The three part BBC mini-Landmark series New Zealand: Earth’s Mythical Islands is airing on BBC2 currently. Narrated by actor Sam Neill the series shows how animals have managed to survive, and thrive, in one of the world’s most remote locations.
Together with director Nick Easton and topside cameraman Justin Maguire I was in Kaikoura on the South island in January of 2014 to film dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) for programme one of the series. Our story was centred on the dusky dolphins ability to communicate through different types of leaps and focused on the younger dolphins’ attempts to learn this skill. Conditions were cold (for a guy based in Borneo) and seas were rough which made for challenging filming conditions. However it was still a wonderful experience to freedive and film with the superpod of dusky dolphins that range around Kaikoura. They number up to a few hundred and, apart from one day where an Orca decided to hang around and spooked them, we reliably found them each day. We spent long hours on the rib waiting for moments when small ‘nursery groups’ consisting of baby dolphins and maternal relatives would split from the main pod. We would then position our boat so that I could slip quietly into the water and get some shots of the passing babies. All the work was done freediving and I had a nice new freediving wetsuit from the folks at Pinnacle to keep me toasty in the chilly water and wind.
Kaikoura is a stunning location for marine life. The upwellings on the deep dropoff just off the coast push up nutrients and the area is positively crammed with seals, dolphins, whales and albatross. To top it all it’s got great surf and skiing (in the winter) as well. Bit of a dream destination really and I very much hope to get back there one day.
Episode one – Cast Adrift – which features the dolphin leaping sequence is available here on iplayer for viewers in the UK. If you can’t wait for Netflix to have it or you like box sets then you can pay to download it from the BBC store.
Our shoot was made possible by research and logistical help from the amazing Jody Weir (Scientist) and Alastair Judkins (Naturalist and Skipper) of the Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute or KORI. Please take a look at the great work they do.
Update: The series has aired as Wild New Zealand on PBS in the USA and been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography: Documentary – News and Documentary Awards.
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