Oceans - Into the Blue Human Planet


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Oceans - Into the Blue

Humans have always found ways to live an almost aquatic life so they can exploit the sea's riches. This journey reveals tales of ingenuity and bravery.


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Only one creature has carved a life for itself

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in every habitat on earth.

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That creature is us.

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All over the world, we still use our ingenuity to survive in the wild places,

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far from the city lights, face to face with raw nature.

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This is the Human Planet.

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The sea covers 70% of our planet's surface.

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It's home to three-quarters of all life on Earth.

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All the creatures found here are perfectly adapted

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to thrive in the ocean...

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..all except one.

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We are not evolved for a life aquatic...

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..and we're way out of our depth in this dangerous and alien world.

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But great opportunities await those people who dare to venture into the water.

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As we immerse ourselves ever deeper in the big blue,

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how do we overcome the enormous challenges that confront us?

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Our relationship with the ocean begins on the coast.

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Even here, the sea is a force to be reckoned with.

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Galicia, in Northern Spain, is home

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to one of Europe's most treacherous coasts.

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But the more extreme the conditions, the greater the rewards,

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if, like Javier and Angel, you're prepared to take the risk.

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THEY SPEAK IN SPANISH

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Javier and Angel are on the hunt for a strange creature

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that clings to the wave-battered rocks...

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at the bottom of these cliffs.

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They have to move fast. Their quarry is only exposed at low tide.

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Vamos! Arriba! Arriba!

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SPEAKS SPANISH

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It's goose barnacles they're after,

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a highly prized delicacy that can sell for 200 euros a kilo.

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But it's not easy pickings. Each year, about five collectors die.

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Few dare work when it's this rough.

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But those who do can charge a premium for their harvest.

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Despite the onslaught, Javier's filled his bag.

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Now it's Angel's turn, and though it's getting even rougher...

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..he's going in with no safety rope.

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Working unattached allows him to dash between waves

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and reach the lowest rocks, where the biggest barnacles grow.

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But one slip could be fatal.

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Although the tide's coming in, Angel's determined to collect more.

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Javier and Angel's gamble paid off.

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In two hours, they've gathered enough goose barnacles

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to fetch around 800 euros. Not bad for a day at the seaside.

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It's this abundance of food that entices us into the waves.

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And just a little further out, there are even greater riches.

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Coastal waters account for just one-tenth of the world's oceans,

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but they're home to the vast majority of marine life.

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The trouble is, as we venture further from the shore, the dangers escalate.

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Benjamin's training to be a harpoonist

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and he knows, any day now, all he's learned could be put to the test.

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He lives on a small Indonesian island called Lembata.

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Few crops grow in this rocky land,

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and even surviving from the sea is a struggle.

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CHATTER

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But there's one animal they wait for

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that can dramatically change their fortunes.

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SHOUTING

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SHOUTING

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The whole village springs into action.

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SHOUTING

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It's a race against time to get out to sea.

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Benjamin and the rest of the crew

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are about to take on the biggest predator that's ever lived.

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They all know the risks,

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but opportunities don't come much bigger than this.

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The sperm whale.

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WHALE SONG

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Up to 18 metres long, these mighty leviathans are powerful animals

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and they won't go down without a fight.

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With simple wooden boats and handmade weapons,

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the whalers seem ill-prepared for battle, but this is how it's been for 600 years.

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They can only harpoon the whale when it surfaces to breathe...

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..so they need to move fast.

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Benjamin's brother prepares to launch himself at the whale.

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This is the most dangerous moment of all.

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But he misses...

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..and now someone else must step up before the whale dives.

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SHOUTING

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Benjamin's moment has arrived.

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He's got it.

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But the battle has just begun.

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As the whale fights to break free, they move to harpoon it again.

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They need to prevent it from diving and pulling a boat under.

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But it's not enough.

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Terrified of the thrashing whale, the crew scramble to safety.

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Another boat attacks and harpoons the whale once more.

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Now dragging several boats, the whale slowly tires.

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Eventually, its struggles are exhausted

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and a final cut, through its backbone, is made.

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It's been an epic eight-hour battle,

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but Benjamin has shown his skill and bravery...

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..and this time everyone returns safely home.

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The death of a whale may be sad to us, but this is their lifeline.

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One catch can feed a village for months,

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and this small-scale hunt in Lembata doesn't threaten whale numbers in these oceans.

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They only take around six whales a year.

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Nothing is wasted. The meat is shared out.

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As the man who dealt the decisive blow, Benjamin gets a larger share.

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And for a while at least, his family won't be going hungry.

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Although we've evolved for a life on land,

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we've become remarkably efficient oceanic hunters.

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Adaptability is the secret of our success

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at discovering new ways to exploit the ocean.

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And in a few special places, this means working with the creatures of the sea.

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These fishermen of Laguna in Brazil

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have forged one of the most extraordinary partnerships

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between humans and wild animals found anywhere on Earth.

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Edson is up early to fish the large numbers of mullet

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that migrate through these waters every May.

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But there's a problem.

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The water's so murky the fishermen can't see where to cast their nets.

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So they join forces with the most intelligent animal in the sea.

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But, like all relationships, a certain amount of patience is required.

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Finally, their friends surface.

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CLICKING AND WHISTLING

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The local bottlenose dolphins are celebrities in Laguna.

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In fact, Edson and his pal Alfredo know each one by name.

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Incredibly, the dolphins drive the mullet towards the fishermen,

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and even signal when to cast their nets, with these distinctive dives.

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The fishermen say they can tell the size of the school,

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and which way it's travelling

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from the vigour and direction of the dive.

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The dolphins do the hard work herding the mullet.

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The fish are served to the fishermen on a plate...

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..but what the dolphins stand to gain is less clear.

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Since they detect prey by echolocation,

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they have no problem hunting in the murky water,

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but picking off individuals from the school is more difficult.

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It seems the nets panic the fish into breaking formation,

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making them much easier for the dolphins to chase down.

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As the nets are hauled in, the benefits of teamwork are revealed.

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Edson and the other fishermen have no doubt

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how much the dolphins help them.

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No matter how we catch it, seafood is vital to human survival,

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providing the main source of protein for about half the world's population.

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But there's a lot more to our ancient connection with the sea than just food.

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The more we've come to depend on the ocean,

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and the further we've pushed into its vast frontier,

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the greater its influence has become in our lives.

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The Pacific covers one-third of the globe.

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The tiny specks of land in the middle of it

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are about as remote as life can get for a human being.

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With so few options on land,

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the surrounding ocean underpins almost every aspect of life on a Pacific island.

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Over 3,000 kilometres from the nearest continent,

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Hawaii is one of the most isolated of all.

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There are few places where the sea has had a greater impact on human existence.

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CHANTING SONG

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-MAN:

-The ocean, significantly to us, it's our home.

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Our connection is so great, we look at it as our origin.

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The water is who we are, and the water is our mother, our father, our gods.

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For Tom "Pohako" Stone, displaying his skill in the ocean

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is a central part of what it means to be Hawaiian.

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Sliding on waves, as it was known,

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has been practised by the Polynesians for millennia.

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But it was around 1,000 years ago, when they arrived in Hawaii,

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that it evolved into surfing.

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-TOM:

-When we actually learned that we could construct boards

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to stand up and surf a wave,

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it became a very ritualistic component of our culture.

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Far more than just a sport, surfing was a sacred art form for Tom's ancestors.

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It was a core part of their society,

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and the noble pursuit of warriors, kings and queens.

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-TOM:

-We have a lot of history about women that...that surf,

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and, you know, they surfed so well that they actually reached godly status.

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We revered these women.

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From ancient origins, surfing has now gone global.

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And for some, searching for the ride of your life

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has become an extreme obsession.

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December 9th, 2009.

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The world's surfing elite has gathered in Hawaii

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to ride some of the biggest swells to hit these shores in over a decade.

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Surfing's certainly changed, but for many it's still a way of life

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and the best riders are still revered as gods

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amongst the worldwide surfing tribe.

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With waves over 15 metres, five storeys high,

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this is a real test of skill and stamina.

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Ken Bradshaw is famed for taming a 26-metre wave,

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probably the biggest ever ridden.

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But these unpredictable swells can claim even the most seasoned surfer.

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Trapped in a rolling mountain of white water,

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Ken is tossed around like a rag doll in a washing machine.

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Just as he surfaces, another giant breaker comes crashing in.

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After a relentless pounding from six successive waves,

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Ken eventually escapes in one piece.

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All big wave surfers know the risks,

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but the adrenaline and the glory is addictive.

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And just as the ancient Hawaiians discovered,

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surfing is still the most spectacular demonstration

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of our ability to conquer the waves.

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Our mastery of the sea is impressive, but we'll never tame its full fury.

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The enormous waves of December 9th

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were created by intense tropical cyclone activity in the Pacific.

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When warm waters fuel the ferocity of depressions over the ocean,

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they can create the most violent weather systems on Earth.

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People must stay well away from the raging sea

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during these tempestuous times,

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but they can't stop it coming to them.

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These super-storms, with winds of over 300 kilometres per hour,

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wreak havoc on the human world.

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SHOUTING

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It can take years to recover from the destruction.

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SHOUTING

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Sometimes over 1,600 kilometres wide,

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hurricanes and typhoons are persistent reminders of the ocean's awesome force.

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It's little wonder that coastal people look at these mighty waters

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with great reverence...

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..but not just for the power of the ocean,

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but also the power of the creatures that live in it.

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In the islands off Papua New Guinea, Blais is known as a sorcerer of the sea.

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Possessing the mysterious ability to summon sharks from the deep,

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he's one of the last so-called shark callers,

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a traditional hunting technique steeped in superstition.

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HE CHANTS SONG

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Blais respects ritual, but he also understands shark behaviour.

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Rattling in the water mimics the activity of feeding fish.

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Sharks can detect these vibrations from three kilometres away,

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but they don't always respond.

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HE CHANTS SONG

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RATTLING

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RATTLING

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And as industrial fishing decimates shark numbers,

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the waits are getting even longer.

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RATTLING

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Finally, a grey reef shark emerges from the blue.

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Blais has appeased its spirit.

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But now he has to catch it, and sharks are notoriously skittish.

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It's a game of cat and mouse.

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Blais tries to entice the shark close enough to slip a noose around its neck...

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...but one false move and it's game over.

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Finally it takes the bait. Slowly he prepares the noose.

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Blais can't keep hold of the thrashing shark,

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but this wooden float prevents it diving.

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Then, as if under a spell, the shark suddenly stops.

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But in fact the float exploits a quirk in shark biology,

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exhausting it so much, it enters a state known as tonic immobility.

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Blais approaches with caution.

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The shark is still very much alive and its bite could cause serious injury.

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In the past, Blais would have killed the shark for food.

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But today he lets it go free.

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Blais is committed to keeping his shark-calling culture alive...

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SOUNDING CONCH

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...and this means keeping sharks alive.

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And it's not just traditions that are threatened.

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In some seas around the world,

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a growing shortage of fish is forcing people deeper and deeper,

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just to land a decent catch.

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So deep, they venture to the very limits of human survival.

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Welcome to the world of the Pa-aling divers,

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perhaps the most dangerous fishing method of all.

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80 men, many of whom are still teenagers,

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are preparing to dive to over 40 metres,

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breathing air pumped through these makeshift tubes by this rusty compressor.

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Joseph is one of the youngest aboard, but he's aware of the risks.

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He's already witnessed just how lethal his job can be.

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The seas around the Philippines were once rich with life,

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but they've been so over-exploited

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that decent fish numbers are only found at perilous depths.

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SHOUTING

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The divers guide the huge ball of nets 40 metres down to the sea floor,

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but all the while their air supply is at risk.

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Back on the boat,

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the ailing compressor and the ever-worsening tangle of tubes

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need constant attention.

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Like a failing heart pumping through clogged arteries,

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if this circulation system fails,

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at this depth, it's almost certain death.

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Joseph and the team unravel the nets

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and lay them out by securing them to rocks.

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They must work fast.

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Joseph knows, the longer he spends at these depths,

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the more dangerous it becomes.

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With every breath, more nitrogen dissolves in his body,

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making him increasingly vulnerable to decompression sickness - "the bends".

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The top of the net is suspended by plastic containers filled with air,

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creating a huge cavernous trap beneath.

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Now it's time to set the scare line.

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The boats drag the 1,000-metre line to form a huge circle around the net,

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and the divers position themselves along it.

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Joseph and the team begin closing the trap by swimming towards the net.

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The waving streamers and the curtain of rising bubbles

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panics the fish and they flee.

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As the line of divers tightens, more and more fish

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swim straight into the gaping net.

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This deep-sea round-up is so effective,

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it can take 50% of the fish from a reef.

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The net is closed, and now Joseph must do something even more dangerous,

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get inside and herd the catch to the far end.

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On deck, the tangled web of tubes is getting worse.

0:38:020:38:07

Once the catch is concentrated, the net is released from its anchor points.

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Now comes the most lethal stage of all -

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guiding the net as it shoots to the surface.

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All too often, the divers ascend too quickly and get the bends.

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As the catch is hauled onto the boat, its size is revealed.

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Just under a tonne of fish isn't bad

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but it's nowhere near what these fishermen were landing a few years ago.

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And this isn't the only problem.

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Some of the crew do have the bends.

0:39:240:39:27

One diver has returned to the bottom to relieve the symptoms,

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whilst, closer to the surface, another is massaged

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to release the painful bubbles in his spine.

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Every day, these Pa-aling divers

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are taking greater risks for dwindling rewards.

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Joseph has his dreams,

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but the harsh reality is he'll be diving twice again today just to make ends meet.

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We've become so successful in the ocean

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it's predicted that in 50 years almost all the fish could be gone...

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..and this may not be the only change to come.

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All around the world, sea levels are rising.

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Soon our planet could be even more dominated by the ocean,

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and our ability to survive here will be pushed to the very limit.

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Yet there are some people who've already adapted to life in a water world.

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In the coral seas between Borneo, Sulawesi and the Philippines,

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there are people who live more intimately with the ocean

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than any other culture on earth.

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The Bajau Laut build their lives in the middle of the sea,

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often many kilometres from land.

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CHATTERING

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The ocean has a profound influence on every aspect of their existence.

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They even measure the passage of time by the rhythm of the tides

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rather than minutes and hours.

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And there are some whose relationship with the sea runs even deeper.

0:42:050:42:10

The Bajau, who live on houseboats,

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have almost completely severed their ties with the land.

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Nohara rarely sets foot ashore.

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Nohara and her family usually only visit land to trade for rice and fuel,

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or to mend their boats.

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But, like many Bajau, Nohara gets "land-sick"

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and she prefers to stay aboard.

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Her family has no nationality, no fixed abode and almost no money,

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but the ocean provides everything they need.

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They eat a bewildering variety of seafood.

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Her children adapt to an aquatic way of life from a very young age.

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Some Bajau children spend so much time in the sea,

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their eyes adjust to focus better underwater.

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But there's one member of this community whose adaptation is even more staggering.

0:44:000:44:05

Sulbin is an underwater hunter,

0:44:080:44:11

and the living proof of just how far we can push our bodies

0:44:110:44:15

towards a life aquatic.

0:44:150:44:17

Sulbin's search for supper takes him on an incredible journey under the waves,

0:44:400:44:46

and his abilities will take your breath away.

0:44:460:44:50

First he prepares by entering a trance-like state.

0:44:540:44:59

Sulbin is about to push his body almost beyond the realms of possibility,

0:45:180:45:25

and if you want to try and join him, get ready to hold your breath

0:45:250:45:28

for as long as you can.

0:45:280:45:30

He takes one last breath.

0:45:360:45:39

Focused and calm, Sulbin descends 20 metres to the sea floor.

0:46:010:46:07

His heartbeat slows to around 30 beats per minute.

0:46:170:46:21

The pressure at these depths crushes his chest,

0:46:220:46:25

squeezing the air in his lungs to one-third of its usual volume,

0:46:250:46:30

Even without weights, he's negatively buoyant enough

0:46:340:46:37

to stride across the bottom of the sea as if hunting on land.

0:46:370:46:42

By now, the carbon dioxide in his blood causes

0:46:590:47:03

an almost irresistible urge to gasp for air,

0:47:030:47:06

but Sulbin must keep his mind on the hunt.

0:47:060:47:10

After a minute and three-quarters, Sulbin spots a fish.

0:47:190:47:25

Sulbin can go even deeper than this and stay down for up to five minutes,

0:47:360:47:43

but he's not one to show off and, after all, he's got what he came for.

0:47:440:47:48

Two-and-a-half minutes of hunting under pressure on one breath.

0:47:510:47:57

Perhaps the idea of humans existing as marine mammals

0:47:570:48:01

is not so far-fetched after all.

0:48:010:48:03

Through amazing adaptability and endeavour,

0:48:150:48:18

we've pushed our limits of survival into the ocean

0:48:180:48:22

and, as we've immersed ourselves deeper in the sea,

0:48:220:48:25

it's had a profound effect on our lives.

0:48:250:48:29

But as we continue to change the nature of the greatest environment on our planet,

0:48:350:48:40

how we'll adapt in the future remains to be seen.

0:48:400:48:45

The most technical and demanding shoots for the Human Planet: Oceans programme

0:48:570:49:01

were those that took place underwater.

0:49:010:49:04

The dive camera crew were well prepared to film fishermen in the Philippines.

0:49:060:49:10

But they weren't quite prepared for the dangers they witnessed

0:49:100:49:15

and the friendships they'd forge.

0:49:150:49:17

Liminangcong is home to the 80

0:49:210:49:23

Pa-aling fishermen that the film crew will follow.

0:49:230:49:26

Two fishing boats are crammed with 80 divers, their food and provisions,

0:49:420:49:47

before heading out for two weeks at sea.

0:49:470:49:50

At the fishing grounds, Simon and Roger are playing catch-up,

0:49:540:49:56

as their technical underwater equipment is slowing them down.

0:49:560:50:01

They've dropped the lines. They didn't even tell us.

0:50:010:50:03

The captain seems to be on a mission to prove something today

0:50:030:50:06

so we've got to go fast.

0:50:060:50:08

Underwater filming is risky, but these risks are nothing

0:50:110:50:15

compared to those faced daily by the compressor divers.

0:50:150:50:19

Compressor diving is a dangerous way to make a living.

0:50:230:50:27

Air, often tainted with diesel,

0:50:280:50:31

is pumped through thin plastic tubes right down to the divers.

0:50:310:50:34

At 64, Joning is one of the veterans on the boat,

0:50:370:50:41

and knows the harsh realities of compressor diving.

0:50:410:50:44

Most of the divers are young and fit, and they need to be.

0:50:580:51:02

It's physically demanding work,

0:51:020:51:03

and the men are totally reliant on the compressor to keep them breathing.

0:51:030:51:08

To use, basically, what's essentially a garden hose down at 25 metres,

0:51:240:51:29

to pump air into your mouth, is just mad.

0:51:290:51:30

The biggest danger for these fishermen is known as

0:51:330:51:37

decompression sickness, or "the bends".

0:51:370:51:40

The bends can happen when divers have been down deep for a long time,

0:51:420:51:46

and then come up too quickly to the surface.

0:51:460:51:49

Nitrogen is absorbed into the body

0:51:490:51:52

and, as the divers rise up,

0:51:520:51:53

bubbles are formed that can lodge in the joints, causing intense pain.

0:51:530:51:58

Two guys are in real trouble on this deep dive.

0:52:010:52:06

Martin, a young diver, is in such pain

0:52:060:52:09

that his friend tries to relieve it by massaging him.

0:52:090:52:13

Once on the surface, it's obvious to everyone

0:52:150:52:18

that Martin is still in trouble.

0:52:180:52:20

If not treated, the bends can lead to permanent injuries and even death.

0:52:230:52:30

Meanwhile, the second diver, Michael, is also having problems.

0:52:320:52:37

It seems like two men just came up with the bends.

0:52:370:52:40

They went pretty deep on this dive, trying to get more fish.

0:52:400:52:42

But we've taken them onto our boat to get some medical attention

0:52:420:52:46

so, hopefully, they're all right.

0:52:460:52:49

Simon tries to relieve their symptoms with the crew's first aid supplies.

0:52:500:52:54

One more.

0:52:540:52:56

Michael's had 15 minutes on oxygen. Now put Martin

0:52:560:52:59

onto another set of 15 minutes. This is the...you know,

0:52:590:53:03

the rudimentary decompression first aid

0:53:030:53:05

we can give them at the moment -

0:53:050:53:07

give them oxygen, give them water to rehydrate and keep them warm.

0:53:070:53:11

Both of them are saying that their symptoms are decreasing

0:53:110:53:15

and they are looking a lot more happy than they did about half an hour ago.

0:53:150:53:19

He gives them oxygen,

0:53:190:53:21

which helps reduce the nitrogen in their bodies and relieves their pain,

0:53:210:53:25

but even this most basic of diving first aid

0:53:250:53:28

is not normally available to the Pa-aling fishermen.

0:53:280:53:31

No pain?

0:53:310:53:33

This isn't surprising

0:53:330:53:35

as the fishermen in the Philippines belong to the lowest wage earners in the country,

0:53:350:53:39

earning about 25 US dollars for a week's work.

0:53:390:53:44

However, for many, like Joning and his family,

0:53:450:53:48

this is their whole way of life.

0:53:480:53:51

His son had got the bends, and now has to use crutches.

0:54:220:54:26

But this isn't the only time the dangers of compressor diving

0:54:270:54:32

have hit Joning's family.

0:54:320:54:33

I'm very sorry about that.

0:55:060:55:08

-WOMAN TRANSLATES FROM ENGLISH

-Yeah. That's terrible.

0:55:080:55:12

-MUTTERS

-That's really...

0:55:120:55:14

-That's really sad, isn't it?

-It is.

0:55:140:55:17

Having spent a week living and working with the compressor divers,

0:55:280:55:31

Simon and Roger have become very close to the fishermen.

0:55:310:55:35

CHATTERING

0:55:350:55:37

To fully understand their way of life,

0:55:370:55:40

Simon needed to experience first-hand what it's like to be a compressor diver.

0:55:400:55:45

So Joning is keen to take him on a shallow dive.

0:55:470:55:52

AIR HISSES

0:55:520:55:53

I've seen the boys do it. They've made it look easy.

0:55:530:55:57

But we've had several guys that have gone down with symptoms of the bends.

0:55:570:56:00

I've got to admit that I'm feeling a little bit apprehensive.

0:56:000:56:04

Simon has scuba-dived for 16 years and has logged over 3,000 dives,

0:56:090:56:14

but this is diving at its most basic.

0:56:140:56:18

About the first minute, I got sent out,

0:56:240:56:28

I was, er...a little bit petrified, actually.

0:56:280:56:31

This is a violent thing. It's just punching air down your throat.

0:56:310:56:36

It's quite mad.

0:56:360:56:37

It took me a minute to kind of get myself under control

0:56:370:56:40

and then once you've got the hang of it,

0:56:400:56:42

and once you believe in it and trust in it, then you can swim on.

0:56:420:56:45

There were a couple of times when I lost it, though.

0:57:030:57:06

I was flailing around everywhere.

0:57:060:57:08

I was trying to find it again and get it back in.

0:57:080:57:11

But Joning was keeping a good eye on me, and the rest of the guys were as well,

0:57:110:57:17

but I wouldn't want to do that for a whole fish-catching session

0:57:170:57:22

that's for sure.

0:57:220:57:24

A strong camaraderie between the divers has been forged.

0:57:250:57:29

The film crew have captured a dramatic sequence,

0:57:290:57:33

and the fishermen head home happy, with a boatload of fish to sell.

0:57:330:57:37

Joning and everyone on board have finished another Pa-aling fishing trip,

0:57:560:58:02

and all can return safe and sound to their families.

0:58:020:58:05

As an air-breathing animal, the human is not built to survive in water. But people have found ways to live an almost aquatic life so they can exploit the sea's riches. From a 'shark-whisperer' in the Pacific to Brazilian fishermen collaborating with dolphins to catch mullet, this journey into the blue reveals astonishing tales of ingenuity and bravery.

Daredevil Galician barnacle-collectors defy death on the rocks for a catch worth £200 per kilo. In Indonesia an epic whale-hunt, using traditional hand-made boats and harpoons, brings in a sperm whale. The Bajau 'sea Gypsies' of the Sulu Sea spend so much time on water they get 'land sick' when they set foot on the land!

We dive 40 metres down to the dangerous world of the Pa-aling fishermen, where dozens of young men, breathing air through a tangled web of pipes attached to a diesel engine, capture thousands of fish in a vast net. We see how surfing has its origins in the ancient beliefs of the ocean-loving Polynesians, and we join a Borneo free-diving spear-fisherman on a breath-taking journey 20 metres down in search of supper.