Throughout history, man's battle for supremacy with the animal kingdom has been a fairly one-sided affair. From mink furs, to factory farming, Homo sapiens have generally come out on top in competition between the two.
So, a hearty well done then to the sperm whales of Alaska who are very much showing their human rivals a thing or two when it comes to canniness.
In Alaska: Earth's Frozen Kingdom, a beautiful new slice of natural history from the BBC, we learned that the 120 or so sperm whales known to be around the coast of the giant US state have realised that, rather than spend their days sperming about at the bottom of the ocean looking for food, all they have to do is find the fishing boats that can gather up hundreds of cod on a line and then simply wait for the fishermen to reel them in. Then the whales simply stick their gob on the line and pick off the fish as you might the meat on a shish kebab.
Sadly the whales' fiendishness in this regard is having a catastrophic effect on the livelihoods of the hardy fishermen, which obviously isn't great. But one can't help admire the two-fingers-up-ness of the whales' approach.
This fish thievery wasn't the sole reason to laud Alaska, though. This three-part look at "America's last frontier" – as narrator Dougray Scott had it – looked at the 49th state as it emerged from the hibernation of an arctic winter and moved through the seasons. The footage – as a result – was delirious. We witnessed a black bear as she emerged from the tree(!) she'd been hibernating in with her two young cubs, who we watched – at 12 weeks – climb down to life in springtime.
Then there was a sequence describing the life cycle of Alaska's billions of herrings, which began with a glacier riddled with minerals and ended with a pod of humpback whales using bubbles as a predatory device. Not only was the footage stunning – like the overhead shot of the herrings laying so much roe it changed the colour of the water – but the storytelling deceptively simple. Another fine addition to the NHU's Beatles-like reel of hits.
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