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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Springwatch: High Seas

Killer whales in British waters? Surely not? Join Gordon Buchanan on his adventurous journey into the UK's high seas, where he discovers the world's top ocean predator – and a whole lot more. From seabirds to seals and sand-eels to basking sharks, discover the creatures that make this alien environment their own.

Our intrepid Gordon Buchanan sets out on a journey of discovery to Britain's high seas, in search of the mighty killer whale. And off the coast of Shetland he finds them – following the fishing fleet to feed on mackerel.

As he gets to know this top ocean predator, Gordon gains a real insight into their behaviour, hunting techniques and social lives. And along the way he discovers that far from being devoid of wildlife, as many people think, our high seas are home to a whole range of extraordinary creatures: from seabirds to seals and sand-eels to basking sharks.

But it is the killer whales that provide Gordon with his most intimate and memorable encounter, as he enters their world for the first time.

Sequences include:

  • Introduction to killer whales as the top ocean predator, and the most widely distributed mammal in the world apart from human beings.
  • Gordon's quest to find and film killer whales in the High Seas around Britain: he joins a mackerel trawler heading out to the seas around Shetland.
  • Gordon's previous attempt to film killer whales, off the coasts of Shetland, when despite making appeals to local people for sightings he failed to catch up with them.
  • Gordon's encounters with the seabirds following the trawler: an insight into the lives of gannets and puffins, both of which come ashore to breed but spend most of their lives out in the open ocean, where they feed.
  • Gordon recalls the time when he witnessed baby guillemots (known as 'jumplings') launching themselves off the cliffs where they are born in order to escape predators.
  • Gordon looks beneath the waves at the engine which drives all this life – fuelled by tiny plankton and sand-eels, the unsung heroes of the deep.
  • He goes back to his home island of Mull, where he takes to the sea in a canoe to get close encounters with a monster of the deep – the basking shark, which despite its huge size eats only plankton.
  • On his second journey out into the High Seas with the mackerel trawler, Gordon gets some really good footage of killer whales and gains an insight into their feeding techniques.
  • He reflects on the problems faced by some marine mammals such as dolphins, when they are accidentally beached; and contrasts this with the lifestyle of grey seals, which choose to come ashore to breed, despite the land being an alien environment for them.
  • Finally he heads out to sea for a third time; this time with the aim of getting an even deeper insight into the killer whales' world by using an underwater camera. After almost losing the camera to the force of the waves, he finally achieves his ambition and returns home a happy man. We have shared his fascination with these mighty beasts, and enjoyed a truly unique, intimate encounter with them as we see them in their true environment, beneath the waves.

Gordon Buchanan says: "The High Seas are unlike anywhere else on Earth. The farther we venture away from shore, the less at home we feel! But however unfamiliar and alien this environment may be for us, for the creatures that spend their lives here, this is home.

"Killer whales may live in all the world's oceans, but there's still so much we don't know about these extraordinary animals. It's with this brief yet wonderfully intimate encounter that I realise how privileged I've been to get even a tiny glimpse into the killer whale's remarkable world.

"I came out on to the high seas hoping to see – and film – killer whales. And I succeeded, but I also found so much more. A truly amazing world: so close to home, yet so tantalisingly out of reach. For me, encountering these majestic creatures has been a truly inspiring experience – what better symbol of the mystery, beauty, and sheer majesty of our high seas."

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