Planet Earth III (2023) s01e02 Episode Script


Much of our planet
still remains unexplored
..for most of it is covered
by water.
Every journey below the surface
can reveal something extraordinary.
More than a thousand new species
are discovered here every year.
The ocean is home to 80%
of all animal life on Planet Earth.
But today,
thriving in this varied world
sometimes demands
the most surprising behaviour.
The shallow seas of the tropics.
This may look like a paradise
..but beneath the surface,
it is an arena
for constant
life-and-death struggles,
where not everything
is quite as it seems.
A predatory lionfish
..on the hunt for shrimp
and small fish.
With so many places
for its prey to hide,
the lionfish has to be patient.
This shrimp appears tempting.
As the lion-fish closes in,
it fans out its fins
to disorientate its prey.
The hunter becomes the hunted.
Tricked by one
of the shallow sea's
most extraordinary predators
..a clown frogfish!
On its head, it carries
a fishing rod –
a modified dorsal fin,
baited with a lure -
easily mistaken for a shrimp.
But, when the fish stop biting,
it's time to pack the rod away
and move on.
And, for a frogfish,
that takes time.
Rather than swim, frogfish walk!
Its fins have, in effect,
become feet.
It may not look pretty,
but what appears to be coral living
on its skin is actually camouflage.
As every good angler knows,
picking the right spot is important.
Jigging the rod sends out
pressure waves
to attract the attention
of possible prey.
These dragonets
are certainly interested.
Almost there.
Hook, line, and sinker.
Like all shallow seas,
the cold waters
off the coast of North America,
benefit from the intensity
of the sunshine.
Here, that fuels
one of the fastest-growing
organisms on the planet
..giant kelp.
Towering forests
can eventually reach the height
of a 12-storey building.
These forests are nurseries
for young horn sharks.
As the sun begins to set,
they leave their daytime shelter
and set off into the heart
of the kelp forest to find food.
Barely half a metre long,
this little shark
is extremely vulnerable.
There are monsters here.
A giant sea bass –
weighing over 200kg
..and wolf-eels, with big teeth
that can crush
little red sea urchins.
But the biggest danger
comes from other sharks -
..and huge broadnose sevengills.
In this forest,
it pays to keep a low profile.
An angel shark of the most deadly sharks
in the kelp forest,
and certainly
the best camouflaged.
An angel shark
will lie in wait for days
..but this one has already attracted
too much attention.
It's not welcome here.
Now, the coast is clear.
But angel sharks hunt
around the clock.
Openings for breathing,
called spiracles,
blow out sand
that helps cover its body.
The trap is set.
Staying close to the seabed is
a good way to avoid most predators.
Faster than the blink of an eye.
But it's not over yet.
Horn sharks have a secret weapon.
Sharp spikes keep them very much
off the menu for most.
So, this young horn shark
can hunt in safety
..for now.
Violent winter storms
batter these kelp forests.
The plants can be ripped
from the seafloor
..and carried away far out to sea.
The open ocean
is a vast, featureless desert.
Even a small piece of drifting kelp
can become valuable.
It's just what these fish
have been searching for.
Here, shelter where eggs can be laid
unobtrusively is rare they make the most of it.
Each female produces
up to a thousand eggs,
and the males rush in
to fertilise them.
All this activity attracts
the attention of blue sharks.
They can travel thousands of miles
through the ocean
in search of food
..and they may not have eaten
for weeks.
It seems that they're in luck.
But these fish are no easy meal.
They are flying fish!
The blue shark, however,
are not here for the fish
..they have come for the caviar.
But flying fish lay so many eggs,
that the sharks' feasts
hardly make an impact.
And, in a few months' time, a new
generation will take to the skies.
Floating islands of weed
are always attractive to creatures
looking for shelter
out in the big blue.
But, in today's ocean, they are
being replaced by something else
12 million tons of it
end up in the ocean every year.
The deadliest kind are discarded
fishing lines and nets.
Each year, it's likely over
half a million animals are ensnared
and killed by these "ghost nets."
But some animals are learning
how to take advantage
of the plastic rafts
..and use them for shelter,
or even as a home.
This male Columbus crab – barely
bigger than your thumb nail –
is a castaway.
Clinging to his net,
he may have been drifting
on ocean currents for months.
Now, fully grown,
he needs to find a partner.
But where?
Certainly not here,
alone on the net.
Columbus crabs are not good
swimmers, so this male is marooned.
Perhaps a passing loggerhead turtle
could be the chance
to hitch a lift.
Made it!
But there's more than one
passenger here -
a female Columbus crab!
They waste no time
in getting acquainted
..and start to mate.
This pair may well stay together
for the rest of their lives.
A turtle, after all,
makes an excellent home.
In return, the crabs provide
an onboard grooming service.
Finding a partner in the vast ocean
is not easy.
Dawn in the Sea of Cortez
..Mobula rays.
They're gathering here,
most likely to breed.
No-one is sure why they leap,
but the loud splashes
certainly seem to attract more rays.
Other creatures, however,
are also listening.
Orca have heard the splashes.
This female specialises
in hunting rays.
But today, she is teaching
two youngsters
the finer points
of Mobula ray hunting.
The rays are fast
and can outmanoeuvre an orca.
She knows she needs to herd
the prey into a tight group
..but she can't do that on her own.
It will take teamwork,
and that is today's lesson.
The young orca
are quick to catch on.
The rays are surrounded.
They dive
..only to be forced back up again
by the experienced female.
And now, with the exhausted rays
trapped against the surface,
she attacks
..and the young ones
follow her lead.
This family are the only orca
known to hunt rays like this
..and they are lethally efficient.
But it appears that school
is over for today.
For a few battle-scarred survivors,
it's a lucky reprieve.
With the orca gone, the rays
can resume their courtship
..and they do so
in astounding numbers.
Tens of thousands of rays
in a single shoal.
Vast areas of our ocean
are yet to be explored.
The least known parts of it
are its great depths.
Only highly-specialised vessels
can take you there.
As you descend,
the sunlight rapidly fades.
200m down,
you enter the twilight zone alien world, inhabited
by creatures beyond imagination.
A siphonophore – with a cloak
of lethal stinging tentacles.
Siphonophores repeatedly
clone themselves
and so grow to immense lengths.
This one measures 45m and is
the longest animal ever recorded.
With such deadly predators around,
creatures here go
to great lengths to hide.
A glass squid
..completely transparent,
except for its eyes
..and stomach,
so it is extremely difficult
to find in the gloom.
Below 1,000m,
all traces of sunlight
have disappeared.
This is the midnight zone.
Catching food in the perpetual
darkness is not easy.
A gulper eel.
Its giant, extendable mouth
can engulf prey
larger than its own body.
Two miles down,
you finally reach the ocean floor.
We know more
about the surface of Mars.
The pressure of the water is 300
times greater than at the surface
..and it's freezing cold.
Yet, amazingly,
there are animals living here.
Muusoctopus robustus,
nicknamed the pearl octopus.
Breeding, in these
extreme conditions poses
a particular problem
for these animals.
At these low temperatures,
this female's eggs could take
over ten years to develop.
So she travels
to a very special place.
This is the largest known
gathering of octopus in the world.
She joins 20,000 other females
..all here to lay their eggs.
Water, heated deep
in the Earth's crust,
rises through cracks
in the seabed
..raising the temperature
to as much as 10 degrees Celsius.
A deep-sea thermal spa!
This warmth significantly speeds up
the development of their eggs.
Even so, they will still take
nearly two years to hatch.
Once a female is settled,
she won't move from her spot
..not even to feed.
She will constantly tend
to her brood –
keeping them clean,
and oxygenating them
with jets of water.
Pearl octopus mothers must surely be
amongst the most devoted.
After almost two years,
the ordeal take its toll.
But the vigil is almost over.
The last of the brood
are gently encouraged to leave.
But this will be a final act.
Like all the mothers here, this
octopus is starved and exhausted.
Her life will soon be over.
But this devotion means
that her offspring are among
the largest and most developed
of any octopus
and have the best chance of survival
in the demanding world of the deep.
We're finding more of these
strange hot springs every year.
In some places,
they can be astonishingly violent.
Super-heated water –
hot enough to melt lead -
spouts from the seafloor.
Dissolved minerals
condense around them
to form towering chimneys,
known as hydrothermal vents.
They are home to unique
communities of animals
that all rely on the nutrients
in the scalding water.
Some suggest that vents
like these could be the places
where life on Earth first began
four billion years ago.
And there is now evidence
of hydrothermal vents
on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
Could they too be supporting life?
Here on Earth,
the influence of these vents
extends far beyond their chimneys.
The essential nutrients
carried in these plumes
can rise all the way to the surface
two miles above.
Here, they stimulate the rapid
growth of tiny marine plants
..on an astronomic scale.
This phytoplankton is so abundant
that it produces half
of all the oxygen on Earth.
It's also food for a host
of minute animals -
Together, they are the basis
of the food chains
that sustain
nearly all life in the ocean.
In the Pacific waters
off South America,
they feed anchovy
that gather here in billions.
This is one of the world's
most productive ecosystems.
These South American
sea lions are on the hunt.
But the anchovy shoal
has already been located the planet's
most efficient hunters.
A net, over half a mile long,
encircles the shoal.
It can trap over a million fish.
But the sea lions
aren't about to go hungry.
They have learnt
to look for holes in the net.
Why waste energy when food
comes to you as easily as this?!
As more and more sea lions arrive,
some change their tactics.
They line up
on both sides of the net
..and wait.
As the net tightens, the anchovy
panic and rush for the surface.
This is the moment the sea lions
have been waiting for.
It's such an effective way
of hunting that the sea lions here
are changing
their natural behaviour
..and are raiding the fishing nets
in their thousands.
With the net almost drawn in,
the fishermen beat out
a warning signal.
Time is up.
In the confusion,
not everyone manages to escape.
The trapped sea lions are in danger
of being drowned.
Pups are separated
from their mothers.
Then, at the last minute, the
fishermen briefly drop their net
..and the trapped sea lions
can escape.
But many are not so lucky.
Around the world, millions
of animals are accidently caught
and die in fishing nets every day.
And this by-catch, as it's known,
is pushing many species
toward extinction.
Animals have evolved
in remarkable ways
to the demands of life in the ocean.
But can they now adapt
to the new challenge -
living alongside us?
The open ocean is home
to some of the largest
and most extraordinary animals
on Earth.
But here, off the Canary Islands,
the Planet Earth team are searching
for one of its smaller,
and less familiar residents.
We're looking for a tiny creature
called a Columbus crab,
which is only about the size
of your thumbnail,
which live on floating objects
in the open ocean.
Columbus crabs were once
only found on natural debris,
like driftwood or seaweed,
but the oceans are changing,
and they've been forced to adapt.
One of the most common items
they find is discarded fishing gear.
Over a million tons is left adrift
in the ocean each year.
And Columbus crabs are now
making their homes
on these unnatural materials.
Surprisingly, Columbus crabs
are thriving on this new habitat.
But, for larger ocean creatures,
these nets can be lethal.
Loggerhead sea turtles
are especially vulnerable.
Many times, they are very injured
and many times
they don't even survive.
It's a sad situation.
As a rule, wildlife film-makers
observe natural behaviour
and do not interfere.
But this is far from natural.
The team feel they must take action.
It seems that the turtle
is quite OK.
We'll just finish to cut
the plastic and then we release it.
It's a bittersweet moment,
as this is one of eight turtles
they rescued whilst filming here.
This situation is not natural,
it's something that is
being caused by human beings.
Sadly, the crew now face
dilemmas like this
on many of their
filming expeditions
..including, when they travelled
to the Pacific coast of Chile,
to show how sea lions
are competing for food
with one of the biggest fisheries
on Earth.
Expedition leader Fernando Olivares
takes the team to the fleet.
Diving near fishing nets
is extremely dangerous,
so the crew must ensure they have
the full cooperation
of the fishermen.
Pretty hazardous place to dive.
It's just a case of trying
to keep an eye on the divers,
but the sea lions also like
to go down and blow bubbles,
so you'll think
you're following the divers,
and then a sea lion will pop up.
Taking the utmost care,
the divers get a close-up view
of the sheer scale of the operation.
This one net must have
about 15 tons of fish in it
and there's eight or nine boats
in this one little bay,
and these are just the small boats.
Out there, there are huge
factory ships that are taking
even bigger catches.
How much fish a year from just here?
From a million tons a year
more or less.
The catches are so vast,
the sea lions have changed
their natural behaviour
to collect anchovies
directly from the nets.
But it's a risky strategy.
The crew witnessed sea lions
caught in nets multiple times.
Whoa, it's intense mate,
there are so many in there.
There's a pup stuck in the net,
calling to its mother,
and its mother's just on the outside
of the net calling back.
That's really hard to watch.
Oh, the pup's really panicking now.
Sometimes, fishermen are able
to release trapped sea lions
..but not this time.
The pup is in serious danger.
Once again,
the crew decide to step in.
Hey, he's going to go
inside of the net to save him.
Nice, really nice.
It's a relief this time
..but it highlights the new
realities of filming wildlife
in today's changing ocean.
Next time, a journey to Earth's
greatest wilderness -
deserts and grasslands
..where nature puts on
its most dramatic show.
Habitat Explorer brings animals
and their habitats to life.
Explore this free interactive
and make origami animals.
Go to
And follow the links
to the Open University.
Or to order a free printed version,
visit the website
or call the numbers on the screen.
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