The Making of Blue Planet II’s Incredible Deep Ocean Episode

Date: January 29, 2018

Source: The Atlantic
Author: Ed Yong

The producer Orla Doherty talks about malfunctioning submersibles, toxic lakes at the bottom of the ocean, and being literally out of her depth.

There are lakes at the bottom of the ocean. These are places where the water contains far more salt than usual, making it extremely dense. It sinks, pools, and refuses to mix with the surrounding seawater, creating perception-defying lakes that, despite being hundreds of meters deep, have their own surfaces and shorelines. One such lake features in “The Deep”—the second episode of Blue Planet II, which aired Saturday on BBC America and other networks. Illuminated by submersible headlights, and accompanied by choral music, cutthroat eels wriggle from the “shores” of the lake and dive into its midst for reasons unknown. Some are so overwhelmed by the salt that they go into shock, their sinuous bodies twisting into convulsing knots.

Two weeks ago, I described Blue Planet II as the “greatest nature series of all time.” I stand by that, and I’m also crowning “The Deep” as the greatest of the series’ seven episodes. It follows in the tradition of the original Blue Planet from 2001, which also voyaged into the abyss for its second episode. The result was groundbreaking. To devote 50 minutes of television to exploring the deep ocean seems, at first, like lunacy. Its perpetual darkness does not exactly make for compelling cinematography. And its low temperatures and crushing pressures make it so inaccessible that it has barely been explored, much less filmed.

And yet, Blue Planet succeeded amply. It took us to fantastical worlds, from belching hydrothermal vents to a whale fall—the decaying carcass of a sunken whale. It avoided the usual menagerie of clownfish, penguins, and sharks in favor of oddities like the improbably dentured fangtooth, slimy hagfish, and Phronima, a parasite that inspired H. R. Giger’s chest-bursting alien. It even showed us species that were new to science, like the Dumbo octopus, so named for the earlike flaps that protrude from its head.

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