Naomi Wilkinson travels across Mexico's Baja California peninsula, where she has a stand-off with a blood-spurting reptile and takes a dip with a shark.
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Welcome to my Nightmares of Nature.
I'm Naomi Wilkinson.
And I'm coming face to face with the nightmares of the animal world.
The ones that make your spine tingle,
your heart beat faster
and your blood run cold.
Are they truly terrifying?
Or is there a twist in the tail?
Come with me as I shine a light on wildlife's deepest, darkest secrets
and see if you can guess which will be my worst nightmare.
This time Nightmares of Nature has come to the Wild West -
the deserts of western Mexico to be precise!
But not just the deserts - around this sea of sand is some of the
richest coastline in the world.
Rich with monsters and brigands.
So between sea-faring swashbucklers and outlaws of the outback,
there's plenty of villainous vermin in these here parts
to add to my most wanted list!
The sands and seas we'll be traversing
form Mexico's Baja peninsula.
I'll be standing off against a diminutive desert sharp-shooter...
..paddling my way into a den of local pirates...
..and digging up some cuties, trapped in a nightmare of their own.
What a privilege to hold a brand new baby animal.
But first, I'm setting sail in search of a sea monster
of truly epic proportions.
There is a creature here, in the waters off Baja
that dwarfs every other animal we have ever featured
on Nightmares of Nature. It's bigger than any big cat,
larger even than an elephant!
Oh yeah...and it's a shark.
The whale shark is named after
those massive marine wanderers, the whales,
and it's easy to see why.
At 12 metres long, they're the size of a double-decker bus.
Weighing in at over 12,000kilos,
they're heavier than a bus, too.
Oh yes -
and their mouth is nearly as wide
as I am tall.
Any animal built on this sheer scale is bound to be intimidating,
but when you throw into the mix that it's a shark,
a species which doesn't have the best of reputations,
I reckon it is a 100% guaranteed nightmare.
I'm reliably informed that, at this time of year,
the Sea of Cortez here is one of the best places on earth
to see whale sharks.
This said, finding anything at sea,
even the world's biggest shark, can be tricky.
So to help me with the search is marine biologist Claudia.
The size of a bus! A shark the size of a bus.
So Claudia, why do the whale sharks come to this area of the world?
They come here to eat.
They feed on very tiny creatures called plankton
and we have a lot of that in here.
That's a real surprise, isn't it, because it's such massive creature,
but they're eating something you can't even see.
They have to eat millions and millions of them
to be able to make out for a big meal.
They just swim through the water, filtering everything that's in it
and they have to take huge amounts of water
so they need that huge mouth.
Does it have teeth?
They do have teeth, like 300 of them, but very tiny.
Now how know we're not going to go into that mouth and get sucked in?
Don't worry about it. They are not after humans.
There's never been a record of an attack.
Good to know! Good to know!
Now we just have to find one.
There are a couple of ways to, erm, "spot" them -
one is the white spots all over their body.
The pattern can be used to tell individual sharks apart,
like a fingerprint.
The other clue to their presence is...less appealing.
Also, the dorsal fin.
You'll see the big fin come out of the water?
It's rounded. So it's not like their normal...
-No. It's round.
-A round fin.
'Our eyes are peeled,
'but I can't resist trying out my whale-shark whispering technique.'
That's how you call them, you know. People that know.
Come on! Come on, whale shark!
'But it's Claudia who comes up with the goods.'
Oh, no, here. 2 o'clock, here - Naomi.
Oh, my gosh, I can see the shape! SHE GASPS
I can see the white spots...
There's its, there's its fin!
Oh, REALLY round, then!
It's still the shape of a shark though, isn't it?
It's still a big, shark-looking fish.
'At "only" seven metres long, this one's just a juvenile,
'but it's still MASSIVE!'
'Oh, yeah and if you haven't already guessed from the wetsuit,
'I'm going to swim with it.'
Oh, my legs have gone like jelly.
I'm going to hold your hand so tightly!
Don't worry about it, we'll be holding hands.
Yeah, I'm going to grip onto you for dear life!
'It's time to grab our masks and snorkels
'and join the behemoth in its watery world.'
It's such a mental battle -
I know this shark is going to do me no harm whatsoever
but my gut is screaming, "It's a shark, it's a shark, you're scared!"
but my head's going, "No, it's fine, you'll be safe, stop worrying."
And I want to grab this opportunity with both hands so...
'The water is dark and murky.
'It's impossible to tell what's around us.
'Where is the shark?'
'Then suddenly, out of the gloom...
'It is, in fact, beautiful.
'An elegant giant.'
'Then, as gracefully as it appeared, it glides away.
'What an absolute privilege.'
I got in the water and it was there!
Its head was there,
and then the whole creature just swam past me, about a metre away,
and I saw all along its body.
That was amazing!
OK, so despite its epic size,
it seems that the whale shark is really a gentle giant
just cruising through the currents, looking for microscopic morsels.
So, I never thought I'd ever say this,
but I don't think I can call a bus-sized shark
with a gigantic mouth and over 300 teeth, my worst nightmare!
It's time to head inland now...
to the dusty desert...
..where I can have myself a little Wild West adventure!
If you're heading off road around here,
there really is only one way to travel. It's time to...
(IN AMERICAN ACCENT) Saddle up, partners!
How do you say 'giddy up' in Spanish?
SOUND OF HORSE SNORTING
'Horses are one of the most enduring images of the Wild West.
'They're more versatile than any four-wheel drive vehicle,
'and a lot prettier, too!'
Come on, boys. keep up!
But this beautiful, hardy beast is not the animal
I've come here to see.
I'm on the trail of a sharp shooting, cold blooded. culprit.
SOUND OF PISTOL BEING COCKED
SOUND OF GUNSHOTS
This place isn't called the Wild West for nothing.
It is hostile out here. There are venomous predators,
extreme temperatures... Even the plants are prickly!
'Any animal that can survive the Mexican desert has to have a
'few secret survival skills up its sleeve.'
So, what nightmare ability does this little guy have to stop him
from becoming a tasty snack for a bird or a snake?
'this tiny, pencil-sized reptile has camouflage.'
'It's colour makes it extremely hard to pick out
'in a dusty, rocky landscape.'
As you may have guessed, because I'm happy to do this,
the horned lizard doesn't have razor sharp teeth or a venomous bite.
What it does have are these rather impressive horns
at the rear of its head, hence its name.
It also has these bumpy, spiky spines all along its body and tail.
As well as acting like a suit of armour, this also makes
the lizard very difficult to swallow,
a bit like trying to eat a cactus.
'And if that's not enough to keep it off the menu, it can also
'puff up its body to make itself look larger, twice it's usual size!'
Now, these are all very clever survival skills,
but they're not really nightmare material.
However, it does have one more,
quite frankly disgusting trick up its sleeve, that propels this
little desert dweller straight into the big league
of natural nightmares, because, believe it or not,
the horned lizard's last line of defence is to fire blood...
from its eye!
'Yes, you heard that right!'
'It might sound like the stuff of horror films,
'but these reptilian sharpshooters
'can fend off persistent predators...'
'..by showering them in a stream of red, sticky terror.'
SOUND OF DOG GROWLING
SOUND OF DOG WHINING
'A stand off with a horned lizard must be a bit like getting
'a face full of hot tomato sauce!'
MUSIC: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly by Ennio Morricone
That's quite nice, actually!
HARP GLISSANDO IN REVERSE
'All right for me, but the horned lizard's victims
'face blood, not ketchup.'
Usually, the sheer shock will see an attacker fleeing for the hills,
but that blood is also foul tasting and irritating
if gets into the nose or mouth. Vile!
'To achieve this remarkable defence, the lizard increases
'the amount of blood in its head...'
'..until the pressure ruptures vessels in the corner of its eye,
'sending out the high-speed jet.'
'One species can even fire half of all the blood in its body
'in a single shot!'
SOUND OF DOG GROWLING
'Obviously, a rather desperate act,
'but you have to admit, it's a pretty good one!'
Well, I think it's fair to say that here in the Wild West,
it doesn't get much wilder than an animal that can aim
and fire a jet of blood out of its eye,
which means that these sharp-shooting, gory gunslingers
could certainly be in with a chance of being my worst nightmare.
SPIRITED ORCHESTRAL MUSIC
'Time to flee the nightmares of the Baja desert
'and head offshore again, this time for an adventure on the high seas!'
The waters up ahead have a reputation
of being pirate territory.
Rumours abound that somewhere along this stretch of coastline,
there is actually an entire colony of brutal brigands.
But to spot this particular bunch seafaring swashbucklers,
we're not scanning the horizon, we're scanning the skies.
Frigatebirds are often referred to as the pirates of the sky.
They're even named after the speedy,
manoeuvrable warships used by 17th century pirates.
But why is this?
I'm off to investigate.
Just spotting our first frigatebirds up in the air now.
Don't they look striking?
Long, jagged, angular wings, big, long deeply forked tail
just cruising in the air.
'The wingspan of the males can be over two metres.'
'That's about as wide as your average sofa!
'It soon becomes clear that we're heading
straight into the pirates' lair!'
These mangrove swamps are an ideal place for nesting birds.
They're remote and they're inaccessible, so it gives them
a safe and secure spot, ideal for laying low
while you raise your young.
'Stowed away in this nesting site are 1,200 adult pirates
'and their chicks.'
I really want to get in for a closer look, but just like the pirates
of old, I'm going to need a smaller, more manoeuvrable vessel.
'Keeping me safe in these dangerous waters is local guide Jose.'
Well, this is giving us a pretty good view of the activity.
There's a lot going on here.
So, some of them have got bright red markings. What are they?
Those are the males, and that is the gular pouch.
And what do they use those pouches for?
These pouches to attract the female.
They inflate them, and then they clap their bills onto it,
and it sounds like a drum.
And then they show it off by lifting their head back?
Yeah, they put their wings up and then they just go...
HE PURRS RAPIDLY
-Check me out!
-And the ladies think that's cool?
-Yeah, it's all about the beat.
(LAUGHING) All about the beat!
I like it.
That one has one chick.
You can see the little white fluff.
-Is that a new chick?
-Yeah, that's a new chick.
-That's a very early chick for the season.
So, how old do you think that one is?
That one has to be a few days old.
Hello, little frigatebird!
And the one that is sitting on the nest is a male.
Ah! So, the male's looking after it.
The male and the females will feed the chicks from hatching
for three months, and then the male takes off, and the female
will keep on feeding that chick for another eight or nine months.
-That's a long time.
-That's a long time.
-They make good parents.
'So, if they're such soft,
'sentimental birds, how have they got such a bad reputation?'
Frigatebirds are often associated with pirates, aren't they?
-Yes, they are.
-Why is that?
I think it's because they steal fish from other birds,
just like pirates. They chase the bird until the bird
either lets go or regurgitates, vomits, the fish
that is inside the stomach.
They'll make another bird puke up the fish,
-and then they'll eat it mid-air?
'Yep, those pesky pirates grab their victims in mid flight
'and torment them...'
'..until they can no longer hang onto the contents of their bellies.'
'But there's a very simple reason why frigatebirds
'can't dive for their own fish.'
'If they did. they would die.
'Although they're seabirds, their feathers don't have
'the protective, oily coating that other seafaring species do.'
-They're not waterproof?
-They just get all waterlogged?
I bet they're really fed up about that.
They're like, "We're birds, we live out at sea,
"and we're not waterproof."
'So instead, they have to cruise the surface of the water,
'snatching unsuspecting floating fish with their pirate's hook.'
'I mean, beak.'
'And if that's all too much like hard work...'
'..then they'll resort to their mischievous marauding methods.'
-They only do it 10% of the time, though.
Yeah. So, they have bad reputation.
Well, it's a pretty nasty characteristic.
-To be fair.
'And they don't just raid other seabirds for treasure.
'They'll even swipe food and nesting material off each other!'
I think if I was a frigatebird, I'd go live over there,
away from the others!
So, the frigatebirds may seem very regal with their beautiful red
markings and that majestic wingspan,
but those good looks hide a much darker side,
one that involves intimidation, violence and theft,
just like the pirates of old.
So, I'd say these buccaneering birds have got a very good chance
of stealing my worst nightmare booty!
SOUND OF FRIGATEBIRD CHIRPING
'I'm back on dry Baja land.'
But only just...
..because my final nightmare lives between land and sea.
A good excuse for me to have a bit of beach time.
My next animal is slow moving, it doesn't have sharp teeth
or claws, and it's known throughout the world for its gentle
and placid behaviour. Not your typical nightmare of nature!
But there is something mysterious happening to this creature,
that is very scary indeed.
Sea turtles are among the most ancient animals on the planet.
They've been around for over 200 million years,
and have outlived the dinosaurs!
But numbers of these sea-dwelling survivors
are dropping all over the world...
..placing them at risk of extinction.
So, what is going on?
'To find out more, I'm joining a group of children
'from a local wildlife conservation group.'
'This greenhouse is full of thousands
'of olive ridley sea turtle eggs.'
What is going here?
Where did these turtles come from?
From the mum of turtles.
Ask a silly question!
'The "mum of turtles" laid her eggs on a nearby beach,
'then the conservation group collected them
and moved them into this greenhouse.'
So, why do you do that?
Because it's really cold right now, so we're trying to save them,
for they have more chance to live.
So, they need it to be hot to be able to hatch?
'Sea turtles can't breathe underwater,
'so lay their eggs on land, hundreds at a time.'
'The eggs stay under the sand for up to two months,
'then the hatchlings break out and dig their way
'up to the surface.
'But if the sand is too cold,
'the turtles die before even making it out of their eggs.'
'This greenhouse has been keeping over 7,000 eggs warm,
'and today, they're ready to hatch.
'So, it's time to dig them up and help them
'get to the sea, where they belong.'
So, are you telling me there are baby turtles under here right now?
You've got one! You've got one! Let me see that tiny little...
Oh, my goodness me. That is the cutest thing I think I've ever seen.
Aw! Hello, brand-new turtle!
What can I call you? Shall I call you Leonardo?
You look like a Donatello to me. Ah!
What a privilege to hold a brand-new baby animal.
-How big will this turtle get?
-About this big.
That's even smaller!
-Ahhh! Look at you, cutie!
'This tiny turtle is fresh out of its egg,
'and hasn't even had a chance to roll around in the sand yet.'
How long does it take each turtle to hatch?
-A couple hours.
-Couple of hours.
They start biting the shell, and then they do it with the flippers.
'The toasty greenhouse means these hatchlings have avoided
'nightmare number one, the cold.
'So, are their nightmares over?
Faith, I'm supposed to be looking for nightmares of nature.
What is the problem for these turtles?
They're having a nightmare.
They face predators like birds, fish, dogs...
-So, they're having a real battle...
..trying to get out of their nest and then trying to get to the sea.
'Newly hatched sea turtles, once out of their sandy nest,
'must head for the sea.
'But they have to get to it first, via a perilous journey
'across the beach.'
'Birds, foxes, crabs, fish, they are all waiting in the wings
'to snap up one of these little guys.'
'The trouble is, once in the water, their nightmare still doesn't end.'
'And that's partly...
'because of us.'
'Many sea turtles accidentally get tangled up in fishermen's nets.'
'Some get eaten by people with a taste for turtle or their eggs.'
'Others die from eating our floating rubbish,
'or are poisoned by our chemicals.'
'Thankfully, though, these humans are making up for it.
'In the last year, the conservation group has seen over 5,000 turtles
'safely into the waves, and now it's time to release
'our little olive ridleys back into the wild.'
-Do you think they're excited?
They're like, "Yes! I'm going to be fine!"
'Sea turtles make their beach getaway at dusk,
'as it's harder for predators to spot them.
'But we'll be looking out for this turtle team tonight.'
Good luck, little guys!
Off you go!
Go, go, go!
Swim for your life!
Go on, go on!
Look how much he's trying.
How long will it be until these turtles return to a beach
-to lay their own eggs?
-In about ten years they'll come back
-and lay some eggs.
-So, we won't see these for ages!
Don't the females come back to the beach where they were born?
-That's a cool fact, isn't it?
-I love that.
Do you find it sad to see them go?
A little bit, but we know they're going to be safe in the water.
They're going to be in their home.
So, it's a sad but a happy feeling,
-cos you'll know they'll have a better life out there.
-And you've done a great job today!
Bye, little turtles!
Good luck! Have a fantastic life!
Just keep swimming!
It'll come as no surprise that sea turtles are not going to be my
worst nightmare. Us human beings on the other hand, with our pollution
and over-fishing, definitely do qualify as a bit of a nightmare.
But it is great to know that so much hard work is going on to save
these gentle and placid creatures,
so hopefully they'll be around for another few million years.
Sadly, it's time to bid farewell to beautiful Baja,
but before we go, which animal going to be my worst Wild West nightmare?
Was it the whopper-sized whale shark with its mega mouth?
I saw all along its body.
That was amazing!
Or the pirates of the sky, the feisty frigatebird?
-They'll make another bird puke up the fish?
Well, this time, there really is no contest,
because my worst Mexican nightmare just has to be the blood spurting,
eye popping, desert desperado, the horned lizard.
Or the pirates of the sky, the feisty frigatebirds.
What are you doing?
(LAUGHING) Oh, no!
Naomi Wilkinson travels across the sands and seas of Mexico's Baja California peninsula in search of her worst Nightmares of Nature. She has a Wild West stand-off with a blood-spurting reptile, takes a dreaded dip with a shark the size of a bus, and an adventure on the high seas leads to an encounter with some pesky pirates of the sky and their truly terrible table manners.