That Time a ‘Playful’ Sperm Whale Nearly Killed a ‘Blue Planet II’ Cameraman

TCA 2018: “Blue Planet” producer shares an anecdote from filming the nature docu-series

“Blue Planet II” is one of the most ambitious nature documentary series ever produced, with some never-before-seen footage of the planet’s ocean-dwellers. But capturing that awe-inducing footage came with some risks.

Appearing at the Television Critics Association press tour on Friday to discuss the series, executive producer James Honeyborne shared a story of the time a sperm whale nearly killed a cameraman.

But the near-death encounter was a simple misunderstanding, he explained. Sperm whales, like dolphins, are playful creatures. “[It’s] one of those behaviors you only see with the most intelligent creatures,” Honeyborne said.

“We encountered a very playful sperm whale baby that wanted to interact with the camera,” he said. “It actually brought over a plastic bucket that it was chewing on.”

The cameraman thought the sperm whale had been tangled up in a piece of trash and tried to get the bucket off the whales head.

“And the sperm whale thought this was a great game,” Honeyborne said. “He grabbed the cameraman’s leg and began to take him deeper and deeper.”

Luckily, the whale eventually did let the cameraman go, allowing him to swim to safety.

“We also had some large sharks start playing with one of our submarines,” Honeyborne added. “But that was more territorial dominance … they were trying to assert their position.”

“Blue Planet II” premieres Jan. 20 on BBC America.