S38 Ep9

The Whale Detective

Premiere: 1/8/2020 | 00:00:35 |

A filmmaker investigates his traumatic encounter with a 30-ton humpback whale that breached and almost landed on him while he was kayaking. What he discovers raises far bigger questions about humans’ relationship with whales and their future.

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About the Episode

In September 2015, a 30-ton humpback whale breached and just missed landing on wildlife filmmaker Tom Mustill and his friend Charlotte Kinloch as they kayaked in Monterey Bay, California. Both survived the incident, but the traumatic experience haunted Mustill (Nature – Giraffes: Africa’s Gentle Giants) and left him wondering if the whale was deliberately trying to hurt them or trying its best not to. To find the answer, Mustill returns to California to investigate, meeting with whale experts and those who have survived similar close encounters. What he discovers raises far bigger questions, not just about what happened that day, but also about humans’ relationship with whales and their future.

Noteworthy Facts:

  • Humpback whales have no teeth and their throats are only slightly larger than a human throat, making them only able to swallow smaller fish. As mammals, they also breathe air, give birth to live young and maintain a high body temperature.
  • Inside a humpback’s pectoral fins are the biggest arms on the planet. Their big tail fins are called flukes, which can propel their 30-ton bodies into the air in what is known as a breach. In addition to breaches, there are four other types of whale splashes, although the meaning and significance of each splash type is not known.
  • Monterey Bay is a massive whale feeding ground and has become one of the whale-watching centers of the world. Whales have made an incredible comeback considering humans killed around 3 million of them during the 20th century.
  • Whales still face major threats from plastic and fishing gear entanglements and have been turning up injured or dead in record numbers, with a 300 percent increase in humpback entanglements alone in the last five years.

Buzzworthy Moments:

  • Surviving his breaching accident led Tom Mustill to an obsession with humpback whales and a determination to discover why the whale, called “Prime Suspect,” seemingly attacked him. Viral videos of the accident from witnesses, a database of whale tail snapshots from hundreds of citizen scientists and scientific research aid his investigation. However, he soon learns that many humpback mysteries remain, including how long they live, total population and the purpose of their songs.
  • During Mustill’s investigation, a dead fin whale is discovered and transported to an uninhabited island set up as the designated location for whale carcasses. Whale expert Dr. Joy Reidenberg helps perform a necropsy to understand what caused the death. She discovers that the whale was killed from an accidental impact with a ship.
  • In a never-before-filmed sequence, Mustill accompanies a group dedicated to disentangling whales as they undergo the dangerous process of trying to cut free a whale trapped by a rope while not harming themselves or the whale.
  • There is some evidence that humpback whales exhibit altruistic behavior. In one viral video, we see a humpback tuck a diver under its fin to protect her from a shark and swim her to safety. Humpbacks are also the sworn enemies of killer whales, and in one scene they chase away a group of killer whales, appearing to protect a dead body of a gray whale calf that the killer whales just killed. Humpbacks have also been spotted coming to the rescue of seals, sea lions and dolphins.
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PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY

TOM MUSTILL

FILM EDITOR

SABRINA BURNARD

FIELD PRODUCER AND SOUND RECORDIST

RU MAHONEY

PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY

TIM BURGESS

ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY

CONNOR GALLAGHER

BEN TUTTON

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

TOM MUSTILL

AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

JASON BERRING JR.

CONNOR GALLAGHER

MIKE KAUFFMANN

GRAPHICS

DANNY CARR

SCIENTIFIC CONSULTANT

JOY S. REIDENBERG, PHD

ARCHIVE

BBC ARCHIVE

CHERYL & DWAYNE WARD

CONNOR GALLAGHER

DAVID MULDER VIA STORYFUL

DEANA GLENZ

DEBI THOMPKINS

HAPPYWHALE

HOWARD HALL PRODUCTIONS

JUKIN MEDIA

KATE CUMMINGS

KATE SPENCER

LARRY PLANTS VIA STORYFUL

MARILIA OLIO

MICHAEL SACK

MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM RESEARCH INSTITUTE

NANCY BLACK

NAN HAUSER

PAUL ZIOLKOWSKI VIA STORYFUL

SHAWN STAMBECK

TRISTAN KRAUSE VIA STORYFUL

VIRAL HOG

VIVIANA GUZMAN VIA STORYFUL

ONLINE EDITOR

ARUN HALL

COLORIST

TIM BOLT
 
DUBBING MIXER

MATT COSTER

DUBBING EDITOR

BEN WOOD

LINE PRODUCER

CHERRY DORRETT

SPECIAL THANKS

ANGEL ISLAND STATE PARK

BLUE OCEAN WHALE WATCH

DUKE UNIVERSITY MARINE LAB

ERIC MAILANDER

GRAHAM ROWAN

HAPPYWHALE

HOPKINS MARINE STATION, STANFORD UNIVERSITY

ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MOUNT SINAI

JOHN CALAMBOKIDIS

THE MARINE MAMMAL CENTER

MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM RESEARCH INSTITUTE

MONTEREY BAY NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY

MONTEREY BAY WHALE WATCH

PEGGY STAP

PIETER FOLKENS

SANCTUARY CRUISES

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA CRUZ

WILDLIFE PERMITS PROVIDED BY

NOAA MARINE MAMMAL AND STRANDING RESPONSE PROGRAM (NMFS Permit 18786-03)

CASCADIA RESEARCH COLLECTIVE (NMFS Permit 16111)

MARINE LIFE STUDIES (NMFS Permit 20519)

FOR THE BBC

PRODUCTION COORDINATOR

JOANNA MANLEY

PRODUCTION MANAGER

PAULINE GATES

DEVELOPMENT PRODUCER

TOM JARVIS

SERIES PRODUCER

HOLLY SPEARING

SERIES EDITOR

ROGER WEBB

FOR NATURE

SERIES EDITOR

JANET HESS

SENIOR PRODUCER

LAURA METZGER LYNCH

COORDINATING PRODUCER

JAYNE JUN

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER

JAMES F. BURKE

LEGAL COUNSEL

BLANCHE ROBERTSON

DIGITAL LEAD

DANIELLE STEINBERG

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER – DIGITAL

AMANDA SCHMIDT

SOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR

KAREN HO

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT

CHELSEY SAATKAMP

BUDGET CONTROLLER

JAYNE LISI

ONLINE EDITOR

CHRIS GUIDO

RE-RECORDING MIXER

JON BERMAN

ORIGINAL PRODUCTION FUNDING PROVIDED IN PART BY

The Arnhold Family

Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III

The Fairweather Foundation

Kate W. Cassidy Foundation

Kathy Chiao and Ken Hao

Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust

Charles Rosenblum

Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation

Rosalind P. Walter

Sandra Atlas Bass

Doris R. and Robert J. Thomas

The Hite Foundation

The Sun Hill Family Foundation

Corporation for Public Broadcasting

SERIES PRODUCER

BILL MURPHY

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

FRED KAUFMAN

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