Blue Planet Live: Don’t expect a deep dive from the BBC
In the absence of Attenborough’s godly authority, they’ve gone for a ‘cooing-tourist’ presenter style
“I’ve been snotted on by a whale, I’ve tasted it, and I’m a very happy man,” crows Chris Packham at the end of the first broadcast of Blue Planet Live (BBC One, Sunday, 8pm).
Some guys have all the luck. (It tastes like weak cabbage soup with a hint of brussels sprout, he informs us, which makes it sound only marginally more palatable.)
The huge, 30-tonne grey whale, crowned with a white spread of barnacles, floats benignly next to his small boat with her new calf, so close and still that Packham can reach out and pet them. “They’re actually craving human attention,” he says, live from Baja in Mexico. “That’s what they do here.” Indeed, they seem eager to get on television.
Like anybody who shares the earth with us, these mammals must be familiar with Blue Planet 2, the BBC’s majestic 2017 documentary that scoured the oceans with cutting-edge film equipment to dredge up astonishing moments and saturate the viewer with awe. If the whales seem mildly disappointed to find no taste of David Attenborough here, you can understand their dismay. Sightings are becoming rarer.
Blue Planet Live is presented instead by three surrogate naturalists. Packham is joined by our own Liz Bonnin, cooing at a green sea turtle hatchery on Heron Island, Australia, and headlong diver Steve Backshall in the Bahamas, who announces, “I’m just waiting for a gap in the sharks” before plunging into a school of apex predators.
The show, broadly, offers a catch-up session with previously introduced wonders of the seas, but don’t expect a deep dive.
Whereas the seal of Attenborough’s voiceover brought a godly authority to what it had to impart, here the live broadcast mostly elicits the kind of enthusiastic descriptions of delighted tourists: “One of the most amazing wildlife experiences I’ve ever had,” Bonin says of the 50 or so hatchling turtles flapping their way from nest in the white sand to the sea, ignoring their immensely slight odds of survival.
Backshall assures us, from within a swirl of silvery fins, that “around the world you’re more likely to be killed taking a selfie than you are by a shark”. If anything, that suggest he is in more immediate danger, posing for shot while sounding gloriously self-regarding: “It can get to be as large as me,” he says of the Reef shark, “very powerful and to be treated with respect.”
There are, of course, some sumptuous scenes of the life aquatic that the show has prepared earlier, such as the shimmering iridescence of Great Barrier Reef, whose supply of coral has been depleted by 50 per cent, or a serene interaction between “shark dancer” Christina Zenato, as shimmering in her chainmail diving suit as the Carribean reef sharks that come to rest in her lap.
And still, the shot to which my mind keeps returning is of the deserted, pristine white beach of Heron’s Island, at 6am, just as some randomer lumbered into the foreground. “That’s not wildlife,” Bonnin clarifies, “that’s a person.”
We really do ruin everything.