20,000 Leagues Under David Attenborough
The BBC has released its latest mindbogglingly beautiful nature series, Blue Planet II, with shocking images of life in the sea including a fish that uses tools, dolphins that apply anti-bacterial lotion, and David Attenborough feeding a cameraman to a frenzied school of tuna fish.
Okay, so Sir David didn’t do that. Actually, he hasn’t even appeared on camera during the first two episodes I’ve seen, which is unfortunate. Because the only thing better than listening to his silky narration, is seeing him plonked down in some bitterly cold, dangerous-looking environment, telling us about the travails of penguins while trying to stand upright in gale force winds.
Attenborough is not unlike a modern-day Jim Fowler from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, who was always being sent by Marlon Perkins to some perilous veldt somewhere to drive home the importance of having life insurance. Jim, like David, was just another endangered species we thought wasn’t going to make it.
In an episode of Blue Planet II called “The Deep,” a submersible descends several kilometers down and films all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures, like a fish with a see-through head and an octopus with ears like Dumbo’s. They don’t show us the vehicle’s operator, but surely it’s David, humbly steering his way through the murky depths, surviving squid attacks and risking instant death from the crushing water pressure, and probably brewing a nice cuppa while doing so. If you listen closely, you can just hear the clinking of a tea spoon against fine china.
One scene in particular can’t help but grab your attention. A whale carcass reaches the sea floor, where it is set upon by enormous sixgill sharks after lying there for a mere 26 minutes. These sharks, we are informed, may eat just once per year, and we see in graphic detail why that is. They gorge upon the putrid, decaying flesh like my sons devouring a 20-piece box of McNuggets, and it’s almost as nauseating to watch. The folks at Shark Week are seriously going to have to up their game now.
Of all the wonders of the sea, what we haven’t seen yet is David in one of those helmeted diving suits, walking along the ocean floor somewhere, perhaps with a wooden chest artfully spilling treasure behind him. It would look like the aquarium sculpture I had as a kid, a fanciful background to the mommy guppies eating their babies like they were Goldfish Crackers. Maybe Attenborough can explain the reason for this maternal snacking to us. Heal our trauma, David.
I fully expect that by the time this incredible series is over, all America will be clamoring for some way to celebrate this scientist-adventurer’s accomplishments. Here’s what I suggest. Let’s replace the 94-foot long, 21,000-lb. fiberglass model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling of the Museum of Natural History in New York, with a giant model of David Attenborough, at least temporarily. He would look down at us with huge, gimlet eyes, while our children learn about one of the most interesting creatures on the planet, and one who has done so much to help us understand it.