Intrepid film crews tracked various species of whales all over the world, capturing their unique hunting strategies, communication skills, and social structures for Secrets of the Whales, a new four-part documentary series from National Geographic, now streaming on Disney+.
The project started with National Geographic Explorer and photographer Brian Skerry, who spent three years traveling around the globe documenting the culture of five different species of whale: orcas, humpbacks (aka “the singing sensation of the ocean”), belugas, narwhals, and sperm whales. The Massachusetts-born Skerry recalls visiting the beaches of New England as a child and being fascinating by nature documentaries about the ocean. “There was something especially awe-inspiring about whales,” he told Ars. “There are so many secrets. If I spent the rest of my life just [filming] whales, I would be very happy.”
Skerry pitched a one-hour documentary to National Geographic about his project, which turned into four hours when producer, writer, and director Brian Armstrong (Red Rock Films) signed on, along with Oscar-winning director James Cameron as executive producer. “It started off as a photographer profile [of Skerry], but the scope became so big,” Armstrong told Ars. “[We realized] it’s about the whales and their culture—a big breakthrough topic. It’s subtle, but you’ll notice when we do introduce human characters, you’re usually looking out from the whale’s point of view as we get into their world.”