Sir David Attenborough to return for BBC's Blue Planet II

Seven-episode series to air this year will include footage of newly discovered and never-before filmed creatures

The new series of Blue Planet will feature Sir David Attenborough’s familiar narration, as the BBC aims to repeat the success of Planet Earth II.

The voice of the UK’s most-loved naturalist will accompany footage filmed over four years when the series airs across seven episodes on BBC1 this year.

The involvement of Attenborough, who turned 90 last May and is regularly rumoured to be on the verge of retirement, is something of a coup for the BBC.

Combining his practised insight with stunning footage captured using the latest technology helped Planet Earth II draw the largest audiences for a natural history programme for at least 15 years. More than 13 million people tuned in for the opening episode, and the series averaged an audience of more than 10 million.

Attenborough’s reputation should also help international sales of the programme, which is being made in partnership with BBC America, the German broadcaster WDR and France Télévisions.

Although Attenborough was replaced in the US version of the original Blue Planet by the actor Pierce Brosnan, his voice was used on Planet Earth II in the US, and he is seen as an asset in taking the show to overseas markets. At an annual showcase event last year held by BBC commercial arm BBC Worldwide, Attenborough was given a standing ovation by the assembled TV buyers, and Blue Planet II will be unveiled at this year’s event, which started on Sunday.

The original Blue Planet sold in more than 50 countries and a 90-minute edit was made for cinemas. Budget cuts mean the BBC is now under even more pressure to sell its shows abroad. Planet Earth II debuted on BBC America on Saturday, with special content produced for Snapchat released the previous day.

In a statement announcing his part in Blue Planet II, Attenborough said: “I am truly thrilled to be joining this new exploration of the underwater worlds which cover most of our planet, yet are still its least known.”

As with both the original Blue Planet, which was broadcast in 2001, and both series of Planet Earth, the BBC’s natural history team have developed new camera technology and techniques to capture previously unobtainable footage.

These include ultra high-definition “tow cams” that can film predatory fish and dolphins front-on, and suction cameras recording the view from the backs of large creatures such as whale sharks and orcas.

The team have also used the latest marine technology, including two unmanned submersibles, allowing them to record footage from 1,000 metres under the Antarctic Ocean.

The results include footage of newly discovered and never-before filmed creatures, including hairy-chested Hoff crabs, snub fin dolphins that spit water, and a tool-using tusk fish.

The executive producer James Honeyborne described the oceans as “the most exciting place to be right now”.

He added: “New scientific discoveries have given us a new perspective of life beneath the waves. Blue Planet II is taking its cue from these breakthroughs, unveiling unbelievable new places, extraordinary new behaviours and remarkable new creatures. Showing a contemporary portrait of marine life, it will provide a timely reminder that this is a critical moment for the health of the world’s oceans.”

The BBC’s head of commissioning for natural history and specialist factual, Tom McDonald, said the programme would “deliver a new benchmark in natural history film-making.

“Blue Planet II promises to combine the exceptional craftsmanship that our audiences have come to expect from BBC Natural History with genuinely new revelations about the creatures and habitats of the world’s oceans. I have no doubt it will thrill and delight the audience.”

Attenborough previously described Planet Earth II as a form of “two-way therapy” for viewers and the natural world. He wrote in the Radio Times last year that viewers were “reconnecting with a planet whose beauty is blemished, whose health is failing, because they understand that our own wellbeing is inextricably linked to that of the planet’s.”

His involvement with the BBC’s latest aquatic series is especially timely following the decision by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to name its £200m research vessel after the naturalist.

The decision was made after the council rejected the name Boaty McBoatface chosen in an online poll. The council compromised by giving the public’s chosen name to the vessel’s submersible.

The RSS Sir David Attenborough and Boaty McBoatface are expected to begin their research mission in 2019.

Blue Planet’s top moments:

Blue whale

Attenborough accompanies footage of a blue whale with facts and figures about the largest creature on the planet. “Its tongue weighs as much as an elephant; its heart is the size of a car.”

Herring bonanza

Predators from above and below water acting in unison to create a fishy all-you-can-eat buffet off the coast of Vancouver Island.

Sharks visiting an underwater mountain

Attenborough sums up the scene’s appeal in four words: “Sharks … hundreds of sharks.”

A cruel moment

One of those scenes from nature that comes with an entirely necessary graphic content warning: killer whales feeding on young sea lions. The narration is no less distressing, as Attenborough describes how “for whatever reason, the seal pup, still alive, is tossed back and forth for over half an hour.”

The dark zone

Some of the most captivating footage in Blue Planet was filmed far below the surface in the darkest regions of the ocean, where a host of weird and wonderful creatures make their own light.


Jasper Jackson

The GuardianTramp

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