animal. Like us, they have special brain cells called spindle cells that are associated with communication, emotion, and heightened social sensitivity. These cells were once thought to be unique to humans, yet research is showing that whales and dolphins have may have three times more spindle cells than we do, leading scientists to believe that their mental abilities and emotional awareness could be far greater than we imagined.
In the Bahamas, filmmakers dive with a group of dolphins that displays how clicks, whistles, and highly synchronized movements and vocalizations can establish personal identity as well as gang behavior. It's a crash course in dolphin manners and communication that the cameramen find fascinating to observe.
The final hour, Voices of the Sea, considers the extra sensory perceptions and communication skills of these extraordinary creatures. Whales and dolphins use sound to hunt, to communicate with one another, and also to "see" and experience the world around them. Sending out loud clicks, they use the echoes to form a mental picture of the world around them. They use ultrasound to see inside other creatures, clicks and whistles to speak, echo location to navigate and hunt in the depths where the light cannot guide them.
The film crew sets out to film sperm whales, who travel in families and communicate with complex "coda" clicks, which can also be put to more lethal use. A mile below the surface, the whales use another form of clicks to hunt in the dark. These hunting clicks are the loudest sounds made by any living thing, louder than a thunder clap. Unable to follow the hunt into the depths, filmmakers experience a breathtaking encounter with a lost baby sperm whale looking for its mother.
But the most famous and mysterious voice of all of the Ocean Giants belongs to male humpback whales. Every winter, these 40-ton giants gather off the coast of Hawaii to sing with voices that can travel thousands of miles across an entire ocean basin. It is a communal song sung by all the male humpbacks from Mexico to Japan, improvised together and evolving from year to year, a haunting performance that captures our imagination but remains wonderfully mysterious.
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