“We’ve only ever explored maybe five percent of our oceans.”
– Phillippe Cousteau, Jr.
“People don’t care about kelp. Everyone’s worried about the dolphins and the whales, and they should be worried about the kelp ‘cause they are the ecosystem engineers.”
– Tooni Mahto
Oceans, an eight-part documentary produced by the BBC, follows an expedition team to explore oceans all over the planet. Headed by Paul Rose, the team consists of Tooni Mahto, a marine biologist; Lucy Blue, a marine archaeologist; and Phillippe Cousteau, Jr., grandson of Jacques Cousteau, and an environmentalist. The various expeditions were filmed over a one year period and cover all aspects of ocean science. From studying marine life to exploring shipwrecks to conservation efforts, the documentary runs the gamut in highlighting the importance of our oceans.
Each of the eight episodes focuses on a different ocean, or a different part of an ocean. Those covered include: the Sea of Cortez, the Southern Ocean, the Red Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the coastal waters of the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Arctic Ocean. In highlighting an ocean an episode, the documentary offers real diversity to its topic while still centering on one environment at a time.
Oceans does an excellent job of communicating the difficulties that can be a part of many expeditions and dives, while also managing to revel in all the victories along the way, both large and small. These moments include encountering the extremely rare six gill shark in the Mediterranean Sea, finding the gorgeous weedy sea dragon hidden in the kelp of the Southern Ocean, and exploring the history of whaling in the Arctic Ocean. Throughout it all, the team’s enthusiasm never wanes.
The group assembled is made up of charismatic personalities with a clear love for their work. In fact, the giddiness that often accompanies a particularly exciting moment or discovery is part of the documentary’s great appeal.
The experience of the expedition team is obvious throughout the documentary. Rose casually states that he has done over 6,000 dives and his laid back leadership serves them well. Mahto, Blue, and Cousteau, Jr. also have a great deal of experience and their varied backgrounds and interests complement each other. What they all have in common is the ease in which they are able to impart their considerable knowledge to a nonscientific audience.
One of the things that sets Oceans apart from many other similar –themed documentaries, is the way in which it widens the scope of its focus. Typically, other documentaries have really been more about marine life to the exclusion of other aspects of the ocean. Oceans, however, is interested in showing a more complete picture, and in turn, offers a deeper and more well-rounded portrait. Blue’s investigation of shipwrecks is a perfect example of this, as it is an attempt to discover more about early human culture and its relationship with the sea.
Many of the overarching themes throughout the documentary deal with issues of conservation. The problems of overfishing, warming waters, and human interference all come with a great price for our oceans and Cousteau, Jr. repeatedly makes an impassioned plea for a better understanding of these issues.
One of the most striking moments in the whole series is a scene of fishermen catching young sharks – who have yet to breed – in a small cove of the Indian Ocean and quickly cutting off the fins for large profit. Cousteau, Jr. and Bell are on hand to watch and their disgust is palpable. As it is explained that a fairly small number of fins (primarily used for shark fin soup) bring in more money than many inhabitants of the area earn in a year, it becomes clear just how difficult and complex a problem this is.
While in the Atlantic Ocean, they find the very poisonous lionfish, a species that should be in the Pacific or Indian Oceans. Unfortunately, enough of these fish have been released as unwanted pets by humans, threatening the existence of other local species. Oceans is filled with similar stories of uphill battles, yet the team still maintains a hopefulness that serves as an almost unofficial theme to the documentary.
Oceans is a beautifully filmed glimpse into a mysterious world. The care and dedication that went into these expeditions clearly demonstrate the importance of learning more about the world’s oceans and finding ways to conserve the life within. In spite of, or maybe because of its large scope, Oceans succeeds in highlighting how much more there is yet to know, as well as how connected the planet’s oceans are to all life.