The Blue Planet (2001) s01e02 Episode Script

The Deep

1 Over 60 percent of our planet is covered by ocean more than a mile deep.
That, the deep sea, is by far the largest habitat on Earth and it's largely unknown.
Join us on a journey to the very bottom of the deep sea, to an alien world never revealed before.
It's home to some of the strangest animals on Earth.
Fish flash in the darkness.
New species are discovered on almost every dive.
More people have traveled into space than have ventured this deep.
Come on a journey into the abyss.
A sperm whale takes a breath, its last for over an hour.
It's about to leave the warm, well-lit surface waters and dive far down into the cold, dark depths of the deep ocean.
At the surface it took in air at the same pressure as we breathe it.
But it's going to look for food at more than 1,000 meters down, where pressure is 100 times that on the surface, crushing the whale's lungs to just one percent of their volume.
For us to follow the whale, we need the very latest submersible.
A reinforced acrylic sphere with walls 12 centimeters thick protects a pilot and our cameraman from the enormous pressure below, and allows the submarine to dive to just over 900 meters.
900 feet.
With every passing meter, pressure increases and sunlight diminishes.
1,000 feet.
By 300 meter, it's already very dark and the temperature of the water is dropping fast.
We are entering the twilight zone, a weird world of gloom where many animals have become completely transparent.
In this twilight, and animal needs to see, and yet, as far as possible, must avoid being seen.
A giant amphipod, 12 centimeters long and almost perfectly transparent.
Its head is completely filled by two huge eyes with which it strains to detect its prey.
Another twilight monster, phronima, the inspiration for the Alien movies.
She and her developing pink offspring live like parasites in the stolen body of a jelly.
This impressive cutlery set and its huge eyes make phronima a powerful predator.
Even really complex animals have become transparent in the twilight zone.
Squids are among the most advanced of invertebrates, but this one never meets a hard surface in its entire life, so its body need not be as robust as that of its shallow water cousins.
There's a rich variety of jellies that live nowhere else but in the deep sea.
Thousands of tiny cilia propel them through a world without walls.
Invisible in the gloom, they grope blindly for their prey.
Comb jellies let out long sticky nets to catch passing copepods.
But the most extensive death trap is set by siphonophores.
This pulsating bell is the head of a colonial jelly that can be 40 meters long.
Millions of tiny stinging cells drifting through the sea.
500 meters down, and in even the clearest tropical waters only the faintest vestige of the sunlight remains - so little that our eyes can't detect it, but others can.
Survival in the twilight zone is all about seeing, yet not being seen.
Hatchet fish are masters of the game of hide and seek.
They have the large, sensitive eyes needed for seeking prey but their bodies are flat and their sides are highly silvered.
Head on, they are just visible, thin though they are, but as soon as they turn, their mirrored sides reflect the remnants of blue light from the surface, and they disappear into the gloom.
Viewed from the side, whole shoals can hide in this way, but what about from below? The tubular eyes of many of the predators, even in this gloom, are able to distinguish their prey silhouetted against the faint glimmer of light from above.
Hatchet fish, however, have a way of confusing any eyes that might be searching for them from below.
Their bellies carry rows of light-producing cells called photophores.
They can use these to exactly match the changing color of light from the surface far above.
This counter shading breaks up their silhouette, making them almost invisible from below almost.
But these are no ordinary eyes.
The enormous yellow lenses enable their owner to distinguish between light produced by photophores and sunlight.
So, one device for escape is countered by another equally subtle one for attack in an evolutionary arms race that has been waged for millions of years.
Descend below 1,000 meters, and you enter the dark zone.
No sunlight whatsoever penetrates this deep.
The temperature of the water is below four degrees Centigrade.
The pressure is more than 100 times that at the surface.
Life becomes ever more sparse.
It's a dark, dangerous world.
Relative to body size, these are the largest teeth in the ocean.
They are so big that their owner can't close its mouth.
They belong to the fang tooth.
Unlike most deep sea fish, this has powerful muscles and is an aggressive hunter.
With food in such short supply at this depth, dark zone predators have to be able to deal with a meal of any size.
Many animals here are dark red, like this deep sea jelly.
Caught in the lights of the submersible, it's a spectacular firework display of color.
Normally, no red light penetrates as deep as this, so animals with red pigment appear completely black down here, perfectly concealed.
Predators here, however, don't just rely on vision - many have tiny eyes.
Instead, their thin, rod-like bodies are lined with organs sensitive to tiny movements in the water.
This monster, half a meter across, is a hairy angler.
This is the first time it's been seen.
It's covered with hundreds of sensitive antennae, which detect the movements of any prey careless enough to stray too close to this motionless predator.
But this, surely, must be the strangest of all the deep sea fish yet discovered.
A highly sensitive meter-long tail hangs down from the head that makes up a quarter of its body.
Its eyes are tiny, but its mouth is truly enormous.
It's called the gulper eel because it can engulf a meal of almost any size.
Hanging motionless in mid-water, its enormous gape enables it to deal with passing prey, whether it's small, or large.
Gulper eels can swallow prey as big as themselves, which is very useful in a world where you never know when the next meal is coming along.
Even in the dark zone, there is some light.
Turn off the submersible headlights, and you see a pyrotechnic display outside.
These lights are created by animals.
This is bioluminescence.
A deep sea angler fish flashes in the darkness.
The light is generated by bacteria that live permanently inside the lure which attracts prey to these murderous teeth.
There are all sorts of lures out in the darkness.
Come into my mouth, little fish! And what is the purpose of this lure, suspended on a long rod, way below its owner's terrifying set of teeth? It's difficult to be sure, but then, this monster does have another giant flashing lure much closer to its mouth.
These fish are called anglers because they use their lures in much the same way as fly fishermen use their imitation flies.
For a hunting squid with huge eyes this glimmer is intriguing.
It might just be food.
A satisfying meal for a fish with a highly extendible stomach.
Attracting a mate in this endless darkness can be even harder than finding food.
Flashing lures may be helpful; certainly, only female anglers have them.
The tiny males are just a tenth the size of the females.
Their only purpose is somehow to find a mate in the darkness.
She releases chemicals into the water which the males scent with a special white organ in front of their eyes.
Having found a partner, the male bites at her belly with specially designed teeth.
He needs to get permanently attached.
Within a matter of weeks, the male is completely fused to the female, and there he will stay for the rest of his life.
Her blood circulating in his body provides him with all the sustenance he needs.
In return, she gets a continuous, reliable supply of sperm - a brilliant solution to the problem of finding a mate in the vast emptiness of the deep sea.
To help in the constant battle between predators and prey, some fish in the dark zone have developed headlights.
These light-producing photophores beneath their eyes may be used to search out prey in the darkness.
Most bioluminescence in the deep sea is blue or greenish-blue, but a very few predatory fish produce red light.
With this, red prey becomes obvious in the darkness.
Red light is rare down here and most animal eyes can't see it.
Only these fish can do so.
This gives them a sniper scope - a headlight invisible to their targets.
This copepod, unalarmed, takes no avoiding action.
Bioluminescence is useful in escape as well as attack.
A shrimp senses a threat.
It spins in the water, releasing a bioluminescent glue.
This acts like a burglar alarm, startling the attacking fish and leaving it illuminated in the dark, and vulnerable to its own predators.
These twinkling lights in the darkness are produced by copepods.
They probably flash like this to communicate with one another and confuse their predators.
The most sensitive eyes in the ocean belong to an ostracod called gigantocypris.
It's the size of a pea, but that's enormous for an ostracod.
Copepods are a favorite prey, and it actively searches for their flashes in the darkness but this copepod has a way of confusing a hunting gigantocypris.
It discharges a packet of bioluminescent liquid.
The flash is delayed, like a depth charge.
Spinning, confused, in the water, gigantocypris chases after the flashes and the copepod slips away unseen into the darkness.
The ultimate bioluminescent defense mechanism has to be the light show created by the deep sea jellyfish, periphylla.
That, presumably, is the way it scares away its enemies.
These bright lights are all produced by firefly squid.
Normally, they live way down at around 300 meters, beyond the reach of these Japanese fishermen's nets but for a few months each spring, they come to the surface each night.
The brightest lights come from the bioluminescent tips of their two front tentacles, but it's only in the dark of the deep sea, that you can really appreciate the full complexity of their displays.
It's not just their tentacles but their whole bodies that are covered in photophores.
The exact function is not clear.
The bright tentacle tips may be for attracting mates or dazzling predators.
The rest may be camouflage, providing counter shading for the squid as they journey up into the twilight zone.
Every night in the season, hundreds of thousands of squid journey up into the shallow water to spawn.
Before dawn, they will return to the depths, leaving their eggs to develop in the shallows.
The daily cycle of the sun has a profound influence on life in the deep ocean.
As the sun sets, it triggers the largest migration of living organisms on our planet.
One thousand million tons of animals travel up from the dark zone into richer, shallower water every night.
Tiny grazers are first up, searching for the microscopic plants that only grow in shallow, sunlit waters.
Predators follow the grazers.
An enormous variety of different animals join the convoy or feed off it as it passes.
Many will travel up hundreds of meters towards the surface, and, at dawn, finding themselves at risk from predators, the visitors return to the safer darkness of the depths.
The sun's rays only have a direct effect in the top 100 meters or so of the ocean.
It's only here that photosynthesis can take place and coral reefs can flourish.
Leave this thin, rich slice of life and travel over the outer face of the reef and you quickly enter a far more demanding world.
Below 150 meters, photosynthesis becomes impossible.
You find no plants, just animals.
Here, the animals are adapted to catch marine snow - particles of dead animals and plants that drift down from above.
So they depend second-hand on the energy captured from the sun by organisms in the surface waters.
Traveling close to the sea floor, we're going to take a journey to the very bottom of the deep sea to a world completely separate from the mid-water above.
At around 300 meters, the drop-off levels out, and we move out onto the continental slope.
This stretches for about 150 miles from the coast, sloping in a gentle gradient, down to a maximum depth of 4, 000 meters.
Water temperatures down here drop below four degrees Centigrade and the pressure can reach up to 400 times that of the surface.
Without the lights of the submersible, it would be completely dark.
The water is crystal clear because there's so little organic matter.
Only three percent of any food in the surface waters reaches the continental slope.
At first sight, it appears a lifeless desert, but take a closer look and you notice a network of tracks and trails.
There is life even down here.
These animals would die immediately if brought to the surface in nets, so you can only see them behaving normally from submersibles.
Many are new to science.
The deep sea floor is dominated by echinoderms - sea cucumbers, brittle stars and sea urchins.
There are literally millions of them, marching across the sea bed, hoovering up any edible particles in the sediment.
They come in all shapes and sizes, and though they are thinly spread, these are among the most numerous animals on the planet.
Their spikes are good for locomotion and defense, but perhaps not quite so good when it comes to mating.
Finding a mate in this largely empty sea floor could be a problem, so some urchins stay together in herds to be sure that they're never too far from a potential partner.
Rocky outcrops provide good anchorage for animals that rely on food that might drift past.
These crinoids or sea lilies look like plants, but are, in fact, animals.
Their long stalks ensure that their umbrella of feeding tentacles are positioned to best effect in the current.
Particles are swept onto the arms, and carried down to a mouth in the middle of the umbrella.
These sudden movements swat away tiny amphipods that try to steal the sea lily's captures.
Coral reefs are not supposed to exist in total darkness, but recently, a new kind of coral was found as deep as 2,000 meters.
In the cold waters of a Norwegian fjord, there was a deep sea reef 30 meters high and 200 meters long.
This coral gets no energy from the sun, so it has to be very efficient in catching food.
Its polyps are far larger than those of shallow water corals.
These are, in fact, the largest coral polyps in the ocean.
They belong to the deep sea mushroom coral.
Their three-centimeter-long tentacles can catch far larger prey than other corals can.
This necessity to capture every particle of food that comes within reach in this near desert has radically changed many animals.
Most tunicates are filter feeders, but this one has become a predator and its greatly enlarged siphon has been converted into a trap.
Most sea cucumbers stay firmly on the bottom, but not this extraordinary deep sea species.
Its skirts of skin allow it to swim hundreds of meters above the sea floor.
Eventually, it will descend and, with luck, will land on fresh feeding grounds.
This has to be the most extraordinary animal design of all.
It's a polychaete worm and, normally, you would expect the long, pulsating body to be stick firmly in the sediment.
This worm, alone in its group, swims in the open water.
Propelling itself with its yellow frill, it moves about and so finds new sources of food, or maybe succeeds in escaping from a predator.
This is chimaera, a close relative of the sharks, less than a meter long.
Sensory pits on its chin help it hunt prey on the bottom, while its surprisingly large eyes may help it spot bioluminescence.
Large fish are rare down here - there's not enough live prey to sustain them.
Most have become scavengers.
A dead tuna has attracted a deep sea conger eel and a six-gilled shark.
These monsters grow to eight meters long.
Six gills are living fossils.
For 150 million years, they've existed unchanged, living in water as deep as 2,500 meters.
Very few people have glimpsed these sharks from submersibles, and we know almost nothing about their behavior.
The body of a tuna is a substantial meal, but just occasionally, a really gigantic corpse drifts down to the deep sea floor.
This is the freshly dead carcass of a 30-ton gray whale.
It's resting on the sea floor a mile down.
It's only been on the bottom for six weeks, but already it has attracted hundreds of hagfish.
These ancient scavengers are nearly always the first to discover a fallen body, and are attracted from miles around.
They lack jaws and rasp at the flesh with two rows of horny teeth on either side of their sucker-like mouths.
Next to arrive, a sleeper shark - a real deep sea specialist.
They grow to over seven meters long, and have never been filmed at such a depth before.
The gaping wounds in the whale's flank are its work.
Unlike the hagfish, it has powerful jaws, so is able to rip off huge chunks of meat.
Sharks, hagfish and a whole succession of different deep sea scavengers will feast on the carcass for years before all its nutriment is gone.
Eighteen months later, when we returned to this whale, all that was left was a perfect skeleton stripped bare.
It was almost as if a museum specimen had been carefully laid out on the sea floor.
At first, the skeleton seemed totally abandoned, but even after so long, there was still some flesh left in the head.
Hagfish have a skeleton of cartilage and are so flexible that they tie themselves into knots and so get a better purchase on the flesh they feed on.
But smaller organisms had fed here.
A thick band of white bacteria had formed on the mud outlining the original shape of the whale, and on the skeleton itself, colonies of specialized bacteria were extracting energy from the bones themselves.
Most remarkably, and in huge abundance, polychaete worms were collecting the last edible fragments.
These are a new species that so far have only been found on the fallen bodies of whales.
Scientists have discovered 178 different animals on a single whale vertebra, most of which have been found nowhere else.
This whale, lying over a mile down, was not filmed from a submersible with an acrylic sphere.
Such craft can't go as deep as this.
To withstand the pressure here, you need a far stronger submersible.
This is Alvin, a two-meter-wide sphere with just enough room in it for a pilot and two observers.
Its walls are made of titanium.
The viewing ports have to be tiny - any larger, and the submersible would implode under the enormous pressure down here.
Alvin can dive to 4,500 meters, three miles below the surface.
Around 3,000 meters, the continental slope finally flattens out and joins the abyssal plain.
This covers over half the earth's surface.
Mostly it's completely flat, but in places it's gashed by massive trenches hundreds of miles wide.
The deepest of these is the Mariana Trench, which drops to over seven miles below sea level.
There are just five manned submersibles world-wide that can reach the abyssal plain, and between them so far, they have explored less than one percent of it.
There are a thousand times fewer large animals down here than on the continental slope, but in places, hundreds of brittle stars cross the sea bed in search of food.
Fish have been found right down to the bottom of the deepest trenches.
Most come from one family - the aptly named rattails.
They forage near the sea floor and use their battery of sensory pits to follow odor trails from rotting carcasses.
Rattails can travel long distances across the abyssal plain in search of food, but others down here prefer to sit and wait.
This is a tripod fish.
It supports itself on two specially adapted fin rays and can sit motionless for hour after hour.
It does have tiny eyes, but it's almost totally blind.
It locates potential prey with a pair of fins behind its head which are sensitive to even tiny movements.
We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the abyssal plain.
Every dive still produces complete surprises.
This deep sea octopus is about the size of a beach ball and has been nicknamed Dumbo.
An umbrella of skin between its tentacles and its extraordinary flapping ears allow Dumbo to hover effortlessly over the sea floor as it searches for food.
Right in the middle of the abyssal plain lie the largest geological structures on our planet the mid-ocean ridges.
Rising almost two miles off the sea floor, the ridges extend for over 28,000 miles, the largest mountain chain on Earth.
When submersibles finally succeeded in reaching the ridges in the 1970s, they found an extraordinary world with mile upon mile of once molten rock that had welled up from the deep in the past and had now solidified.
They discovered towering chimneys, pouring out water as hot as molten lead.
At the surface, water becomes steam at 100 degrees Centigrade, but here, under the immense pressure of the ocean, it remains liquid at temperatures as hot as 400 degrees Centigrade.
The submersible has to move carefully.
Disaster is very close when surrounded by such enormous temperatures and pressures.
And here, where the very water is loaded with hydrogen sulfides poisonous to normal life processes, they found living creatures.
Some of the chimneys were encrusted with white tubes.
The tubes were inhabited by a new species of polychaete worm that was exposed to temperatures as high as 80 degrees Centigrade.
No other animal on Earth was known to tolerate such high temperatures, so the scientists called these creatures Pompeii worms.
But this was just the beginning.
Nearby, there were chimneys covered by whole communities of different organisms.
The bottom of the vent was encrusted with large mussels.
There were swarms of white crabs, and, most spectacular of all, dominating the chimney were hundreds of bright red tubeworms, each two meters long and four centimeters wide.
Until these creatures were discovered, all life on Earth was thought to be dependent on the sun, but here, in the complete darkness of the deep, they had discovered a rich density of life that derived no energy from the sun.
So what do they live on? The answer was found within the tubeworms themselves.
They were packed full of specialized bacteria that are able to derive energy from the sulfides that pour from the vents.
The worms' plumes were bright red with hemoglobin that carries sulfides and oxygen down to the bacteria.
These bacterial colonies are the primary source of energy for all that lives here.
The mussels were packed with them.
Just as green plants are the basis of life for animals living in the sun, so these bacteria and other microbes are at the foot of the food chain on which over 500 species depend.
Crabs and shrimps feed off bacteria and even try to steal pieces of tubeworm plumes.
Since the vents were first visited by biologists in 1979, a new species has been described every ten days.
At the top of the food chain, fish that never stray far from the vents, but they or their descendants will move eventually, for we now know that individual vents are rarely active for more than a few decades.
Such a density of life living in such harsh conditions in the middle of a vast and otherwise barren abyssal plain astounded the biologists who first saw it.
It seemed to them that here was evidence of how life on this planet, which certainly started in the sea, might have begun.
Deep sea submersibles made an even more extraordinary discovery in 1990.
Over half a mile down, at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, they came across what appeared to be an underwater lake, over 20 meters long, with its own sandy shore.
Around its edge, there even seemed to be a tide line, but this couldn't be, of course, this was underwater.
In fact, the lapping edge was created by a thick soup of salty brine far heavier than the surrounding sea water, and the sand was made up of hundreds of thousands of mussels.
Once again, in the midst of a totally barren sea bed, an extraordinarily rich oasis of life totally independent of the sun's energy.
The source of energy this time was not sulfides but methane bubbling out of the sea bed, and once again, the mussels carried special bacteria capable of fixing the methane's energy.
Just like the hot vents, a complete ecosystem had developed based on the bacteria.
There was an enormous variety of completely new species - shrimps, weird squat lobsters, and bright red polychaete worms.
These oases were called cold seeps and were surprisingly similar to the hot vents.
The geological processes in the sea floor that produce methane also tend to result in the release of hydrogen sulfides.
It was hardly surprising, then, when, not far from the brine pool, they found tubeworms extensive fields of tubeworms that stretch for hundreds of meters.
This new species also uses bacteria to fix energy from sulfides, but it extracts them directly from the ground.
Their beautiful gills are only used to supply oxygen to the bacteria.
Amazingly, these tubeworms are over 200 years old.
While hot vent tubeworms may be the fastest-growing invertebrates in the sea, these appear to be far slower - all the more reason to protect your gills from biting amphipods.
The energy sources exploited by the hot vent animals may suddenly fail, but here, life can enjoy a more stable geological future.
To discover within ten years two completely new ecosystems, both totally independent of the sun's energy, has been quite extraordinary.
So far, we have explored just one percent of the deep ocean floor.
Who knows what is still out there to be discovered?