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TV review – Natural World: The Woman Who Swims With Killer Whales
Killer whales are the ocean’s top predator – and Ingrid just loves swimming with them
Photo: Ingrid and orcas … Natural World: The Woman Who Swims With Killer Whales
I wonder how long it will take, in Natural World: The Woman Who Swims With Killer Whales (BBC2), for the phrase “the ocean’s apex predator” to come up. There it is! Six minutes, three seconds, by my watch. OK, so actually it’s “the ocean’s top predator” and if you’re playing this game properly, maybe even spread betting, you need to make it clear what variations (vocabulary, word order etc) are allowed. But for now that’s good enough for me. You can pretty much guarantee it with a killer whale doco. Great white sharks too. Can there be two top/apex ocean predators? Who’d win in a fight? Oh, the killer whale, I see from YouTube. That’s a dangerous thing by the way, getting involved in Animal A v Animal B videos on YouTube, you’ll soon find you’ve wasted half a day.
Anyway, we’re in New Zealand, which has a dwindling, ageing population of killer whales. Much like its human population, in fact. The experts reckon it has something to do with pollutants in the water, but my theory is that The Lord of the Rings scenery isn’t enough to keep the young killer whales there. So they swim halfway round the world and up the Thames where, in spite of the dirty, cramped conditions, they live in noisy superpods with Australian and South African killer whales, behaving badly. That’s just my theory though.
Now there are fewer than 200 killer whales left around New Zealand. And Ingrid Visser, The Woman Who Swims With Killer Whales, knows – and swims with – all of them. She’s lucked out today, hit upon a big pod. “Crikey, it’s like orca soup out here,” she says, happily. Then, ignoring their 10cm teeth, their huge jaws, their tails that could kill her with just one blow, Ingrid gets kitted up and slides in with them, “entering the lair of the ocean’s top predator,” says narrator John Hannah, ominously.
They actually seem pretty nice, these orcas, much friendlier than those ones that come up Argentinian beaches to snatch baby seals, which they then play keepy-uppy with before tearing them to shreds. Or the ones in Florida themeparks that have trainers – as in the people who train them, not sports shoes – for lunch.
These ones are gentle and playful, inquisitive with Ingrid. They’re genetically different to orcas found elsewhere, and have a different dialect. So they squeak and click with a Kiwi accent – they probably talk about how ixcellent it is to have fush for tea. Rays are their favourite, which they pick up from the seabed by the tail. Careful guys, don’t forget what happened to Steve Irwin – God rest his soul – not so very far from here. I think I’m more worried about the orcas than about Ingrid.
“Wow, that was incredible,” she says emerging on the surface, whooping and beaming in that way that diving folk do after a good dive. “It’s almost like orca soup down there, there’s so many of them.” Ingrid likes her orca soup.
As usual with these films, it’s the crazy person who has dedicated their life to their chosen creature that makes it work. This might not be of the quality of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, but it’s a lot more interesting for having Ingrid in it than if it was just about the killer whales. Animal people plus animals usually make better films than animals on their own. Ingrid’s not as crazy as Tim in Grizzly Man; she doesn’t end up inside one of her subjects, as he did. Not yet. She would though: “If I had to, I would give my life for those animals, I would do anything to protect them,” she says.
Killer whales are her thing, but there’s room in Ingrid’s heart for other marine mammals too. A bunch of pilot whales gets stranded on a beach – dozens of them. I’m thinking pilot whale soup, but not good soup. Bloody hell, these animals are stupid. One gets stuck and the others all come and join it. There’s nothing apex about a pilot whale. I reckon I could probably beat one in a fight. Badly named too – pilots are supposed to know their way around.
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