Earth Day, today, finds National Geographic aburst with corporate synergy. The company, now majority-owned by Disney, will premiere the four-part Secrets of the Whales on Disney+ while photos of the ocean-dwelling mammals highlight both a new coffee-table book of the same name and the May issue of National Geographic magazine.
The book and magazine elements may explain why underwater photographer Brian Skerry has been the focus of much of the TV show hype, while the underwater videographers who bravely captured stunning footage of both Skerry and dozens upon dozens of whales barely get mentioned.
James Cameron, executive producer, and Sigourney Weaver, narrator, are also stars of this show.
During a virtual world premiere the other night, Cameron said he hopes the documentary “gets people to fall even more in love with whales.” Gushed Weaver: “I was truly astonished at what I was witnessing.”
Our favorite moment of the night came from the one person in the trio who’s actually met all these whales up-close. Skerry compared their different cultures to the neighborhoods of New York at the turn of the last century, where different folks would for instance eat their own distinct foods. But times have changed for both humans and whales. And so, one whale group that used to hunt down its own herring now instead hangs out by fishing boats to grab “takeout food” from the fishermen’s nets.
Other “pods” of whales, based on where they’re located, eat stingrays or sea lion pups. They also speak different languages and have different family traditions. In short, they’ve got cultural diversity. (Shhh, but it’s really no spoiler here: that whales have culture is also the main “secret” of the show’s title.)
But can whales get along with teach other? We find out in one episode when a migrant orphan narwhal whale, separated for weeks from his clan, tries to bond with a group of beluga whales. Will he be accepted or rejected?
Come on, it’s Earth Day, where “benevolent cross-cultural acceptance…points to how much we can learn from them,” in the words of one documentary participant.
In addition to the differences between whale pods and a plea to “protect culture diversity,” the film also plays up how much all the whales have in common with each other — and with us. Indeed, as the trailer above says: “They Love. They Play. They Mourn. Just…Like…Us'”
Have we even mentioned the orca whales, humpback whales, and sperm whales yet?
So, in lieu of a whale-watching trip – and maybe especially if you’ve been on one and saw nothing more than a bunch of whales jumping , it’s perhaps time to, as Skerry put it, “see these animals a little better.”
You can access all four episodes of Secrets of the Whales at disneyplusoriginals.disney.com/show/secrets-of-the-whales.
Disney+ costs $6.99 a month or $69.99 annually. A combo plan, $12.99 a month, consists of Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.
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