World Oceans Day: Have A Whale Of A Time With These Free Documentaries
STORY: Nicholas Yong & Sim Ding En
08 June 2021
How much do you really know about our oceans? To commemorate World Oceans Day (8 June) we’ve curated a playlist of free documentaries on YouTube to help you dive into learning all about the role oceans play in sustaining life and how we can better safeguard our blue planet.
Take an underwater journey through these wonderful worlds, from the coastlines where 90% of all marine life live to the deep oceans that remain largely undiscovered. We also explore Singapore’s own diverse marine life and what we have been doing to sustain our oceans.
1. Singapore Islands: The Rich Marine Life of Pulau Jong
Sea-nopsis: I never knew that Singapore was home to such a diverse population of marine life. In the first segment, watch Ria Tan guide a group of volunteers on an expedition to log and discover marine life at a massive reef around Pulau Jong and Chek Jawa Wetlands at low tide. Next, Lynette Loke from the NUS Department of Biological Studies takes her team to install and monitor concrete tiles on man-made sea walls. These tiles were designed to mimic the nooks and crannies found in natural rocky shores to attract marine life. Lastly, we follow Dr Jani Tanzil, marine ecologist with the NUS Tropical Marine Science Institute as they conduct quarterly surveys on the corals around Singapore’s first marine park at Sisters’ Islands.
Fa-sea-nating bits: Hop to 3:34 to see the vibrant colourful sea anemone that looks like delicious fat chendol. The sea might be murky, but at 19:41 the amount of rich coral life around Singapore is fascinating to look at.
2. SEA Aquarium Tour
Sea-nopsis: There are a number of walkabout video tours of the SEA Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa on YouTube, but in this video we have an aquarist, Ken, from SEA Aquarium describing the various kinds of marine life as well as popular Youtuber @CoralFish12g telling us how the 2nd largest aquarium in the world (the largest is the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta) is maintained on a daily basis. If you’re interested in getting up close and personal with the fishes at SEA Aquarium, this video serves as a great preview of what you can expect there.
Fa-sea-nating bits: The nurse sharks living the nuah life at 3:05, sleeping all day. Also at 6:41 the vampire fish looks just like my girlfriend when I accidentally made her angry.
3. Our Planet - Coastal Seas
Sea-nopsis: This Netflix documentary explores the richness of marine life along the coasts, where 90% of all marine life thrives. Being a Netflix production, expect atas stunning visuals throughout. We learn about how the various sea species are interdependent. One example is how sharks play a key role in keeping the natural balance of the reef. The documentary also showcases the wondrous miracle of how nature can repair itself if we give it a chance. Got plenty of kan cheong moments too. The best part: Sir David Attenborough’s soothing ASMR narration.
Fa-sea-nating bits: At 4:55, watch the bottlenose dolphins strategically herding their prey (and people think dolphins are harmless, cute creatures). The fur seals riding the waves at 20:07 maybe can win an Olympic gold medal.
Our Planet - High Seas
Sea-nopsis: Moving on from the coasts, we now traverse the deep seas. As with the previous episode, you’re guaranteed a cinematic-worthy experience. Did you know that we know less about the deep dark regions of the sea compared to what we know about the moon? So many cool and creepy alien-like creatures make a living near the seafloor. For fans of Animal Crossing, even the massive 10m oarfish makes an appearance. Once again, Sir David Attenborough narrates this documentary, which gives us a visual explanation of the dangers of overfishing and what we can do to save our oceans.
Fa-sea-nating bits: The spinner dolphins at 8:14 corkscrew jumping out of the water into the air, and at 18:46, the oarfish makes its grand appearance.
Sea-nopsis: I have to admit, I cried a little watching this. 😢 "Chasing Coral” is a multi-award winning documentary that showcases how important corals are to our entire ecosystem and serves as a wake-up call to the dangers of coral bleaching (dying corals) in warming seas caused by climate change. It made me tear up to see vivid colours of expansive coral reefs and marine life becoming barren and dead, but the documentary does serve as a rallying cry for coral reef preservation. Driving this documentary are the divers, photographers and scientists that work together to develop the first time-lapse camera to show the world the plight of corals globally.
Fa-sea-nating bits: At 58:04, the beautiful corals produce a chemical sunscreen of mind-blowingly vivid colours to protect themselves from the heat. Mesmerising. Teared up the most at 1:13:31 watching the time-lapse video showing the bleaching coral and the reaction of the scientists.
The Great White Shark of Guadalupe Island
Sea-nopsis: My first encounter with a great white shark was in the movie “Jaws” when I was a kid. Since then, I’ve always been fascinated with sharks (who isn’t?) - with the great white being one of the coolest predatory animals in the world. If you’re just as intrigued about great whites as I am, then you should watch this documentary where shark researchers monitor the hunting techniques of great white sharks as they roam Guadalupe Island in Mexico. Plenty of stunning shark footage as researchers determine if great whites really do traverse the deep seas to hunt seals.
Fa-sea-nating bits: At 19:07, the great white comes too close to the shark cage, and immediately after at 19:37, another shark smashes into a cage with a diver inside. Scary sia.
Deep Ocean: Lost World Of The Pacific Parts 1 & 2
Sea-nopsis: Another documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough, this time exploring further about the deep oceans. In Part 1, marine biologist Mark Erdmann and his team explore the sea floor using a spherical transparent submarine to scout “living fossils” including marine life that have been around since the era of the dinosaurs. Part 2 dives deeper into the bizarre sea creatures that roam the deepest part of the seas. Not everything looks like it comes from a hantu movie – there are fluorescent marine lifeforms that glow and light up too, like Clarke Quay at night.
Fa-sea-nating bits: From Part 1, at 28:28, feast your eyes on a Nautilus sighting (it looks like the Pokemon Omanyte), and another at 36:27! At 43:25, there is the first footage of a newly discovered alien-looking fish with an extra appendage. In Part 2, 9:05 another hantu fish with a transparent dome head makes an appearance!
The Language of Whales
Sea-nopsis: Imagine if we could understand what animals were saying – specifically, the orcas (killer whales, remember “Free Willy?”). In this documentary, teams of computer scientists and biologists set out to use artificial intelligence (AI) to decipher orca calls, trying to find out if there are patterns between their behaviour and vocalisation that could lead to us deciphering their “language”. Orcas have about 50 different calls, with different families preferring different types of calls. Now, I wonder how “Come here, ah boy!” sounds in Orca-ish?
Fa-sea-nating bits: At 24:50 is the case of Springer the orca and how scientists were able to reunite it with its family.
The Search for the Blue Whale
Sea-nopsis: What do you get when you put a renowned documentary film maker, a couple of professional freedivers, some GoPro cameras and a 90ft blue whale together? This amazing short documentary by Louie Psihoyos and the Oceanic Preservation Society - the team responsible for "The Cove", an Academy Award winning documentary film about dophin hunting practices in Japan. As with most documentaries that track down elusive creatures, this piece builds up quite literally to a massive payoff.
Fa-sea-nating bits: Money shots galore from 13:12 onwards.
These aren't documentaries but they're sea-bei amazing too:
A trio of female freedivers - veritable mermaids - gliding through the ocean depths with their monofins have an underwater rendezvous with three whales. The encounter is dreamlike, magical and utterly spellbinding. One of the comments describes perfectly how we feel: "That's it. I'm becoming a mermaid."
One Breath Around The World
French free diver Guillaume Néry takes a humongous breath at the start of this film before going underwater and, through the magic of seamless video editing and astounding camerawork, stays underwater and goes deeper and deeper until the film ends. Wordless but accompanied by an otherwordly soundtrack by Guillaume Ferran, this 12-minute short film is truly an immersive experience that is hypnotising, beautiful, claustrophobic and awesome in equal measure. Take a deep breath like Néry does at the very start, and see how long you can hold yours - don't pengsan ya.