Deep Thinkers

Image for Deep ThinkersNot currently available on BBC iPlayer

Episode 2 of 3

Duration: 59 minutes

Humans have long wondered if the universe may harbour other intelligent life forms. But perhaps we need look no further than our oceans?

Whales and dolphins, like humans, have large brains, are quick to learn new behaviours and use a wide range of sounds to communicate with others in their society. But how close are their minds to ours? In the Bahamas, Professor Denise Herzing believes she is very close to an answer, theorising that she will be able to hold a conversation with wild dolphins in their own language within five years.

In Western Australia, dolphins rely on their versatile and inventive brains to survive in a marine desert. In Alaska, humpback whales gather into alliances in which individuals pool their specialised talents to increase their hunting success. We discover how young spotted dolphins learn their individual names and the social etiquette of their pod, and how being curious about new objects leads Caribbean bottlenose dolphins to self-awareness and even to self-obsession. Finally, the film shows a remarkable group of Mexican grey whales, who seem able to empathize with humans and may even have a concept of forgiveness.

  • Dolphins stealing from stingrays (Australia)

    Dolphins stealing from stingrays (Australia)

    By Anuschka Schofield – Producer

    My first shoot on Ocean Giants was off the western coast of Australia to film bottlenose dolphins. With the help of dolphin expert Sarah Robinson and underwater cameraman Leighton de Barros we were hoping to film a behaviour that has rarely been seen, let alone filmed - dolphins stealing octopus from stingrays.

    Each day we went out on our boat looking for dolphins. Sarah had names for most of the local dolphins but only a few were experts at this risky hunting strategy.

    Our first encounter was with Boomer, so called because like a boomerang she kept coming back! She was a very friendly old female who preferred begging from fishing boats rather than hunting for herself.

    We sighted other dolphins but it wasn’t until we found the charmingly named Zit and Pimple that we began to get excited. According to Sarah, Zit and Pimple were experienced octopus catchers – all we needed now was for them to find some stingrays.

    As the days passed there were more sightings of Zit and Pimple but no stingrays. When eventually we did see them following stingrays the water visibility was so murky that it was difficult to film any hunting behaviour. After a day spent sheltering on land due to Perth's biggest storm in 50 years I was getting a little concerned, only three days left and we still didn't have that magic shot.

    The next day our fortunes changed, we were greeted by blue skies, calm seas and reasonably good water visibility. It didn't take us long to find Zit and Pimple and they were following three large stingrays. Leighton and Sarah dived in as fast as they could and after what seemed like hours of waiting Sarah came to the surface and shouted, 'She got it – she got an octopus!' Seconds later Leighton surfaced and gave us the thumbs up.

    Watch stingrays being outsmarted
  • Dolphins and a bubble-machine (Honduras)

    Dolphins and a bubble-machine (Honduras)

    By Anuschka Schofield – Producer

    On the beautiful island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras, we teamed up with cognitive scientist Stan Kuczaj and the team from RIMS (Roatan Institute for Marine Science) led by Eldon and Teri Bolton. With help from our underwater cameraman, Doug Allan, Stan was hoping to conduct a somewhat unusual experiment on a group of bottlenose dolphins.

    Stan had brought along a custom made bubble-machine to test the dolphins' level of curiosity. It was the first time these dolphins had ever been exposed to this machine so it was a bit of a gamble, but a gamble worth taking.

    Find out how the dolphins reacted to the bubble machine
  • Humpback whales bubble-net feeding (Alaska)

    One of the highlights of this programme was filming the amazing display of teamwork among a group of humpback whales, off the western coast of Alaska.

    With the help of Dr Fred Sharpe and Pieter Folkens of the Alaska Whale Foundation we were able to film the incredible hunting strategy of these whales. The humpbacks break the surface in synchrony, working together to engulf huge shoals of herring. While it was impossible to film the humpbacks teamwork underwater due to poor visibility, we did have another way of revealing the complexity of their strategy. Thanks to years of field observations and the use of hydrophones and sonar equipment, Fred and his team have built up a detailed picture of what is going on beneath the surface, and with the help of state of the art 3D graphics we illustrate this for the first time ever on the BBC.

    We were granted access to film these whales under the authority of National Marine Fisheries Service (permit no. 14599 and 716-1456).

    Watch the whales co-operative fishing tactics
  • Filming Atlantic spotted dolphins

    Filming Atlantic spotted dolphins

    Underwater cameraman Didier Noirot films Atlantic Spotted dolphins off the Bahamas. Scientist Denise Herzing is studying the dolphins here to find out more about how they communicate.

  • Tourists touch a grey whale

    Tourists touch a grey whale

    Baja California, off the coast of Mexico, is the only place in the world where grey whales seem to seek human interaction.


Anuschka Schofield
Executive Producer
Sara Ford
Series Producer
Mark Brownlow
Series Producer
Phil Chapman
Stephen Fry


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