Saturday, 31 December 2011

Top TV Wildlife moments of 2011 - what's yours? #FaveWildlifeTVmoment2011

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Here is a quick run down of 5 of my favourite moments from wildlife TV in 2011. What were yours?

Comment HERE or on Twitter using #FaveWildlifeTVmoment2011

1. The Brinicle of Death

I could have chosen any one of many amazing wildlife moments from Frozen Planet. The desperate battle between a wolf and bison, pack hunting orcas creating waves to hunt seals, or rock stealing penguins, but if I remember just one thing from Frozen Planet then the 'Brinicle of Death' will be it. Not only for the 'how on earth did they film that' sense of awe and respect, but also for the 'holy cr*p, that's something out of science fiction' disbelief. I still can't quite believe such a thing exists, it sends shivers down my spine.

It may not strictly be a 'wildlife' moment but I'll let it pass in remembrance of all those starfish which lost their lives, frozen by the 'finger of death'.

"With timelapse cameras, specialists recorded salt water being excluded from the sea ice and sinking. The temperature of this sinking brine, which was well below 0C, caused the water to freeze in an icy sheath around it. Where the so-called "brinicle" met the sea bed, a web of ice formed that froze everything it touched, including sea urchins and starfish" - Doug Anderson

2. Children hunt worlds largest venomous spider

The Jungles episode of Human Planet was a film of wonder and intrigue, which left me ensconced in a world of ancient customs, strange food and the human struggle for survival. My skin tingled as I watched young Piaroa children in Venezuela hunt and then roast tarantulas on an open fire.

Ok, so roasting tarantulas might not usually be considered a wildlife moment either, but I think of it as one of the most fascinating predator/prey relationships portrayed on TV in 2011.

3. David Attenborough gets close to the once elusive indri

A list of top TV wildlife moments would not be complete without an appearance from Sir David Attenborough. My favourite Attenborough moment of the year was when he met an indri, a species of lemur that was once incredibly elusive and almost hunted to extinction. His hushed tones and reverence for the natural world heighten the emotion of this enchanting moment.

"I thought these were the most elusive, shy creatures. It certainly took me a long time to find them, but that they can now be so trusting is a marvelous testament to how people here now react towards them and cherish them. It's a heartwarming realisation that wild creatures like this, and human beings can live alongside each other in harmony" - David Attenborough

4. Squelchingly gruesome rotting elephant

I couldn't resist including a bit of rot in this list, so I chose Channel 4's Life after Death (number two on my rot list was the thoroughly enjoyable Afterlife - The Strange Science of Decay, on BBC FOUR, presented by George McGavin.)

Ever wondered what happens to an elephant after it dies? No, this wasn't a programme contemplating elephant heaven, it was an exploration into the squelchingly gruesome world of decomposition. The star of the show was a young male elephant, slowly decomposing in Tsavo West National Park, Kenya. He had to be put down by a vet after being severely wounded by poachers. His remains drew attention from miles around and provided a bounty of fast-food for the local ecosystem. It also provided a perfect spot for a bunch of scientists, led by Simon Watt, to delve under the skin of this rich African ecosystem as a five-tonne elephant was transformed into six million calories worth of fat, meat and guts. Under the African sun, voracious vultures, hyenas, leopards and insects picked away at the corpse day and night, until just seven days later there was nothing left but a pile of polished bones.

5. Goshawk put to the test

My apologies for the self-indulgence, I had to include my favourite sequence from 'Animals Guide to Britain'. While this series was at completely the opposite end of the budget spectrum to 'Frozen Planet', I feel that we managed to create an insightful, entertaining and memorable sequence.

In controlled conditions, with the use of a series of different shaped gaps and tubes, slow motion photography revealed how a Goshawk is able to negotiate the most densely packed undergrowth. To allow her to fit though some of the narrower gaps, she has to withdraw her wings completely. The slow-motion footage revealed that, to stay airborne, she uses her large tail to give her crucial lift.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Deadly snail swallows fish whole & freaky fish up a cucumbers bum - Great Barrier Reef, New Years Day, BBC2

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Something bright and cheery to start 2012 with...
Great Barrier Reef, New Years Day, 8pm, BBC Two

For 10,000 years, more than 400 different types of coral have built thousands of individual reefs in the coral sea off the north-eastern coast of Australia. Covering over 44,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi) they, and more than 1000 islands, have come to define the biodiversity and character of this part of the world. Together, they form the Great Barrier Reef - the largest living structure on the planet and the only living thing visible from space.

Uncovering the secrets of this 2000km long super-reef, marine biologist Monty Hall travels from the wild outer reefs of the coral sea to the tangle of mangrove and rainforest on the shoreline, and from the large mountainous islands to tiny coral cays barely above sea level. Along the way he experiences the reef at its most dangerous and its most intriguing, and visits areas that have rarely been filmed, from the greatest wildlife shipwreck on earth to the mysterious seafloor of the lagoon, where freakish animals lurk under every rock.

More info on the BBC Programme page.
Watch Monty Halls, and producer James Brickell speak about the series on BBC Breakfast.

Freaky fish lives up a sea cucumber's bum

The freakiest behaviour of the series can be seen in episode 2, when we see the bizarre 'pearl fish' moving in to take residence up a sea cucumber's bottom!

They usually have a commensal relationship, not harming their hosts. However, some species are parasitic and not only squirm inside a sea cucumbers anus but as an added blow to the cucumbers self-esteem they also eat their gonads - some lodger!

I saw a preview of this sequence recently, it sent shivers down my spine...

A pearl fish poking its head out from inside a sea cucumber (Photograph: Richard Fitzpatrick)

Episode 1 - Nature's Miracle

The first film, shown at 8pm on New Years day, sees Monty explore the complex structure of the coral reef itself and the wildlife that lives on it. So vast it is visible from space, the reef is actually built by tiny animals in partnership with microscopic plants. It is a place full of surprises, always changing, responding to the rhythms of weather, tide, sun and moon.

Within this magical and intensely crowded world this episode reveals how the amazing reef creatures compete and co-operate - from deadly fish-hunting snails to sharks that can walk on land, fighting corals and parrot fish that spin sleeping bags every night.

Deadly snail swallows stunned fish whole

My favourite, and most surprising behaviour, is that of the deadly snails. They might not seem like deadly predators, but cone snails are equipped with a battery of toxic harpoons which can fire in any direction, even backwards. They await the cover of darkness to prey on sleeping fish. First, they waft  paralysing chemicals towards the unsuspecting prey, next they start to suck the subdued fish into their expanding mouths, and finally they use a venomous barb to deliver the killer blow... Don't mess with snails!

(Read more about this incredible hunting technique on BBC Nature)

Sticky Sleeping Bag

Monty Halls with one of the whitetip reef sharks that cruise the channels off Heron Island (Photograph: John Rumney)

A green turtle on Raine Island, the largest and most important green sea turtle nesting area in the world. (Photograph: Mark MacEwan)

These brightly coloured specimens live on the ribbon reefs on the northern edge of the Great Barrier Reef. (Photograph: Tara Artner)

Monty Halls with a nautilus cephalopod in its spiral shell, taken at Osprey Reef (Photograph: John Rumney)

A tiger shark in the shallows of Raine Island Photograph: Ragini Osinga

Attenborough's annual 3D spectacular - King Penguins - New Years Eve, Sky3D @sky1insider

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The Bachelor King, New Years Eve, 8pm on SKY 3D.

Stunning 3D cinematography takes us into an extraordinary sub-Antarctic island, home to majestic albatrosses, brawling elephant seals - and six million penguins. Though our hero’s harsh world may be alien to our day-to-day lives, his struggle will be familiar to us all.

The last 3D wildlife film that Atlantic Productions produced for Sky 'Flying Monsters 3D with David Attenborough' was missed by most of Britain when it was broadcast on Christmas day 2009 (less than 70,000 viewers had Sky 3D - compare that to the 12 million that watched Frozen Planet) - but Atlantic did win a Bafta for it.

This new years eve Sky continue to establish themselves as the home of an annual 3D fiesta for geared-up wildlife watchers. With 'The Bachelor King', a tale of king penguins on an Antarctic island, Sky have cleverly jumped into the wake of the BBC series 'Frozen Planet',  which was also presented by David Attenborough. With more 3D TV's in British homes (the number of Sky 3D subscribers could now be as many as 200,000)  'The Bachelor King' might get a few more goggle-eyed viewers tuning in.  Alternatively, there will be a 2D broadcast - date to be confirmed. 

Two more David Attenborough Sky 3D wildlife films are already in production and due to air in 2012 - Kingdom of Plants 3D, a series based at Kew Gardens, and a three part 3D series on the Galapagos. 

I may be  a little biased, but could Sky be getting inspiration from some of the BBC's most successful series such as 'Life of Plants' and the 3 part series from 2006 'Galapagos'? I look forward to seeing how these Sky 3D productions fare against some of the most beautiful and well crafted BBC 2D wildlife series ever produced.

Interview with David Attenborough - Why penguins? Why 3D?

An Epic Tale

This is the journey of a typical King Penguin from awkward adolescent to adult. 

Three years ago, The Bachelor King left home. He partied at sea - he adventured, he matured. And now he is returning to the place where he was born and raised: Penguin City. This is one of the most densely-packed, sought-after pieces of real estate in the entire southern hemisphere and somehow he must establish his own place in it. He must find a mate. He wants to be a dad.

But how? What follows is a journey through the most challenging time of the Bachelor King's life. There is joy and terror, a ton of hard work - and some laughs. Our hero has to grow up fast. He meets the penguin of his dreams, and together they set out to raise a family. Before long, they have their egg. The two of them take turns to nurture it – one incubating, while the other zooms off to sea to find food. And then, one happy day, their chick hatches. And the hard work really begins...

Find out more about The Bachelor King and how it was made on the Sky website.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

3 wonderous split-screen films of 2011 - polarity, symmetry & beauty

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Here are three of the many internet films that grabbed my attention in 2011. I've chosen to share these ones in particular as they have one concept in common that I felt was used to great effect - split screen. Split-screen films tend to show two perspectives on a story - one in either half of the screen, both complementing each other and often showing a polarised view of the world. These three films not only engaged me from the onset but I was visually arrested by the style, and in a world of short attention spans, they held me until the final scene.

1.The world is where we live
The symmetry between the human world and life in the wild. Created by WWF.

2. Symmetry
Is the world full of deep symmetries and ordered pairs? Or do we live in a lopsided universe? This striking video plays with our yearning for balance, and reveals how beautiful imperfect matches can be. The final shot helps to put the whole film into perspective - it's life in two directions. The video was inspired by the Radiolab episode Desperately Seeking Symmetry. 

3. Splitscreen: A Love Story
The use of splitscreen illustrates the journey of two people - the purpose of which is made explicit by the final scene. It was entirely shot on a Nokia smartphone. (Also watch the making off)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Fishy friday picture quiz - can you ID these reef fish?

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Under the cunning disguise of a fishy picture quiz I'm hoping that someone can help me ID these fish. I believe that most are from either the Maldives or the Great Barrier Reef. For a cheeky bonus point ;-) which of these start their lives amongst the mangroves before migrating to the reefs.

Please comment below or on Twitter.

I'm not a marine biologist but I've listed my best guess in the comments section. The one's that I'm particularly having trouble with are C, D and E.

Thanks very much, your help is much appreciated. Paul

A. Quite an easy one to get you started - 'just say what you see'! 
B. One of the worlds most famous fish - well camouflaged

C. Now they get a little trickier...

D. Looks like a fishy mint humbug!

E. A purplish fish with a yellow spot on its back.

F. Another of the 'mint humbug' family and fairly distinctive
G. Purple and yellow - like a fishy rhubarb and custard

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

100yrs ago today Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole - lost photos coming soon to the Natural History Museum

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A new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London opens on 20th January to commemorate the greatest 2nd place in History... Captain Scott arriving a month late to the South Pole.

It is 100 years ago today that Roald Amundsen's team beat the brits and reached the vicinity of the South Pole, a first for humanity. Amundsen and his four companions; Oscar Wisting, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Olav Bjaaland spent the next 3 days confirming the Pole's position before pitching a tent called 'Polheim' to mark the spot. While Amundsen's team raised the Norweigan flag, the British expedition was still ascending the Beardmore Glacier more than 500 km away (you can witness the epic scale of that glacier in Frozen Planet ep 1). It would not be until 18 January 1912, 33 days later, that Scott would find at Polheim a list of the 5 Norweigans who had beaten him in the race to the Pole. Amundsen and his team returned safely to their base, and later learned that Scott and his four companions had died on their return journey.

Scott’s Last Expedition is a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London. It reunites for the first time real artefacts used by Scott and his team together with scientific specimens collected on the 1910–1913 expedition. Visitors can also walk around a life-size stylised representation of Scott’s base-camp hut that still survives in Antarctica.

Scott's Last Expedition opens at the Museum on 20 January 2012
Read more about the exhibition: NHM website 
The story of the photographs and where they've been for the past 100 years: BBC news
The new book The Lost Photos of Captain Scott
Read more about some of the individual images: Guardian website.

Captain Scott (centre) and Terra Nova expedition team, 13 April 1911. (© H Ponting photograph, Pennell collection, Canterbury Museum NZ, 1975.289.28)

 The hut at Cape Evans, showing the large number of stores stacked outside, including dozens of sledges leaning, boxes of Fry's cocoa and a bath tub. (Photo: Little, Brown Book Group)

Photograph taken by Captain Scott of the Terra Nova team with their ponies. The "sledgeometer" on the final sledge is clicking the mileage as it goes. Many of the men in this image would return, but not all. None of the ponies would: within a few days they would be shot (© Richard Kossow)

Dr Edward Wilson, the chief of the scientific staff, sketches the mountain ranges and tributary glaciers of the Beardmore Glacier, 13 December 1911. Photographed by Captain Scott. (© Richard Kossow.)

Camping on the Beardmore Glacier. Photographed by Captain Scott. (© Richard Kossow)

Saturday, 10 December 2011

I Want One! Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera

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Prototype Panoramic Ball Camera
Remember the incredibly expensive and clunky dodecacam, that I played around with in 2007? It had potential use in TV but the expense - as well as the number of cables - just left it high and dry with only a few limited creative forays, including these clips captured by the BBC Ocean series. If it was streamed in HD and fed into video-glasses then it might have been amazing.

Well things have moved on substantially. Immersive Media, the company behind dodecacam joined forces with GoogleMaps to revolutionise mapping and navigation introducing the 'street view' concept. The dodecacam captured 35 cities before Google suddenly cancelled its agreement with IMC and chose to build its own cameras! Although street view imagery is now displayed as stills by Google, the dodecacam originally shot the footage as full-frame video. It's not all bad news for IMC though as the last I heard they were producing 360 degree videos of pop concerts! 

I digress.... in my opinion the most exciting advancements in 360 degree video and stills has taken place in the mobile arena, with a plethora of accessible add-ons for mobile phones including Dot

Now the 'Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera' offers us a novel device that is both dummy-proof and fun! It looks like a dodecacam that's been designed by cbeebies, and if it ever becomes commercially available, it'll hopefully be at a price where you'd be happy for the kids to have a go.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Sir David Attenborough for Christmas No1 - A Wonderful World

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This gets my vote for Christmas number 1 (although I'm also backing the military wives). Sir David Attenborough, the voice of wildlife, gives his unique perspective on the wonders of our world. Beautiful, epic, and timely, following last nights episode of Frozen Planet in which David explained the consequences of climate change. 'On Thin Ice' revealed an alarming prediction - that by 2020 the Arctic will have completely melted.

What a wonderful world it is - let us protect it for ourselves and for all life on earth.