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WHALES

Fade up ice-bergs

19” Within this dark beauty of Antarctica much of the worlds’ fresh water is captured in ice.

Very little life is supported by the continent itself, but in this most extreme part of our planet the edges of the wilderness are home to many animals – perfectly adapted to be here.

1’13” Surrounding the vast mass of Antarctic ice is the great Southern Ocean. An abundance of plankton is the basis of a seasonal food chain that nourishes almost everything from tiny shrimps to the largest animals that have lived on this earth.

Title at 1’42

1’49” Whales have lived in the seas for millions of years but in an infinite fraction of this time they’ve been pushed to the very edge of extinction.

2’03” For 150 years the Southern seas were bloodied by mass slaughter. Hundreds of thousands of whales were hunted and killed – mostly to oil the wheels of commerce and industry.

The crisis is not over but at the last hour a reprieve may have come.

2’20” In 1994, the International Whaling Commission designated the Southern Ocean a sanctuary for whales, where commercial whaling is not allowed. This safe area joins with the existing Indian Ocean sanctuary creating a massive safety net. A haven for 80% of the worlds remaining whales.

It is fitting that the sanctuary should be in Antarctic waters because it is here that scientists believe whales may have first evolved.

2’53” 76 species of whales, porpoises and dolphins live in all of our seas. Collectively they’re known as Cetaceans and many travel 1000’s of kms each year to feed or breed, while a few like Hectors Dolphins are always resident in coastal waters.

3’10” Hectors are one of the rarest of the Cetacean family, their range limited to some coastal areas of New Zealand.

Not much over a metre long they’re the petite relations in an outsized family. The largest family member, the Blue Whale provides a powerful contrast, measuring over 30 metres and weighing in at over 150 tonnes.

3’42” Once there were estimated to be 200,000 Blue Whales alive and well in the Southern Oceans. Whaling virtually annihilated all of them and now only a few thousand giants remain.

4’10” MUSIC ENDS

4’14” The vast watery world of whales stretches from the warm seas of the tropics to deep within the icy waters of both poles.

Whales communicate over great distances with clearly defined accords.

4’44” Most whales feed near the surface but some hunt giant squid and fish in deep water – able to dive more than an impressive 1000m they can feed for 45 minutes before surfacing to breathe.

5’03” After periods of summer feasting in cold waters Humpback whales move on to more tropical seas. Prey is sparse here but they have little interest in food – their 45 tonne bulk will be nourished by huge fatty reserves of blubber built up during the summer.

5’29” Now their main purpose is to mate, and give birth and the surrounding seas are filled with symphonies and whale songs.

5’54 In high energy performances they crash their tail flukes in distinctive displays of lobtailing. The reason for this spirited performance is not clear, although many theories have been offered – various forms of communication, maybe aggression or perhaps just part of their mating display.

6’18” Whatever the behaviour the outcome is clear and tropical waters are the chosen place for calving.

6’35” At birth a young humpback can weight 1.5 tonnes. In warmer water an infant needs far less food to maintain its body heat. So most of its mothers milk can be turned into blubber, protection against the cold southern seas to come. Journeys along traditional migratory routes have been repeated by whales for hundreds of thousands of years.

7’01” Clues to the ancestors of the whales can be found on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Limestone which formed on the seabed 30 million years ago has been forced above sea level by movements in the Earth’s crust.

7’18” From this rocky past Palaeontologists have recovered thirteen species of ancient whales.

7’30” Limestone outcrops hide a buried treasure of whale remains, a pandoras box of fossilised possibilities. Imperative information for decoding the clues that lead scientists through the maze of whale evolution.

7’54” Once cautiously freed from their limestone tomb painstaking work is needed to reveal the secrets of centuries old bones. Only then can the parts of the puzzle be seen in detail and the challenge of matching the pieces begin.

8’21” First to emerge were the fossils of the primitive toothed whales, with a small brain volume an narrow pincer like jaws ideal for catching and holding their prey.

These creatures were far removed from todays whales, but were undoubtedly their ancestors. Warm blooded mammals that had made a complete transition from land to sea.

8’47” Today there are over 60 species of toothed whales including dolphins, the Sperm Whale, and the killer whale, the orca the supreme carnivore of the sea.

9’11” However back in the limestone cliffs were another group of fossils.

Their jaws contained matted, horny filaments extending from the roof of the mouth, and these massive jaws had no teeth.

9’26” These whales with plates of Baleen had evolved to feed on the smallest of the seas creatures – diversifying their diet to include plankton, small fish and krill.

9’41” Swimming close to the surface with their jaws wide open, these whales took in huge quantities of food filled sea then forced water out through the baleen plates like a giant sieve and they simply lick the prey off the inside of their mouths devouring enormous amounts of food.

10’18” The whales developed advanced social behaviour and communication – hunting in groups and using skill and foresight in pursuit of prey.

10’43” During 30 million years whales evolved in highly social animals, many living in family groups or larger congregations. Intelligence developed, there were few predators or threats – life was balanced.

11’00” But another mammal had evolved on land, who would drive the whales to near extinction.

11’35” In the 17th century open-boat whalers started to take their toll of the great whale sticks their story carved on the teeth of the whales they caught. It was a slaughter that would steadily increase.

11’46” Finally detailed scrimshaw work on the ivory of the victims teeth would record in precise detail the uses and abuses of the whales. Whales were mercilessly and indiscriminately slaughtered, for their bone and for their blubber to be rendered down for oil.

Whale oil lit the continents and smoothed the running of newly mechanised industries. Not only were the whales killed for their oil but for a variety of bizarre uses. The strong and flexible baleen was used in umbrellas and in corsets for the fashion conscious.

12’11” By the 19th Century whaling had become an integral part of European and North American life. But it was a life fraught with hardship, deprivation and danger.

12’34” Open boat whalers used primitive methods – simply rowing up to whales breathing on the surface and when close enough harpooning them.

12’57” Disaster for the whalers was ever present.

13’00” After being harpooned, a large sperm whale rammed and sank the American whaler “essex” leaving twenty crewmen adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in 3 tiny boats.

After rowing for three months, the remaining eight men were rescued. They had survived by eating the bodies of their shipmates.

13’22” Northern Arctic whaling had been going on for hundreds of years. With the industrial revolution the demands for the whale oil increased dramatically, and in the early 19th century a real boom began. Whaling expanded as fast as new ships could be built.

13’41” As Northern stocks became depleted, fresh whaling grounds were discovered off the coast of Chile, Australia and New Zealand and the focus shifted to the Southern Hemisphere.

13’53” These rich new areas, known as the South Seas Fishery, were populated with whales which migrated from feeding grounds in Antarctic waters north to the warmer tropical breeding grounds.

14’06” Where whales passed close to land, shore based whaling stations were quickly set up. But the extermination was relentless.

14’20” Once sighted, a whale was chased harpooned, and then laboriously towed back to the factory for rendering down.

14’34” Around New Zealand there were more than 100 of these stations.

14’42” It was a hard and dirty life for those involved, the dangers were appalling and all too frequent.

14’49” However as the pressing needs of industrial giants in the northern hemisphere spiralled ever upward, equally the plight of the whales intensified, and for the industry a new threat loomed.

15’06” With the first commercial drilling for oil in the 1860’s history changed.

Symbolic of that change was the petro-chemical well. Oil now came easily from minerals instead of from animals.

15’23” In the lull between the discovery of petroleum and the new technologies of steel, steam and electricity, the whales had a brief reprieve. There was a slowing down in the slaughter... until man was more efficiently equipped and it was economic to take up the chase again.

15’46” Now the industry was better organised. With the arrival of steam, faster boats were available. Explosive harpoons replaced the “row and throw” of earlier years. Very few whales were beyond the reach of this next onslaught.

16’15” For all the modernisation, it was still a hard and risky business at best. But the effect on the whales was even worse.

16’29” The new operation set up expressly to use 20th Century methods, got extremely efficient, 20th century results.

16’58” Whalers traditionally retained much information that was useful in their hunt for whales.

However it wasn’t until the British Discovery Expeditions began in 1925 that modern scientific research really began.

17’13” During many trips to Antarctica a vast amount of information about whales was collected.

17’20” Ironically the knowledge was first needed to improve whale catches, but the information was to prove invaluable to the predecessors of todays conservationists.

17’30” With all the research and new technology whaling could go into previously inaccessible places and Antarctica was no longer the last sanctuary of the whales.

17’43” Whaling took a huge leap forward in the Antarctic when in 1904 a Norwegian station was built on the island of South Georgia. Eventually six stations on the island were supported by 8 factory ships, and within three years Antarctic production had surpassed that of all other whaling grounds.

18’06” After World War ll. the onslaught increased with whalers using fleets of small fast catcher boats to supply processing ships. These floating factories processed more than 30.000 whales a year.

18’21” Whale populations simply couldn’t stand the onslaught.

The larger whales were hunted to near extinction and the whalers turned their attentions to previously less commercial species.

18’35” As methods changed, uses changed as well. Whale oil no longer lit and lubricated the world – the whales were now killed, cut up, and melted down to make soap, fertiliser, margarine, cosmetics, insecticides, and to satisfy huge demand for pet and animal foods.

18’55” For the Japanese, hungry for protein in the austere post war years – whale meat became a highly prized food.

19’07” As 1970 dawned, plummeting profits closed the Antarctic shore stations. On South Georgia the only evidence of the carnage was six decaying ghost towns. But perhaps infinitely more telling was the deathly silence of the Southern Ocean – bereft of most of its great whales.

19’31” The international whaling commission had the declared purpose of protecting whale stock from overkill, yet in the 1960’s more whales were killed than at anytime in the history of whaling.

19’45” To the often ill treated men, on the old ships, whaling was both a job and adventure.

19’50” Although these men generally respected the whales they had a perfectly natural fear of them and crews were known to have hidden when a whale was sighted.

20’09” Their beliefs and attitudes were shaped by an era in which people were more familiar with the bible than with morals. Basic moral assumptions came from established Christian opinions, attitudes and laws.

20’29” The bible was quite clear about the relationship between humans and the rest of god’s creatures …

The animals were there for their use!

20’42” Whaling history has been the subject of research by many authors.

20’48” From personal histories, scientific papers and novels, there has been a long and widespread public interest in the subject of whaling – proof of a continuing general fascination.

21’00” Myth, legend, truth and make-believe, became blurred in the books and stories of the day.

21’14” With the development of moving pictures, scenes of the mind were replaced with even stronger images.

21’36” In probably the best known of all whaling stories, the demented Captain Ahab chases a great white whale, Moby Dick. A tale of not only adventure on the high seas, but the darker side of obsession.

22’02” Moby Dick has been published in dozens of editions and has been the subject of at least four films.

22’26” The new medium of film also brought information to the public.

22’37” Whaling was an accepted industrial activity in the 20’s and 30’s. This type of film could be commissioned and shown as part of a company’s promotion. Like this record of whaling in Antarctica, screened as much for entertainment as information.

23’00” While perhaps a film about the killing process in an abattoir would have been n bad taste or considered unsuitable for public viewing, whaling, with the rather corny attempts at humour in the title cards, was clearly accepted.

23’33” In the 1930’s films gave people some experience of the thrill of the chase.

23’44” To the whalers it was just a job, although often an exciting one, to the general public it was a spectacle.

24’03” Whalers were known to have herded their prey closer in to shore so the whale could be killed in front of school children out for a day trip of learning.

24’12” But film eventually also helped change public attitudes…

24’25” When Opo appeared in the bay of a small New Zealand town in the 1950’s and showed interest in contact with people, human response created a dolphin craze.

24’36” The images of Opo shown in cinemas captured peoples hearts, this animal was clearly not only playful but exceptionally intelligent.

When the inevitable happened, Opo was killed, there was a national outpouring of grief and rage.

24’53” Further images of knowing and playful animals began to help develop new sympathetic attitudes towards dolphins and whales. Other early films showed animals in their natural environments, these exciting new wildlife films were brought into peoples homes by the magic of television.

25’25” The private lives of the dolphins and whales were shown on screen, bringing an awareness to people who would never experience such animals in the wild.

25’44” Cameras allowed the natural world of cetaceans to be explored in their own environment – beautiful images enchanted and captured the attention of people everywhere. The foundations of concern had been laid.

26’13” Conservation groups like Greenpeace, using brilliant media manipulation, brought the fight to save the whales into the spotlight of world attention.

26’27” Long held beliefs about the use of wild animals were severely tested, as the shock troops of the ecological movement, the “Rainbow Warriors” risked their lives by driving their inflatables in front of the harpoon guns of the remaining whaling ships.

26’49” Whales came to represent a new concern about the state of the earth. However the crisis was almost complete. In the blink of an eyelid in time 90% of the great whales had gone.

27’04” In Britain a campaign to protest continued whaling, managed to collect a million signatures – mostly from people who had never even seen a whale.

27’16” The International Whaling Commission found itself under serious attack. Still essentially a whale hunters club which met annually to haggle over quotas which the members then ignored. Their meetings increasingly became the scenes of noisy disruptions.

Finally in 1985, a moratorium on whaling was passed but there were loopholes. Some whaling took place for “scientific” purposes which were clearly abused.

27’35” It was unclear if fragile whale populations could ever recover.

27’46” Then came rays of hope – off the coast of the south island of New Zealand near the city of Dunedin, came a sight not seen there for 50 years.

28’13” On their traditional migratory path, a pair of Southern Right whales passed by close to the beach. Their return was significant suggesting the recovery of a species slaughtered by the thousands.

28’34” The arrival of these whales off Dunedin attracted huge media attention, and people took every opportunity to view this long lost sight.

28’49” They were called “Right” whales because they travelled slowly and didn’t sink when killed. They took the brunt of 19th Century whaling, and a second attack in the 1960’s by Soviet whalers.

29’18” Whales now seem destined to catch people. In many parts of the world where whaling was a key part of the economy, income from whales is now of a different kind.

29’32” Tourists travel thousands of miles to Kaikoura in New Zealand. They come to see whales and the local economy is booming. Whale watching has become the mainstay of a town once doomed by the demise of commercial whaling.

29’48” Right on Kaikouras doorstep Sperm Whales hunt the seas. A short distance from the shore the sea is a thousand metres deep.

30’02” Using sophisticated echo location they track giant squid and fish in this undersea canyon.

30’14” Those who come in close contact with whales say the effect can be spiritual and long lasting. Quite often the most profound experience of their lives.

30’30” This emotional experience is very evident when whales are stranded.

30’44” In New Zealand hundreds of people turn out to help, some of them specially and highly trained in whale rescue. Remarkable energy and dedication is invested in the job of moving the whales back to sea.

30’58” This herd of pilot whales must be kept alive and refloated when the tide turns. Stranding on such a shallow beach would be certain death for the herd.

31’14” Stranding is the most puzzling part of whale ecology. Many different species show this extraordinary behaviour from individuals, to groups of up to two hundred animals or more.

31’36” The cause is only guessed at. Some researchers believe the animals become disorientated due to a malfunction of their navigating or echo-location senses which could be seriously disrupted by parasitic infestations of the inner ear.

32’00” It may be that only the senior member of the herd is affected, unknowingly leading their group into danger.

32’08” Despite being helped out to sea, herds often turn back and beach themselves again.

32’18” Even facing this potential disappointment, the human helpers are unflagging in their struggle to save the whales.

32’28” Scientists continue their attempts to understand this apparently suicidal behaviour but it may be years before the answer is found.

32’41” Scientist Ingrid Visser is one person searching actively for clues…

32’51” She’s made a long term study of the Killer whale herds around the coast of New Zealand, and is one of the few people allowed close contact with them.

33’15” Killer whales or Orcas are highly social and inquisitive, and once Ingrid is in the water the whales are immediately curious.

33’41” Underwater, Ingrids direct observations have brought some surprising insights into Orca behaviour, including the exchange of food with each other.

34’17” To gain further knowledge of their habits she is collecting photos, hoping to identify and record all Orca’s of New Zealand waters. Nearly all the animals have distinctive features and once catalogued there’ll be a solid base for her research.

34’41” So far 5 main family groups have been found – each led by a dominant female.

34’50” The study groups are noticeably playful

35’42” As top predators, Orca are an indicator species, if their numbers decrease rapidly it could indicate serious pollution problems in the seas.

36’01” Scientific research is not always so sympathetic – Minke whales are the smallest Baleen whales, and were considered uneconomical to hunt until the great whales vanished.

36’18” Although the 1985 moratorium stopped most commercial whaling a loophole allowed Japan and Norway to still kill 400 Minke whales a year, in the interest of science.

36’33” The principal advocates of continuing commercial whaling are based in Japan and here lies any further potential threat to the future of cetaceans.

36’46” Over the past 50 years whale meat has become a luxury part of the Japanese diet. Traditionally they ate little animal meat but whales have always been regarded as fish.

36’58” A vast consumer demand exists for expensive whale meat in Japan – a market cultivated by a wealthy whaling industry struggling to escape its own extinction. This market is sometimes supplied with whales caught illegally in defiance of the I.W.C. as well as those animals taken for “scientific” purposes.

37’20” A new holocaust is the direct result of the decline in whale meat available. A large scale industry has developed to supply Japanese consumers, with more than 30,000 dolphins each year.

37’34” Not covered by whaling commission rules the smaller cetaceans – dolphins and porpoises are slaughtered around the coasts of Japan and sold as whale meat.

37’51” The whaling companies are surviving by turning dolphin meat into a growing business while waiting hopefully for the whaling ban to be lifted.

38’06” This consignment from the northern coast of Japan is destined for Tokyo and the supermarket shelf.

38’18” There’s strong suspicion that some whale meat sold in Japanese supermarkets is illegal – hunted by pirate whaling ships out of sight on the high seas, or imported from countries such as Norway and Iceland.

38’33” Earthtrust, the Hawaii based conservation group, demonstrated by DNA matching of purchased whale meat that some of it was illegal, including Humpback whale, a species banned from hunting for over 25 years.

38’50” Worldwide hunting has turned to the smaller species and as yet there is no international agreement to protect them. The killing of dolphins is increasing, not only direct for food, but indirectly by drowning in driftnets or by being butchered for bait to catch crabs.

39’11” Thousands are killed every year, some of these are rare species easily toppled into the pit of extinction.

40’00” As the main protagonists Japan and Norway continue unnecessarily to hunt dolphins and whales, the attitudes of the rest of the world have fortunately changed.

40’10” The great whales have been selected for special concern above other endangered species. With the agreement of a moratorium on whaling there’s hope that populations will recover from the years of exploitation.

40’25” Even so, many species have been decimated, down to a small percentage of their original numbers.

40’32” With the oceans so vast it may be difficult for such depleted populations to find mates – a century or more may pass before severely hunted species can build up again to anything like their original numbers.

40’46” The creation of the Southern sanctuary around the ice is a positive step forward in the whales journey towards recovery.

40’56”

Antarctica is one of the last true wilderness areas on Earth – despite humans attempts to penetrate and exploit the ice, it remains a pristine monument to the adaptation of life on Earth.

41’10” Temperatures have been recorded here as low as – 82 degrees Celsius and wind speeds of up to 200 kmph have been known.

41’19” It’s not so much on the ice but below the crust of ice and in the surrounding seas that life is supremely abundant.

41’28” Tiny plankton are the basis for all marine life in these cold waters. They feed the baleen whales indirectly via fish and squid, toothed species like the Sperm whale.

41’43” During the summer months Antarctic currents and ferocious winds circulate around the southern ocean forcing huge icebergs out into the open sea.

42’01” The long summer days with almost 24 hours of sunlight help rapidly expand food chains and krill thrive near the surface.

42’10” The Baleen whales can now exploit their main potential source of food – the krill.

42’20” Krill are shrimp like creatures, feeding on plankton their numbers multiply by millions.

42’30” Krill occupy the central position in the entire food web of the Antarctic seas – not only do they sustain the bulk of a whale, who can swallow tonnes at a time, but they constitute the main food source of many fish, squid, penguins and other seabirds.

42’56” Minke whale are the first to exploit the new summer abundance – finding breathing holes many kilometres from the open sea.

43’12” They will gorge on the explosion of food before travelling north to breed.

43’27” Weddell seals give birth on the ice – the females have also feasted in the rich water beneath them, and their pups grow fast on a diet of high fat milk. As soon as the ice melts they will be ready to venture off on their own.

43’45” Further north is the Antarctic convergence – here the warmer waters of the north collide violently with the icy Antarctic sea stirring up a nourishing marine soup.

43’57” Close by lie many southern ocean islands.

44’06” These islands provide a refuge for millions of penguins who breed and moult here in safety.

44’12” The vast colonies and continuous cycles of life are supported all year round by the wealth of the surrounding sea.

44’20” Albatross’s are among the dozens of seabirds who traverse the southern seas searching for the massive concentrations of food.

44’31” A complex system of predation neatly ensures maximum benefits from the prey. Individual species feed on krill of different ages, at various depths and at different times of the year.

44’46” Super swarms of krill have been estimated at over 2 million tonnes. The dependence of so many predators on one species is a phenomenon rarely seen.

44’56” Without the krill the wildlife of the southern seas would certainly starve.

45’07” Despite the new southern sanctuary for whales this serengeti of the sea faces one more threat to its existence.

45’15” Commercial fishing consortiums are now harvesting the krill and deadly pollution is penetrating the southern seas, a threat to the entire ecosystem if controls are not urgently implemented the threat to the whales will be just as lethal as an exploding harpoon.

46’09” The arrogance and greed of humans nearly extinguished creatures that evolved and survived for millions of years before them – in just a fragment of time irreplaceable life was nearly gone.

46’36” The human history of exploitation of the Earth’s creatures and its resources, is a sad reflection on our human soul.

46’48” If we are prepared to reinforce the whaling bans, and reduce the pollution of the seas -–the future for most of the worlds whales in their new sanctuary may well be assured.

47’17” Picture fades to black

47’19” Fade up quote on black.

“Forever is older than the universe itself. Losing a species, or an entire ocean of species, forever, is a more inexorable loss than any we can ever comprehend”

Roger Payne

47’30” Fade out quote.

47’32” Fade up end credit sequence.

48’35” End film. Fade to black.

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