CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: All the secrets of marine biology… revealed in a whale’s hankie
Equator From The Air
Thar she blows! The traditional cry of the whalers has never rung more true, as wildlife film-maker Gordon Buchanan set off in search of a sneeze from Moby Dick.
So far we’ve seen Buchanan getting bear cubs high on rotten fish paste and teaching meerkats to take selfies. You might imagine his animal encounters couldn’t take a more surreal turn, but on Equator From The Air (BBC2) he flew a camera drone straight through a humpback whale’s spout, to sample DNA from its nasal mucus.
Bizarre though it seems, this is an ingenious way for scientists to monitor the health of humpbacks as they edge back from the brink of extinction. The sticky gunk on the drone’s sensors can be analysed in the lab: ‘The DNA barcode doesn’t just tell you about the health of that particular animal,’ Gordon enthused when I interviewed him earlier this month, ‘a wealth of information is stored about the entire marine environment.’
Gordon Buchanan (pictured) on Equator From The Air (BBC2) flew a camera drone straight through a humpback whale’s spout, to sample DNA from its nasal mucus
This four-part documentary series investigates the technical advances made possible for naturalists by new types of flying machines — especially drones.
Regarded as little more than children’s toys when they first appeared about a decade ago, they are revolutionising the way scientists monitor the world. Gordon chose to follow the equator, travelling around the world’s waistline because that’s where the most dramatic changes are taking place.
‘We tend to think of it as a wild, far-distant land,’ he told me, ‘but there’s a superabundance of people. Populations are growing faster than anywhere in the world, transforming the landscape in an alarming way.’
Gordon chose to follow the equator, travelling around the world’s waistline because that’s where the most dramatic changes are taking place
Nowhere was that more evident than in spectacular aerial shots of vast flamingo flocks at Lake Bogoria in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. The birds — a million and a quarter of them — gather to feast on the blue-green algae blooms.
It’s a sight Gordon waited 30 years to see. But it might soon be a vanished phenomenon. At nearby Lake Nakuru, the flamingos have all gone. A city has sprung up on the shores and, even though the lake is a national park, deforestation and pollution have changed the chemical balance of the water.
The algae no longer grows . . . and the birds no longer come. Pictures from the air explained the causes in ways that words never could.
Suranne Jones (pictured) plays the title character in Gentleman Jack, a female landowner with the manners and sexual appetites of a man
This was a much more informative programme than the recent Earth From Space, based on satellite photography. Who needs space probes? It turns out you can learn more from the contents of a whale’s Kleenex.
Handkerchiefs played a part in Gentleman Jack (BBC1), as befits any good costume drama.
Innocent heiress Ann (Sophie Rundle) pressed one to her admirer’s hand after a nasty nick with a paper knife, and then stood at the window, sighing as she plucked at its embroidery.
It may be that the 20th-century invention of the paper tissue spelt the death of old-fashioned romance.
No hankies, no love affairs — and no wonder the divorce rate is so high. But there’s little real romance in Gentleman Jack.
The way she’s plotting to seduce Ann is downright predatory. If she were a man, she’d be a cad
Despite its lurid reputation, there was very little hanky-panky either — just a two-second flashback to a very raunchy bedroom scene, as fleeting as it was gratuitous.
Suranne Jones plays the title character, a female landowner with the manners and sexual appetites of a man, and we’re supposed to admire her for being so dashed unconventional.
The problem is, she’s also dashed unpleasant. The way she’s plotting to seduce Ann is downright predatory. If she were a man, she’d be a cad — liable to be blackballed by her club for the heartless way she treats women. And serve her right.
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