Human Planet – Oceans: Into The Blue

by Lisa McGarry

Humans are the only animals that have managed to adapt to life in every habitat on Earth. From oceans to jungles, the poles to the deserts, Human Planet explores man’s incredible ability to survive in the most extreme environments.

Three years in the making, the series travels to the far-flung corners of the globe – the team visited more than 70 filming locations – to bring the most diverse, original and, in some cases, never-before-seen stories of human endeavour to BBC One.

The series is narrated by John Hurt and features original music by world-renowned composer Nitin Sawhney.

Oceans: Into The Blue explores the extraordinary adaptability and ingenuity that enables humans to survive in the marine environment, combined with the profound effect living by the sea has had on our cultures.

In Northern Spain fishermen risk life and limb collecting highly valued goose barnacles – pounded by the Atlantic waves, they abseil down cliffs to reach their prize, which will fetch more than €200 a kilo at market. In Indonesia subsistence whalers from the village of Lamalera are also after a marine bounty – a huge sperm whale. Using bamboo harpoons, in their wooden boats, the men take on the whale in an almighty battle of wits and skill. If they succeed, their village will have food for months.

The fishermen of Laguna in Brazil have learned to harness the ocean’s natural resources. Working in skilful harmony with dolphins, many of which they know by name, they are able to increase their seasonal harvest of mullet. In the distant islands off Papua New Guinea, “shark-caller” Blais – one of the last of his kind – also works with nature to use his ancient spiritual skills to hunt sharks.

In the coral seas surrounding the Philippines a crew of Paaling fishermen take their lives in their hands in a highly dangerous mass fishing technique. In this overfished area, diving to depths of over 40m is the only way to catch enough fish for the village. A generator, with its intricate web of hose pipes, provides the only air supply for the young divers below, who risk the all-too-lethal effects of the bends.

Few people in the world have such an intimate relationship with the sea as the elusive Bajau Laut sea gypsies who spend most of their lives afloat. Rarely visiting the mainland, the Bajau Laut live in stilt huts over the coral reefs and on houseboats; some of them still have an incredible ability to hunt underwater holding their breath. Human Planet follows one Bajau spear fisherman, called Sulbin, as he defies the usual laws of nature with an incredible underwater hunt, 20m down, lasting two-and-a-half minutes.

The Behind The Lens segment features the compelling stories of the Paaling fishermen.

Dale Templar, series producer for Human Planet says: “Filming in HD is an incredible challenge for documentary programme-makers. Human Planet was particularly difficult because our team had to operate the sensitive HD cameras in some of the most challenging and remote locations on the planet.

“The superb picture quality of HD demands means that finding perfect focus is critical to the camera operators.

“Unlike the controlled conditions of television drama productions, we are filming real people doing real things. This is extremely demanding on the crews. Our cameramen were often working on the end of a camera lens, in far from perfect light conditions, using a black and white view finder, which makes focusing a nightmare. Often there is no room for error, no option of a ‘Take 2!’

“We don’t get to see the footage in full HD quality until late on in the post-production process. We have to go through every shot with a fine-tooth comb. What we end up producing for the BBC HD channel is truly magnificent. Human Planet is filmed in the most stunning locations on Earth with the most amazing people and animals. The pictures jump off the screen, almost like 3D, transporting the audience to these extraordinary places.”

Thursday 13 January
8.00-9.00pm BBC ONE and BBC ONE HD