Blue Planet II producer on filming breathtaking seascapes in SA

2018-02-09 07:01

Cape Town – Nothing is more refreshing than diving into the sea on a scorching day. Beyond the shore there’s a whole other world, an entire ecosystem going through their routines. 

Blue Planet II on BBC Earth (DStv 184) will explore and take humans into underwater worlds from the ocean to coral reefs, green seas and the shore.

The sequel comes sixteen years later, which producer Jonathan Smith told Channel24 during a telephone interview is the right time. 

“We have made so many new scientific discoveries and our ability to capture underwater now with new technology is so advanced. All of this comes together so that now sixteen years later we can give a really unique and very privileged view of the ocean.”

Jonathan is a natural history film producer at the BBC Studios Natural History Unit specialising in underwater landmark wildlife films.


Filming underwater is a huge challenge not only is it difficult getting deep into the ocean but cameras and water don’t really mix well.

“A cameraman I work with uses a great analogy. Filming underwater is like trying to film a lion at night in a big fog,” says Jonathan. 

He continues: “First we have to get the right cameras that can operate at great depth. With that done we then have to capture the behaviour from sea creatures to complete our sequences which is the ultimate challenge. We can take hundreds of hours of footage on one individual fish in order to capture and finally get the behaviour for the sequence.”

Finding these underwater stories to tell requires a lot of research. In the first year the production team solely looked for stories. 

“We depend on scientists, field guides, dive masters and people who spend all their time in the ocean and on the seas. Some people have spent their whole lives following one animal. A camera man Craig Ferguson has spent six years following and watching an octopus in Cape Town,” says Johnathan. 

(A group of Bottlenose dolphins along the Wild Coast, South Africa. The film crew waited weeks to get right wave conditions and dolphins in the area, in order to shoot the surfing dolphin sequence. Photo: Steve Benjamin)


Three sequences in the series were filmed in the Eastern Cape and Cape Town.

In fact the series opens with a beautiful sequence of surfing dolphins in the Transkei.

For Johnathan it was an amazing experience working with a team from Cape Town and legendary big wave surfers from Durban led by pro-surfer Jason Ribbink. With their expert knowledge of waves they helped the producers get into the perfect spot to film. 

“In my opinion it is the best sequence of waves ever shot – it takes me back every time I see it.”

Another sequence was filmed in the kelp forest where they followed a giant octopus. 

“In this series we take you on a journey with the animals to experience their world and the challenges they face. This octopus is formidable and has come up with an amazing defence strategy to avoiding sharks,” says Johnathan. 

(Giant waves breaking along the Wild Coast, South Africa. During the filming of the surfing dolphin sequence, the team witnessed one of the largest swells to hit this coastline in the last 5 years. Photo: BBC)


Speaking about what viewers can expect to see Johnathan says there is so much that will blow their minds. 

A giant fish jumping out of the water to catch a bird flying overhead, a fish that uses tools for the very first time, a fish and an octopus that team up and killer whales that become friends with dolphins - these are few of the breathtaking moments captured. 

And what does he hope viewers will take away from the series?

“I hope that people will take away a whole new understanding about the ocean. It’s not just the newness from species and behaviour but also the bigger picture. There are massive changes like less ice in the Artic and an overwhelming increase of plastic in the world’s oceans.”

He adds: “The only way that we can understand the ocean and what is happening is through the eyes of the animals and understanding them and their habitat.”

(Cameraman Roger Horrocks has a close encounter with his subject, a female common octopus while filming for the Green Seas episode in kelp forests off the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Photo: John Chambers)

Catch Blue Planet II Sundays at 16:00 on BBC Earth (DStv 184)

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