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Gray Whales with Christopher Reeve


The gray whale endures one of the longest and most grueling of all annual mammal migrations -- a 10,000-mile journey through the Pacific, up and down America's West Coast. Actor Christopher Reeve, shortly before his riding accident, experienced what he describes as "the adventure of a lifetime," on the trail of this magnificent animal on its southward trek. Thirteen/WNET presents IN THE WILD: GRAY WHALES WITH CHRISTOPHER REEVE on Sunday, September 19, 1999, at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

Reeve follows the gray whale's migration from the Arctic's Bering Strait, off the coast of Siberia, to the shores of the Baja Peninsula. Astonishingly, the whales swim day and night, and sleep by resting one half of their brains at a time. The voyage is perilous for the animals, who must dodge killer whales and ship propellers, among other hazards.

Like all whales, grays have suffered enormous persecution. Extinct in the Atlantic and virtually wiped out in the western Pacific, the eastern Pacific population is all that remains of the species. But the situation has improved: since 1946, gray whales have been protected, and their numbers have quadrupled from just a few thousand to almost 22,000.

Reeve is joined by biologist-filmmaker Bruce Reitherman and local fisherman Panchico Mayoral, experts on the lagoon and its inhabitants. The men tell Reeve he has arrived just in time -- the number of whales in the lagoon has doubled in the last week. On board a ship named "Mystique," Reeve and crew settle down to wait. All at once, the boat is surrounded by gray whales, who are so close that Reeve can reach out and stroke them. In a remarkable maneuver called breaching, they launch 30 feet of their bodies out of the water, again and again. The sight leaves Reeve in awe.

On the final day of his adventure, Reeve decides to go out for one more dive. He has seen many whales on his trip, some at very close range, but he still hasn't gotten as near to a mother and calf as he'd hoped. In the program's final scene, a female and her 12-foot-long, nearly one-ton calf, appear out of the blue.

Reeve slips over the side of the boat and carefully approaches them. They appear quite at ease with his presence, and the youngster seems as curious about Reeve as he is about it. Then suddenly, they disappear back into the sea. Perhaps they have something other than human contact on their minds, for in only a week or so, the calf will begin its first arduous journey north with its mother.

GRAY WHALES WITH CHRISTOPHER REEVE is a Tigress production for Meridian, in association with Thirteen/WNET. Executive producer for Thirteen/WNET: Fred Kaufman

IN THE WILD is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the nation's public television stations, and the Ford Division of Ford Motor company. The series is closed-captioned for the hearing-impaired.

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