Whales: An Unforgettable Journey

Synopsis: Scientists visit the remote surface and undersea locations to study various species of whales in their natural habitat.
Production: IMAX Film Distribution
  1 win.
44 min

It's a place as alien as space

a fluid world of

darkness and cold

and extraordinary forms of life.

Though at risk here, humanity

descends in shells of steel

compelled by

our insatiable curiosity.

Hidden in the haze of the sea

are creatures so immense and

so mysterious, they seem unreal.

A mammoth pulse of life,

picked up through hydrophones-

The beat of a heart so large

it can be heard two miles away.

No animals more enthrall us

than the giants whose songs echo

across the vastness of the deep

who roam somewhere beyond

our view and our understanding-

the largest creatures

ever to live on earth.

For all life in the sea

successful feeding is

the key to survival.

Many creatures,

like the manta ray

take advantage of

a remarkable food source-

swarms found throughout the

ocean of plankton, larval fish

and tiny shrimp called krill

collectively the greatest mass

of protein in the entire world.

Filtering out the tiny food

through strainers in its gills,

the manta can live on the relatively

sparse plankton of the tropics.

But the great baleen or

toothless whales also filter feeders-

must find greater concentrations

of it elsewhere - or they'll starve.

The great whales'

search for food

can force them to journey

across an entire ocean.

Masters of starvation, they

can survive on their blubber

while they wait for

the plankton swarms to reappear.

Barely visible to us as red

surface patches marked by birds

the massive krill swarms

in cool upwellings or polar seas

are the primary food sources

sufficient to sustain

the greatest of all whales,

the rarely seen Blue Whale.

A blue often drives krill to the surface

then lunges to engulf them

clamping its huge mouth shut

like a trap while on its side.

Comb-like filters in its mouth,

called baleen

act like sieves, capturing the

krill as the water drains away.

The whale simply swallows

the meal that's left.

More than a hundred feet long

and a hundred tons

the Blue Whale is the largest

animal ever to live on the earth

surpassing any dinosaur.

Its heart is bigger

than a small car.

A child could crawl

through its largest arteries.

Their voices are equally mighty,

carrying at least a thousand

miles through the sea.

Yet as large and loud

as they are

Blue whales are among the

most elusive of all creatures.

The story of the whale is

one we can piece together

only as fragments,

gathered species by species

from the farthest corners

of the world.

One of the best places to peer

into the lives of whales

is Peninsula Valdes on the

southern coast of Argentina.

Each winter, Right Whales follow

unknown routes from

distant feeding grounds

to gather in

the calm shallows off Valdes.

Once found along the coast

of every continent

the Right Whale was hunted

to the edge of extinction.

Today their numbers have

recovered to about 4,000.

Peninsula Valdes is one

of the great intersections

of sea, land and

wildlife left on earth.

Elephant Seals gather here

by the thousands to breed

and share the beach

with Magellanic Penguins

who also migrate here

each year

then waddle ashore

to claim a patch of sand.

Since 1970, biologist Roger Payne

has walked these same beaches

to study the Right Whales.

This is my favorite place

in the world.

Here in Peninsula Valdes, Right Whales

come so close to shore

you can spend an afternoon walking

along a beach in their company.

And at night, whenever

the herd moves into the bay

the sound of

their breathing wakes you.

On the head of

every Right Whale -

roughly where facial hair

appears on humans-

there are hard, white patches

of thickened skin called callosities.

We've found that no two patterns

are exactly alike

making it possible

to tell individuals apart.

The males have more

and bigger callosities

and they use them like horns

to fight over females.

Using callosity patterns

like human fingerprints

we can now follow the lives of more

than 1,300 individual Right whales.

Some, like Troff,

have become old friends.

The relatively quiet waters

of these bays

seem an ideal nursery

for the whales

while the cliffs provide

a perfect vantage point

for Payne and his team

to observe whale behavior.

On average, Right Whales give

birth to one calf every three years.

Curiously, one in 50

is born white

but only remains so

for the first year of its life.

Fewer than ten white calves are ever

alive on the planet at the same time.

Like people, mother whales keep

their babies right next to them

where they can be watched

continuously - and protected.

Like children of all species,

whale calves seek attention.

And to get it, a mischievous calf will

sometimes drape its body

over its mother's blowhole

so she can't breathe.

Adults can also be playful.

A whale will often hold its tail

up as a sail and ride the wind.

They don't sail to get places.

Perhaps they do it just for fun.

Tail slapping and breaching

serve many purposes.

They may be a form

of communication.

It seems to be a challenge

to other whales

and often gets

the whole bay going.

When seas are calm, Right whales

often rest or sleep head down

with their tails in the air.

Naturally buoyant, they got

their name from whalers.

Because they were rich in oil

which kept them afloat when killed

they were

the "right whales" to hunt.

On occasion, members

of Payne's scientific team

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Roger Payne

Roger Searle Payne (born January 29, 1935) is an American biologist and environmentalist famous for the 1967 discovery (with Scott McVay) of whale song among humpback whales. Payne later became an important figure in the worldwide campaign to end commercial whaling. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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