Dolphins set to soar

Last updated 14:12 05/02/2014

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Kaikoura's wildlife looks set to propel the region to international stardom with preparations for a nature film narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

For decades, people have been coming to Kaikoura from all over the world to view and swim with the highly social and incredibly acrobatic dusky dolphins. Now, they have attracted a BBC film crew and could become international television stars.

For three weeks, the dusky dolphins, in particular calves, have become the focus of a new BBC production about the survival challenges faced by animals in the wild. Life Story will be narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and will feature critical moments in the lives of animals from around the world, hopefully including the dusky dolphins.

The crew is being assisted by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute (KORI) scientific specialist Jody Weir. Jody earned her Master's degree in 2007 for her three years of research on the dusky dolphin calves and the strategies employed by their mothers.

"These moms have one heck of a job to do, to raise their offspring around a deep canyon with hungry predators and rambunctious males. Mothers often form nursery groups and distance themselves from the larger group so that they can rest and nurse their young, while the calves can socialise and learn new skills in the safer shallower waters. It's fascinating to watch the calves play, socialise and learn their jumps, and to gradually see them transition from ‘cork-bobbing' breathing to the sleek smooth breathing rhythms of adults." The crew's director Nick Easton says he's delighted to be working with the dusky dolphins.

"I have been lucky enough to film wildlife all over the world but there's not much to compare to the sight of hundreds of dusky dolphins rushing past, jumping and flipping as they go. It's an effort not to exclaim every time you see a big jump, despite the task in hand," he says.

Underwater camera operator Roger Munns and specialist wildlife camera operator Justin Maguire agree that natural history filmmaking is rarely glamorous. Filming wild animals behaving naturally takes a lot of patience. The elusive combination of good light, sea state, water clarity and dolphin behaviour is needed to capture just a few moments of usable footage. The determined crew will spend many hours on the water with no guarantee of success.

The BBC has been planning this film shoot for more than a year and the team members are very pleased their preparations were not in vain.

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"This is unbelievably exciting.

"I've been a fan of Attenborough's nature films my whole life. Less than 5 percent of a dolphin's life is spent at the surface, and now with some very sophisticated underwater film equipment, we are getting a closer look at what's going on the other 95 per cent of the time," says Jody.

If Kaikoura's changeable waters and weather allow, the dusky dolphins will reach a global audience, likely to be in the tens of millions, reinforcing Kaikoura's reputation as a top destination for wildlife enthusiasts. The series is set to be aired in 2015.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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