Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mysteries in the Kingdom of the Blue Whale

KingdomOfTheBlueWhale.jpgMy daughter and I just previewed (as did Kevin Zelnio of Deep Sea News) National Geographic's new documentary "Kingdom of the Blue Whale" premiering tonight at 8:00 PM on the NatGeo channel here in the US. The girls (3 and almost 9) were skeptical at first, especially because it had interrupted something else they were watching while waiting for brunch, but really got into it as the story unfolded. The younger one - no surprise - loved it whenever they actually showed the creatures underwater, culminating, of course, in the amazing first-time-ever footage of an infant Blue Whale. That comes at the end, of course, but the story leading up to it is quite fascinating too, told as it is in two intertwining threads which gradually pulled in 9-year old Sanzari:

One strand follows biologists tagging and tracking the whales from the California coast all the way into the warm tropical "nursery" of the Costa Rica dome (watch the show to find out what a "dome" might mean in the ocean), trying to solve the puzzles of their life-cycle, which is surprisingly poorly understood for the largest creatures on the planet! Sanzari, who spent a year in the field with her mom studying another charismatic yet elusive (and much smaller!) mammal, the Slender Loris, in the forests of southern India, could relate to the challenges of tagging the whales, but couldn't quite imagine tracking them across half an ocean! Tough to scale up from tracking the tiny lorises, hard enough to track in their several hectare sized home-ranges, to creatures occupying half of the world's biggest ocean!! She therefore enjoyed it when the biologists got their payoff after months on the ocean, including sad episodes when they found whales dead from being hit by ships!

Intertwined with this is a second thread which follows researchers investigating the whale meat market in Japan, using undercover operatives and portable genetics labs set up in hotel rooms! Exciting stuff, especially when they teamed up with a local female biologist who posed as a regular shopper to obtain samples from the whale meat market; and when they hung up the "do not disturb" sign on their hotel door to set up the portable genetics lab to extract DNA from the samples. What Nancy Drew fan wouldn't want to do such investigative work? Although we did wonder why the biologists weren't simply collaborating with Japanese scientists to analyze the samples in a proper lab?! What's the story there?

The whale-meat trade itself provoked some anger in the girls (carnivorous though they both are), with the sushi-loving Sanzari fuming all the way through about the Japanese and the Icelanders who wouldn't stop hunting whales! The genetic findings from one sample were even more intriguing to me... but I better not give that away before the show airs, eh? If you can't wait, or don't get the channel, check out this clip on the show's website.

What I can't resist giving away, however, is this money-shot at the end, when the first team finally caught up with a mother and infant:

I am simply amazed that we share our planet with such magnificent creatures - and also that we know so little about even some of the largest living animals! And I hope we can find ways to ensure that my girls' generation, and future ones too, get the opportunity to see the Blue Whales thrive once again.


Anonymous March 8, 2009 at 6:42 PM  

Yeah but, Tom Sellak? guy is like the worst actor in the world. Why his creepy voice all over the wonderful whales? What happened to Morgan Freeman, or Forrest Whittaker. Way to ruin epic footage nat geo.


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