They love, they play, they cry … With the documentary series “The Secrets of the Whales”, Disney + and National Geographic take us to the depths to meet five majestic families of cetaceans.
Killer whales, humpback whales, beluga whales, narwhals and sperm whales: this April 22, this World Earth Day, Disney + and National Geographic invite us to dive alongside producer James Cameron, narrator Sigourney Weaver and wildlife photographer Brian Skerry discovering the Secrets of Whales. This documentary series in four episodes, shot over three years through twenty-four different areas, reveals through exceptional images the life of these five families of cetaceans, who “love, play and cry … just like us”. Meeting with the director.
AlloCiné: Why this new series on whales? What can we discover that is different from other documentaries on the same subject?
Brian Skerry : I have always been inspired by your national hero of the underwater world, Commander Cousteau. And I always wanted, in my turn, to explore this magical universe of the oceans. I am one of those who have dreamed of swimming with sharks, dolphins or whales since my childhood. At first, I focused on these animals that I admired. Then I looked at the problems of these endangered ecosystems, impacted by pollution and climatic disturbances.
With this new series we wanted to highlight the similarities between these animals, these whales, and us humans: they have a family functioning and with personalities, emotions, so close to us … I hope this will allow the public to understand that it is vital to protect our oceans and these animals, because they are a big part of us.
When you realize that you are part of the same living family, it’s hard not to want to protect her even more. This is the purpose and the difference with this new series. I hope that those who watch our program will remember that we are not alone on this planet, and that it is our duty to try to protect everything, to love everything.
Tell us about your collaboration with James Cameron, producer and Sigourney Weaver, your narrator?
They both had an impact and influence on the final content of this series. James Cameron has worked with National Geographic for a long time as an underwater explorer. We knew each other pretty well and had always wanted to collaborate. James happens to have a passion for whales. So we got to work together in a very natural way. Through his sense of writing, he has helped shape an exemplary storytelling.
And then he’s an unparalleled seabed explorer who has done extraordinary things. He even built his own submarine! All this served us to shoot breathtaking images. Even during the editing, he analyzed each step in order to better advise us to get the best possible episodes.
As for Sigourney Weaver, it was a coincidence as I had always wanted to call on her for the storytelling. She is a woman of great strength, as are the true heads of whales which are females. And since she had worked with James on Aliens and Avatar, the alliance came naturally.
Despite your experience filming the seabed and all kinds of animals, what challenges did you have to overcome while filming this new series?
It was undoubtedly the most ambitious project of my career because of its size, its length of filming, the number of countries we have filmed and my collaboration with James Cameron. An epic experience! It took us over three long years to film everything and it was exhausting. And this in more than 24 different places, all over the world. Obviously we had to deal with sometimes capricious weather conditions, just like the animals which were not always there. It really is a game of patience and persistence to put together such shoots for such a massive series.
Sometimes I feel like we got some divine intervention to be able to capture some of the most spectacular footage. The last year of filming, in 2019, I was constantly on the move, from location to location, with multiple trips planned each month. It was pretty stressful to keep up with the pace. I walked through Sri Lanka, then to the Azores and then to the Dominican Republic before continuing in the great Canadian north to continue filming in New Zealand … Enough to make you dizzy and you find yourself in a jet lag 24 hours a day!
What more have you learned about these animals? What enriched you the most?
This is the key word: enrichment. We come out really enriched on all fronts after an experience like this. It is undoubtedly all the love and tenderness that these animals express between them that touched me the most, that enriched me the most as a human being. One can only be moved by observing how a whale takes care of its baby. She has so much humanity, like a human mother. And like us, whales mourn their dead. They also know how to play like big children. It was fantastic to feel a connection between them and me.
Exactly, of the five families filmed, which type of whale do you feel closest to?
Orcas without a doubt. They show admirable intelligence. I am also in awe of their sense of family, seeing how well they protect each other. But I love all species of whales. I am in complete awe of these majestic animals.