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The Stunning World of 'Blue Planet II'
January 20, 2018  | By David Hinckley

BBC America balances a growing cautionary tale with sheer majestic wonder when its long-awaited Planet Earth: Blue Planet II premieres Saturday.

This exquisite study of our still-mysterious ocean world will be simulcast at 9 p.m. ET across five networks: BBC America, AMC, WEtv, Sundance and IFC.

This five-part series, successor to the acclaimed original, is again hosted by Sir David Attenborough, who notes that even over the last few years, camera and access technology have improved so dramatically that we see things quite literally never seen by humans before.
That includes, for instance, a fascinating segment in which an Australian reef fish digs down into the ocean floor to find a shellfish, then takes it back to a bowl-shaped structure back on the other side of the reef where he usually hangs out.

Once he gets there, he starts banging the shellfish against a sharp edge of rock until it cracks and opens, enabling him to scarf down the critter inside.

The fact fish have figured out how to use tools is pretty impressive. Okay, not as impressive as if fish were using table saws, but impressive nonetheless.

Like its predecessor, the first episode of Blue Planet II feels almost like a random sweep through the oceans of the world, finding something notable and striking at each stop.

On a coral reef in Northern Japan we get a glimpse of a trans fish, a female that morphs into a male at a certain age and challenges the previously dominant male as ruler of the reef.

Up at the North Pole we follow a mother walrus and her pup as they try to find a place to climb up and rest.

There’s plenty of land, but land is also the domain of polar bears, who view walrus pups as dinner. Ice floes are the traditional resting ground, but since 40% of Arctic ice has disappeared over the past 30 years, floes are getting harder to find.

While it’s framed as a family drama, this tense quest obviously raises the issue of climate change, and Attenborough’s narration walks gingerly in that area. He notes the loss of polar ice and remarks almost parenthetically that it is “most likely a consequence of human activity.”

The first episode, at least, leaves it at that, a tack underscored by the absence of any comments about the well-documented threats to the future of coral reefs. Extrapolating from the history of the Blue Planet series, it would not be surprising have any such threats referenced further along.  

Rather, Blue Planet II focuses on showcasing its extraordinary footage of sea creatures at work and play.

In one segment we watch dolphins surfing exactly as humans surf, swimming out ahead of a wave and catching it for a ride. Dolphins are physically much more suited to this pastime than humans, of course, but what’s most intriguing is the speculation that they’re doing it for the same reason people do it. It’s fun.

Elsewhere, we see dolphins under the water talking with each other and quite possibly talking with other species as well.

We see a pod of orcas, joined by a pod of humpback whales, noshing on some of the billions of herring that swarm coastal waters in the spring.

As that segment reminds us, nature isn’t all snuggly and cuddly in the sea any more than it is on land. Much of life in the wild focuses on finding the next meal, which means that in many encounters, only one party is going to swim away.

Or fly away. There’s also remarkable footage of fish jumping three or four feet out of the water to grab a fledgling tern for lunch.

Since the focus is on sea life, the oceanscape shots here are kind of an incidental bonus. They’re still spectacular all by themselves.

Blue Planet II is mid-winter escape at its finest.

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