Secret Monsters from the Deep; David Attenborough's New TV Series Unearthed Amazing Creatures Never Seen by Man before. by Nigel Blundell

The Mirror (London, England), September 8, 2001 | Go to article overview

Secret Monsters from the Deep; David Attenborough's New TV Series Unearthed Amazing Creatures Never Seen by Man before. by Nigel Blundell


Byline: Nigel Blundell

There has never been a line-up of such monsters outside a science-fiction film, but the weird and wonderful creatures on these pages are as real as they are ugly. The reason we have not seen them before is that they live in the last unexplored part of our planet - the deep ocean.

More people have walked on the Moon than have ventured into this dark abyss. Less than one per cent of it has been explored and there is not a manned submarine in the world that can reach its remotest parts. Creatures exist there that have never been seen by the human eye. It really is the the final frontier. "Our ignorance about this vast, black world is startling," says Sir David Attenborough, whose amazing new series The Blue Planet starts this week. At pounds 7m, it is the most expensive wildlife series ever made, and took the longest time - seven years - to make.

"The weirdest life forms on our planet live in the deep ocean," he continues. "Fish with grotesquely cavernous mouths and cruel teeth lurk there in total blackness. And at the very bottom of its deepest abyss, all manner of primitive creatures crawl across the ooze."

The brains behind the series is the former head of the BBC's Natural History department, Alastair Fothergill. One of a new breed of explorer who travel not with guns and guides but with camera crews and spotter planes, he gave up his prestigious desk job to go out on location to work on the programme he'd spent years planning. That's how Fothergill, 41, found himself 3,000ft beneath the surface of the Pacific in an American four-man mini-sub called the Johnson Sea Link, staring into the depths for eight hours a day through a five inch-thick acrylic bubble.

The Blue Planet took Fothergill to some of the farthest-flung parts of the world. He oversaw 20 specialist camera teams who spent 3,000 days filming in 200 locations worldwide, which meant more days in the field than any other wildlife series. He also chartered spotter planes and several surface craft, including one large sailing boat and its crew, for the entire making of the series.

However, it was the cost of using mini-subs that sent the budget soaring. These submersibles hold only four people but they are run from large support ships with a team of 100-plus and cost about pounds 20,000 a dive.

"We only had about 30 or 40 dives," says Fothergill, "so each one was like gold dust. That's why the series cost pounds 7million. If you go and film in a waterhole in Africa, all you pay for is a cameraman, a Land Rover, a tent and the odd Mars Bar. That just doesn't work at sea."

Although Fothergill only filmed to a depth of 3,000ft, some specially- trained members of his team descended to 13,000ft. So deep are certain trenches, that Mount Everest, at 29,028ft, could easily be swallowed up.

"The deepest point in the ocean, the Marianas Trench of Japan, drops to more than 36,000ft," explains Alastair. "Amazingly, no human being has been down there since the 1950s when a submersible called the Trieste was operating. Now there is not a manned sub that can go that deep.

"It can be scary down there," he admits. "If you are claustrophobic, it would be hell. In mid-water I didn't worry but down on the seabed, yes, it frightened me. Most of these creatures just float about in that gloom forever and that's what makes them so weird.

"Many of them are blind or with little sight, but they're very sensitive to vibrations. When you go down in the sub with all the thrusters churning, it is equivalent to driving into the Serengeti with the largest ghettoblaster and flashing lights, shouting, `f*** off wildebeest! …

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