Killer Whales: Beneath the Surface Natural World


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Killer Whales: Beneath the Surface

Documentary revealing the social, intelligent side of the killer whale - a creature long feared as a sea monster until it was studied in captivity for the first time.


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The killer whale.

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For thousands of years it was feared as a single-minded, ruthless hunter.

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But in just half a century, killer whales have emerged

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as the most popular and most studied marine mammals in the world.

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Our understanding of what they can do,

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and why they do it, has been transformed.

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When it comes to killer whales, not everything is black and white.

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A global investigation is producing a series of breakthroughs.

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It's on!

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-It's on, it's on.

-Got that one. It's a great sample!

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Using a range of techniques, scientists can enter

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the lives of these surprisingly complex creatures.

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It's a very selfless behaviour.

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OK. She's coming back around.

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They're revealing sophisticated teamwork...

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..incredible ingenuity...

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..even an advanced form of communication.

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I stumbled into the existence of a dialect system that

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I really had no idea existed.

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Now, the very latest research

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challenges our fundamental assumptions

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about what these animals are.

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There's not just THE killer whale anymore.

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Finally, the killer whale's true colours can be revealed.

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The west coast of America.

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Grey whales are migrating towards distant feeding grounds.

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A mother escorts her calf, trying to keep a low profile.

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But a pack of killers has spotted them.

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Seven metres long, five tonnes in weight and travelling at over

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30 miles an hour, a single killer whale is a formidable foe.

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Working as a team, they're almost invincible.

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The grey whale mother is six times the killer whales' weight.

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But like wolves, the ocean's top predators

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can take on creatures far larger than themselves.

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They take it in turns to dunk the youngster.

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They're trying to drown it.

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Others fend off its mother.

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She tries to push her baby to the surface.

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But against this co-ordinated pack, the outcome is inevitable.

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In 1874, a whaling captain

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who witnessed these "whale killers" in action

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described them as "spreading death and terror".

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And so the name "killer whale" was born.

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Bloody tales long haunted the human mind.

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The Roman writer Pliny described them

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as "loathsome, pig-eyed" assassins.

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Even their scientific name, Orcinus orca,

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means "whale from the realms of the dead".

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But in 1964, a chance event

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that would change this fearsome reputation forever.

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One of these terrifying sea monsters was

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brought into captivity for the first time.

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For John Ford, today a leading killer whale scientist,

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this would make a deep impression.

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The intention of the Vancouver Aquarium was to collect

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a specimen from which to make a realistic model of the animal.

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But the animal wasn't killed by the harpoon

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that they had used to capture it, and so they tried to keep it alive.

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They dragged it 40 miles

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to a specially constructed pen in Vancouver harbour,

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where it attracted huge crowds.

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My father took me down there, I guess I was nine years old at the time.

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And it was extremely thrilling seeing this

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large, scary killer whale in a captive setting.

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The public quickly realised how placid this so-called killer

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actually was.

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It dispelled, I think,

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a lot of the mythology, in that it wasn't a ferocious animal -

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it didn't attack people, it responded well to trainers,

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it took fish readily from their hands -

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and so I think that was the very beginning

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of the change of public attitude towards this species.

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They christened it "Moby Doll".

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And they noticed for the first time that this animal talked.

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She's making various sounds, which you're recording.

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-Could you give us a listen to these?

-Yes, certainly.

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These were made with a hydrophone in the water.

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WHISTLES AND SQUEAKS

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Have you any idea just what these noises might be in response to?

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Oh, they may be curiosity on the part of the whale, they might be

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a sign of nervousness, or she may be calling for others of her kind.

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I gather it will be some time before you classify these words

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-and make this dictionary, which you hope to do eventually.

-Yes, it will.

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This pioneering work was the first step on the road to revealing

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the killer whale's true nature.

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And by the time Moby Doll died of poor health after just 87 days,

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this single killer whale had inspired a generation

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to find out more.

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The discovery of unique markings on the dorsal fin

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and saddle patch meant individuals could be identified and followed.

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Gradually, scientists began to unravel their private lives.

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The largest of the dolphins, killer whales live in family pods,

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led not by the big-finned males, but by a matriarch.

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Females reach maturity at around 14 years

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and have a calf around every three.

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Both sexes usually remain with their families for life.

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Determined to find out more, a young John Ford set out to sea.

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In the early '70s, he got to know 16 pods living around Vancouver Island.

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I was really interested in underwater acoustics,

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the communication of these whales.

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I realised this was an opportunity to actually go out

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and record identified groups of killer whales.

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Often they come under and investigate the hydrophone underwater.

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Oh! Looks like A39.

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Hoping to understand their language,

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John started to analyse each family's calls.

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Ah, there it is again, it's a really strong,

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descending tone that... HE WHISTLES ..is classically H.

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But he was in for a surprise.

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Very early in this work,

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by recording different groups I...stumbled into the existence

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of a dialect system that I really had no idea existed.

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These dialects aren't subtle, they're quite striking to the ear,

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even the untrained ear.

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With modern technology, John can analyse the calls more closely.

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This is an example right here of a northern resident group.

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Each individual shares the same repertoire

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of very distinctive calls.

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Now, we'll just switch to the southern residents,

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here, you can see immediately that the voice print,

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the spectrograms, are quite different between the two samples.

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Each killer whale pod has its own dialect,

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allowing individuals to recognise family members,

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and stick with them for life.

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Related families have similar dialects.

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What surprised John was finding a totally different language

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in the same Canadian waters.

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Occasionally, we would run into a different kind of killer whale.

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These little groups were very silent, but when they DID vocalise

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they made sounds that were entirely different from the resident groups.

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Because they only appeared from time to time,

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these pods were nicknamed "transients".

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Unlike the residents John knew so well, they had no interest in fish.

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They were mammal eaters.

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For a single killer whale,

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a three-metre, one-tonne Steller sea lion makes a formidable target.

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But against a pod of natural-born killers,

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this lone male stands little chance.

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The transients work together.

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One catches the sea lion's attention.

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The second attacks.

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She bludgeons the sea lion into submission.

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The sea lion looks beaten,

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but the killer whales know to stick to their strategy.

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There's no need to risk being bitten now.

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A calf watches from the sidelines,

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learning techniques passed down from generation to generation.

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It may seem savage, but it's hugely effective.

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The transients, it seems, have their own unique lifestyle,

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comparable to a human culture.

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We now realise that, even though the species is found globally,

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in most parts of the world they seem to be highly specialised cultures

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that are focused on different prey types.

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New Zealand's killer whale culture specialises in stingrays.

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The spines in their tails have been known to kill.

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But the local killers have found a way round this thorny problem.

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By inverting her victim, this female puts it in a trance

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and its sting out of action.

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In Patagonia, the most famous killer whale culture of them all.

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It takes years to perfect this extraordinary beaching technique.

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But behaviours like these mean this top predator

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can exploit every corner of the ocean.

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After man, killer whales are the most widespread mammal on Earth.

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But this global population is divided into at least ten cultures.

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Scientists began to wonder how different these cultures were.

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Could there be multiple subspecies

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or even separate species of killer whale?

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Southern California, just north of San Diego.

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The hub of a global investigation into killer whale genetics.

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Phillip Morin is analysing DNA samples from around the world

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with the very latest equipment, to build a killer whale family tree.

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The new technologies have really changed the way we do genetics.

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We can sequence 16 times more DNA than we were doing before

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in a single experiment

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from hundreds of individuals.

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The key is to work out

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when different populations stopped inter-breeding.

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The genetics are showing us that the time of divergence of these

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is much deeper than we had thought originally.

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It's in the order of hundreds of thousands of years,

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not tens of thousands of years.

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We humans only split from our ancestors around 200,000 years ago.

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Killer whales parted ways much earlier than that.

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First to go, 700,000 years ago, were North America's mammal-eaters.

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Next, the Antarctic population. That then split into several groups.

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Other cultures have continued to diversify ever since.

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Defining new species is a contentious issue.

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But Phillip now thinks there could be four different species

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of killer whale, and maybe more.

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There's not just THE killer whale any more.

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There are different species out there, and they're as different

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as two species of dolphin or two species of other whales.

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Look closely, and the physical differences are there.

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Size...

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..colour...

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..fin shape...

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..saddle pattern...

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..eye spot.

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This extraordinary discovery shatters our age-old perception

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of one global killer whale.

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Remarkably, there's a place

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where THREE of these proposed species live alongside each other.

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Antarctica. The killer whale capital of the world.

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To find out how these different types coexist, John Durban

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and Bob Pitman are heading deep into the ice floes,

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with a very smart piece of kit.

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This is one of the satellite tags that we hope to deploy

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on the killer whales and it should give us

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location hits maybe up to 30 or 40 times a day.

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We hope at least every hour.

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It's cutting-edge technology.

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But it takes a centuries-old method to attach it.

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OK, she's coming back around.

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The 40 gram tag is barely registered by the massive predator.

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Now, John and Bob can follow its every move.

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It's big. There's lots here, there's probably eight here.

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The tagged killer heads deep into the ice.

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She's one of the pack-ice killer whales,

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recognisable by ragged fins and a yellowish hue.

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They specialise in hunting seals.

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First, they "spy-hop" to pinpoint their targets.

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Then, in perfect synchrony, they create a powerful wave.

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The seals withstand the first assault.

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A second orchestrated attack.

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One makes a break for it.

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It won't get far.

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The titanic struggle is entering its final phase.

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Only the iceberg can save the seal now.

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Against lesser predators, the feisty seal would stand a chance.

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But not against this team of specialist seal killers.

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When the next species is tagged, striking differences are revealed.

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Antarctic Type As.

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Much darker in colour, and at nine metres long,

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a third larger than most other killer whales.

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Their huge size is an adaptation to hunting whales.

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Minke whales.

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Living along the ice edge,

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the minkes retreat at the first sign of danger.

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But one has ventured away from safety.

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The killers cut it off.

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This species uses stamina to wear down its fast-moving prey.

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The minke's only hope is to exhaust its attackers.

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But taking it in turns, the deadly entourage doesn't relent.

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DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYS

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After two hours, the minke's powers of fight and flight are waning.

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The whale killers close in to drown their victim.

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They've earned their feast.

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One by one, Bob and John are recording

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more and more remarkable strategies.

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PENGUIN SQUAWKS

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A third pod, much smaller in size.

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These more agile killers are built to catch penguins.

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And there are others, which Bob and John believe hunt fish.

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It seems that by specialising in different prey,

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each of Antarctica's killer whale species avoids competition.

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This enables them all to thrive.

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At least 25,000, or half the killer whales on the planet,

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inhabit these waters.

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But how do these new species start out?

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The answer lies at the other end of the earth...

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..where scientists are investigating a split

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in the North Atlantic killer whale population.

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In Iceland, Filipa Samarra and her team need to get within

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touching distance of a feeding killer whale...

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..so they can attach their equivalent of an aircraft black box.

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The D-tag has two hydrophones which

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basically record the sounds underwater.

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It records the movements of the whales

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and the depth that the whales are at.

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It has the suction cups, and that's how it goes on the whale,

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and it has this antenna, which helps us track where the whale is

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and get the tag back at the end.

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Each killer whale needs a lot of fish

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to satisfy its monster appetite.

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This remarkable device should reveal how they do it.

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Until now it's been thought that all North Atlantic killer whales

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use the same technique originally observed in Norway.

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First, the killers track down their prey

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- shoals of herring hiding in the depths.

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CLICKING

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They use clicks and listen for the echo. A sophisticated sonar.

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When one locates its target, it whistles its excitement.

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Then the pod heads down together, sometimes over 200 metres.

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KILLER WHALES WHISTLE

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It takes several hours to corral the herring up to the surface...

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..a natural barrier to escape.

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Gradually, the killer whales panic their prey

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into tighter and tighter balls.

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Finally, they whack them.

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They stun whole swathes of fish...

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..then suck up the oil-rich pickings.

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WHISTLING CONTINUES

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But in Iceland, there's no sign of herring being pushed to the surface.

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These hunters must have developed a new technique.

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There's only one way to find out.

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Oh, we know this one, so that's good.

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But deploying the D-tag seems beyond Filipa's team.

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A change of personnel brings a change in fortune.

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First, a youngster.

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-It's on!

-It's on, it's on!

-Oh, my God.

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Then, a big male.

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-It's on, it's on.

-He-he!

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Nice tagging, Ivan! That was great.

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To form a picture of what's happening in the dark depths,

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the team employs an acoustic camera.

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-OK, we have whales on sonar.

-OK.

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Three whales.

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Three whales?

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This is a multi-beam sonar, which basically gives us

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an image of what's going on underwater

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so we can see the whales interacting with the fish.

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This tells us what the fish is doing when the whales are feeding.

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The team gathers data for the rest of the day.

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Filipa can now put the evidence together.

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First, the multi-beam sonar.

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KILLER WHALES SQUEAK

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The sonar really works as a giant ultrasound, and you see

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that the whales are actually

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encircling the school of herring, so they're moving around it,

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and they do this to make the school tighter.

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Then the D-tag reveals the killer information.

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Here we can see what depth they are going to,

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that the whales are moving quite straight,

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they're not making any sounds.

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But when they start moving in circles,

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we see that they go much deeper and they also produce a lot of sounds.

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One sound in particular catches Filipa's attention.

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You can hear it now.

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WHALE WHINES

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So this is the herding call, which is a very low-frequency

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and long call, and we think that it's really used to

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basically scare the herring, so it

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makes the swim bladder of the herring vibrate,

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and it makes the whole herring school bunch even tighter,

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which is a very effective hunting technique for these whales.

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Most North Atlantic killer whales take hours to herd up their prey...

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..but thanks to their unique "herding call",

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Iceland's killers do the same thing in minutes.

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This small innovation is hugely significant.

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It shows that the North Atlantic's

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fish-eating killer whales are growing apart.

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As more differences develop and populations become isolated,

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eventually a new species could emerge.

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The discovery of different kinds of killer whale

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has real implications for their conservation.

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Each is precious.

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None more so than the southern residents of Washington State.

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50 years ago, the public's fascination with Moby Doll

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lead to a huge demand for captive killer whales.

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Trappers knew just where to look.

0:32:280:32:30

In places just like this, from the early '60s,

0:32:350:32:39

the resident killer whales were

0:32:390:32:41

rounded up and captured

0:32:410:32:43

for the aquarium industry.

0:32:430:32:45

For Sam Wasser, the memories are still fresh.

0:32:470:32:50

Trappers used boats, helicopters

0:33:070:33:10

and explosives to herd frightened animals into sheltered bays.

0:33:100:33:14

KILLER WHALES SQUEAK

0:33:140:33:16

It must have been horrific for these whales,

0:33:200:33:23

because for one thing, killer whales are a predator,

0:33:230:33:25

they're very, very intelligent and they're highly social organisms.

0:33:250:33:29

And putting all those animals together and then ripping

0:33:290:33:32

the young away from their mothers

0:33:320:33:34

must have just been enormously stressful.

0:33:340:33:37

MUSIC: "Goodbye Blue Sky" by Pink Floyd

0:33:420:33:44

One of the real telltale signs of that is that in Penn Cove where one

0:33:460:33:51

of the really big captures happened, those animals have not been back.

0:33:510:33:55

By 1976, following a backlash from conservationists,

0:34:000:34:04

the authorities called a halt to the round-ups.

0:34:040:34:07

But the damage had been done.

0:34:080:34:10

Four decades on, just 84 southern residents survive.

0:34:160:34:21

And this number is falling.

0:34:210:34:23

Sam wants to find out why.

0:34:270:34:29

His main research tool is a far cry from the modern technology

0:34:350:34:39

being used elsewhere.

0:34:390:34:40

Tucker, a rescue dog with a special talent.

0:34:430:34:46

He's known as "The Pooper Snooper".

0:34:490:34:52

OVER RADIO: We've got a super pod...

0:34:550:34:57

..about four-and-a-half southwest of...

0:34:590:35:03

Fantastic.

0:35:040:35:06

Sam has three theories for the killer whales' decline.

0:35:060:35:09

Lack of food, a build-up of man-made chemicals

0:35:120:35:18

and stress caused by whale-watching boats.

0:35:180:35:20

Sam needs to find the smoking gun.

0:35:230:35:25

But his methods are unconventional.

0:35:280:35:31

When we first started, people thought we were crazy, but now

0:35:330:35:36

they're taking it quite seriously, and they realise this is an

0:35:360:35:39

incredibly powerful method and there's nothing like it.

0:35:390:35:43

Tucker is an expert at sniffing out killer whale poo.

0:35:430:35:47

Dogs are easily five times more efficient than a human.

0:35:480:35:52

If you were just trying to do this without a dog,

0:35:520:35:54

you'd have to be right behind the whale.

0:35:540:35:56

Killer whale faeces float, but not for long.

0:35:590:36:01

TUCKER PANTS

0:36:010:36:03

Tucker must be fully focused.

0:36:030:36:05

When he senses his target,

0:36:230:36:25

Tucker makes it clear where the boat has to go.

0:36:250:36:27

-I see it, right there.

-Bringing you around, Amanda.

-Great. It's brown.

0:36:290:36:34

Like about the size of a dollar. A paper dollar.

0:36:350:36:38

Nice one over here. Oh, huge one, Giles, go straight.

0:36:400:36:44

Huge! Who, look at that. I got it there.

0:36:450:36:49

Got that one. Got it. Good, it's a great sample.

0:36:490:36:52

All in a day's work for The Pooper Snooper.

0:36:560:36:59

That's a good boy, buddy, good job!

0:36:590:37:01

The whole trick to this method is to find these dogs that are

0:37:010:37:06

so obsessed with their ball that he will just keep working

0:37:060:37:09

all day long, nonstop, for this ball reward.

0:37:090:37:14

Well done. Ooh, awesome.

0:37:140:37:17

Woo-hoo, that is a stinky!

0:37:170:37:20

Doesn't get better than that.

0:37:210:37:22

The stinky samples contain incredible information.

0:37:220:37:26

We can get a whole health profile from the animal.

0:37:260:37:28

We can get, you know, its psychological stress state,

0:37:280:37:31

its nutritional stress state, its reproductive condition,

0:37:310:37:35

if it's pregnant or not, what the toxin loads are -

0:37:350:37:38

and you can tie all of that to the

0:37:380:37:40

time of the year that we're collecting the samples and what the conditions are -

0:37:400:37:44

how much fish are around,

0:37:440:37:45

how many boats are around, so it's pretty remarkable really.

0:37:450:37:48

Sam has discovered that the southern residents are starving.

0:37:510:37:54

Over-fishing and the damming of breeding rivers

0:37:570:38:00

mean their salmon prey are in short supply.

0:38:000:38:03

As a result, their stress hormones soar,

0:38:050:38:07

and they break down their body fat.

0:38:070:38:09

This releases DDT and other toxins into the bloodstream.

0:38:130:38:17

It's enough to kill a whale.

0:38:190:38:20

But that's not all.

0:38:250:38:26

During the captures in the '60s and '70s, almost an entire generation

0:38:280:38:32

was removed, leaving few animals of breeding age today.

0:38:320:38:36

They haven't been breeding that well

0:38:360:38:38

and two of the three pods have been producing nothing but males -

0:38:380:38:45

the last 13 births, 11 of them have been male.

0:38:450:38:49

The reason that they're making more males could be chance,

0:38:490:38:53

but sometimes with inbreeding you tend to produce more males.

0:38:530:38:57

But killer whales are resilient animals.

0:39:000:39:02

These large mammals that have a long generation time,

0:39:050:39:08

they can recover.

0:39:080:39:10

We just have to make sure that they have the ability to recover

0:39:100:39:14

and that means having good food,

0:39:140:39:16

having a clean environment to live in

0:39:160:39:18

and reducing their stress loads.

0:39:180:39:21

The southern residents will need human help to survive.

0:39:240:39:27

But a recent finding suggests that killer whales

0:39:290:39:32

can learn to help themselves.

0:39:320:39:34

In the Falkland Islands,

0:39:460:39:47

the elephant seals are wise to the predators lurking just offshore.

0:39:470:39:52

They won't leave the safety of the beach

0:39:560:39:58

until it's absolutely necessary.

0:39:580:40:00

As a result, few killer whales patrol these shores.

0:40:050:40:08

But recently it was discovered that one female

0:40:110:40:14

has found a way to unlock this rich source of food.

0:40:140:40:18

Silently,

0:40:230:40:25

stealthily,

0:40:250:40:26

she risks it all to enter a tidal pool.

0:40:260:40:30

Her calf follows her every move, learning her unique technique.

0:40:310:40:37

If she gets the timing wrong,

0:40:510:40:53

she'll be stranded and die.

0:40:530:40:55

But if she can sneak in unnoticed,

0:40:570:41:00

the rewards will be worth the risk.

0:41:000:41:02

The female spots her target.

0:41:120:41:15

The tide is falling, she doesn't have long.

0:41:160:41:18

She edges further into the pool.

0:41:210:41:23

This is her chance.

0:41:320:41:33

Now, with a mouth full of floundering seal,

0:41:430:41:45

she must escape the shallow channel.

0:41:450:41:48

She's made it.

0:42:030:42:05

Amazingly, she won't keep her prize to herself.

0:42:070:42:10

It's the rest of her family that reaps the reward.

0:42:130:42:17

It's a brutal end for the young seal.

0:42:290:42:32

But this selfless behaviour is key to this family's survival.

0:42:360:42:40

And there's new evidence that this commitment to others

0:42:450:42:49

goes beyond what we've ever expected.

0:42:490:42:51

It's summer in the Norwegian Arctic.

0:43:010:43:03

German biologist Heike Vester has made a remarkable discovery.

0:43:070:43:11

She and her assistant Madita have found a family

0:43:200:43:23

that takes caring and sharing to a level rarely seen

0:43:230:43:27

in the animal kingdom.

0:43:270:43:28

And here is one.

0:43:290:43:31

Hello.

0:43:310:43:33

That's the female with the nick!

0:43:330:43:35

It's very easy to recognise.

0:43:380:43:40

And she has a calf, so she might be nursing the calf.

0:43:400:43:46

You can see that she's being pushed from below.

0:43:460:43:49

There is the calf! So she was nursing the calf.

0:43:490:43:52

Very nice.

0:43:520:43:54

Like all killer whale families, this one is led by a matriarch.

0:43:560:44:01

But one pod member sets this family apart.

0:44:020:44:05

It's a female. Stumpy...

0:44:060:44:08

Oh. Got Stumpy over here.

0:44:080:44:11

Right there, see?

0:44:110:44:12

Stumpy's severed fin means she's easily identified.

0:44:150:44:19

First spotted in 1996,

0:44:220:44:24

people assumed she'd been hit by a boat.

0:44:240:44:27

Six years later,

0:44:300:44:32

her mother had vanished

0:44:320:44:33

and Stumpy had taken up with another pod.

0:44:330:44:36

Since then she's been seen with four different families.

0:44:380:44:42

I'm so happy to see her again

0:44:420:44:45

because she's 17 years old now

0:44:450:44:47

and she's really handicapped

0:44:470:44:49

and she could not have survived by herself.

0:44:490:44:52

To find out how she does survive,

0:44:540:44:56

Heike wants to see Stumpy underwater.

0:44:560:44:58

-There she is.

-There she is, yeah.

0:44:580:45:01

With the camera crew here, this is her chance.

0:45:030:45:06

Oh, wow, I didn't expect that.

0:45:130:45:17

It's really twisted.

0:45:170:45:20

Now, from above, you only see

0:45:230:45:26

the dorsal fin that's cut, but then now I could really see the back,

0:45:260:45:31

and it really looks like it has problems swimming.

0:45:310:45:35

The tail is restricted in movement.

0:45:350:45:38

It doesn't really go all the way up and down.

0:45:380:45:41

When she's struggling harder than the others,

0:45:460:45:49

that means that she would use much more energy than the others would,

0:45:490:45:52

so probably would need to feed more than the others,

0:45:520:45:55

which she could not catch by herself.

0:45:550:45:58

This could explain why Stumpy's growth has been stunted.

0:46:060:46:09

To find out how she eats at all,

0:46:100:46:12

Heike must witness a hunt.

0:46:120:46:14

So we've stopped now because the killer whales are over there

0:46:220:46:25

and it looks like they're foraging.

0:46:250:46:27

What I'll do now, is put in the hydrophone

0:46:290:46:32

and listen so that I know they are foraging,

0:46:320:46:34

because if they do, they use echolocation clicks.

0:46:340:46:38

Nearly 50 years after the first attempts to interpret Moby Doll's calls,

0:46:400:46:45

Heike is still trying to unravel their language.

0:46:450:46:49

RAPID CLICKING

0:46:490:46:51

That means they are looking for fish,

0:46:510:46:53

they're scanning the fjord.

0:46:530:46:55

Their sophisticated sonar can determine the size

0:46:560:46:59

and even species of fish nearby.

0:46:590:47:02

Heike's found that this family targets mackerel and salmon.

0:47:040:47:08

Stumpy seems keen to join in.

0:47:120:47:15

And I listen out for any changes in their communication.

0:47:180:47:22

Because as soon as they get a fish,

0:47:220:47:24

especially a salmon,

0:47:240:47:25

I will hear it immediately.

0:47:250:47:27

Each species of fish provokes a different call.

0:47:280:47:32

Ah! They are calling.

0:47:320:47:34

Might be that they found a fish.

0:47:340:47:36

HIGH-PITCHED CALLS

0:47:360:47:39

Suddenly, action.

0:47:390:47:41

Yay-yay - action!

0:47:450:47:47

Whoa, next to us, on the left side.

0:47:480:47:50

It's every killer whale for itself,

0:47:520:47:55

chasing down the mackerel one by one.

0:47:550:47:57

But the real surprise is Stumpy.

0:47:590:48:02

Over there. It's the female and Stumpy, hunting together.

0:48:020:48:06

WHALES SQUEAK

0:48:060:48:08

She's right at the heart of it...

0:48:080:48:10

..chasing not the fish, but the other killer whales.

0:48:130:48:16

The six-metre female has caught a mackerel,

0:48:200:48:23

barely 30 centimetres long.

0:48:230:48:25

She could easily swallow it whole.

0:48:250:48:28

Instead, she slices it in half and drops a share.

0:48:280:48:32

Stumpy is there to grab it.

0:48:320:48:34

Whether she's being deliberately fed

0:48:380:48:41

or just scavenging scraps is hard to tell.

0:48:410:48:44

But this shred of evidence must explain Stumpy's survival.

0:48:440:48:49

But why would a family of killer whales adopt and care

0:48:520:48:56

for a handicapped animal?

0:48:560:48:58

The reason why the others would help Stumpy

0:48:580:49:02

is probably purely social -

0:49:020:49:05

that in such a community the whole group is important

0:49:050:49:09

and not just individuals,

0:49:090:49:11

so they wouldn't leave sick individuals behind.

0:49:110:49:14

They'd rather take care of them.

0:49:140:49:16

It's very selfless behaviour.

0:49:220:49:24

This could be one example of the killer whales to show

0:49:240:49:28

how social they are.

0:49:280:49:31

But there's more to it than we know, right now,

0:49:310:49:33

which makes it really, really exciting.

0:49:330:49:35

Perhaps this should come as no surprise.

0:49:380:49:41

Recent studies of killer whale brains have revealed

0:49:410:49:45

specialised cells for processing emotions - similar to our own.

0:49:450:49:49

Stumpy's story shows how far our understanding has come

0:49:570:50:02

since Moby Doll first captured people's hearts.

0:50:020:50:05

Captive killer whales still draw huge crowds.

0:50:160:50:20

SeaWorld has grown into a three billion dollar franchise.

0:50:320:50:36

But there's a price to pay for putting large, sociable predators

0:50:390:50:44

in small, artificial environments.

0:50:440:50:47

Since 1988, SeaWorld has recorded over a hundred incidents

0:50:470:50:51

of aggression towards trainers

0:50:510:50:54

and there have been four fatalities

0:50:540:50:56

in theme parks across the globe.

0:50:560:50:58

In contrast, no-one has ever been killed in the wild.

0:50:590:51:03

Trainers aren't allowed in the pool any more.

0:51:030:51:06

The capture of wild killer whales is now banned across the western world.

0:51:080:51:12

But recently, an exception.

0:51:130:51:15

A stranded calf rescued in Holland.

0:51:220:51:26

The courts had three options - release her,

0:51:260:51:29

put her down

0:51:290:51:30

or bring her into captivity.

0:51:300:51:32

The Dutch authorities decided the safest option was to move her

0:51:320:51:35

to Tenerife's Loro Parque

0:51:350:51:38

who agreed to look after her.

0:51:380:51:40

Heike has come to see this latest arrival.

0:51:400:51:43

Good morning. Heike?

0:51:450:51:47

'She believes it's related to her study animals in Norway,

0:51:470:51:50

'and like Stumpy could be taken up by a wild pod.'

0:51:500:51:54

Inside, I'm very nervous and quite upset

0:51:570:51:59

so I have to calm myself down.

0:51:590:52:02

Please, take your time. No problem.

0:52:020:52:04

Heike's never seen captive killer whales before.

0:52:060:52:10

KILLER WHALE SQUEAKS

0:52:100:52:13

SQUEAKING INTENSIFIES

0:52:170:52:19

Well, I would like to stay here and just get acquainted a little bit.

0:52:190:52:22

OK.

0:52:220:52:23

You know, I recognise the calls.

0:52:230:52:26

-It's hard for me to...

-OK.

-..to hear that. So...

0:52:260:52:30

The calls of the new arrival - Morgan -

0:52:310:52:34

at least partially match the dialect of a pod in Norway

0:52:340:52:38

that Heike thinks could be her family.

0:52:380:52:40

But despite a campaign to release her,

0:52:420:52:44

Loro Parque will continue to look after Morgan

0:52:440:52:48

as requested by the Dutch authorities.

0:52:480:52:50

In the meantime, its trainers work hard

0:52:500:52:53

to keep all their killer whales physically and mentally stimulated.

0:52:530:52:58

But Morgan's keepers soon reported

0:53:080:53:10

that she wasn't responding to their whistles.

0:53:100:53:13

So Javier arranged for a hearing test.

0:53:140:53:17

I have here the results.

0:53:260:53:28

They found that she has hearing loss that could be even total.

0:53:290:53:34

If Morgan is deaf, it could explain her stranding

0:53:360:53:39

and support her remaining in captivity.

0:53:390:53:41

This could mean a life in Loro Parque's Big Top.

0:53:490:53:53

It's show time!

0:53:570:53:59

The trainers do their best

0:54:080:54:10

to put on a performance.

0:54:100:54:12

Loro Parque believes the show makes a connection

0:54:190:54:22

between people and animals,

0:54:220:54:23

and every year they channel 100,000 euros

0:54:230:54:26

into whale and dolphin research and conservation.

0:54:260:54:30

For me, it doesn't match up.

0:54:300:54:32

To keep such animals in captivity, for this?

0:54:320:54:37

Sorry, it's not enough.

0:54:370:54:40

So what about Morgan?

0:54:450:54:47

Finding her suspected family again could be difficult

0:54:480:54:51

and her deafness has to be considered,

0:54:510:54:53

but Heike still feels there's hope.

0:54:530:54:56

Seeing Stumpy this summer

0:54:570:55:00

proved that even if we don't find Morgan's direct relatives

0:55:000:55:05

and her family group

0:55:050:55:07

that there's still a good chance

0:55:070:55:09

that she will be taken care by other groups that are not related to her.

0:55:090:55:14

Morgan's story reveals how our relationship with killer whales

0:55:150:55:19

is still evolving.

0:55:190:55:21

When we first had chimpanzees in captivity,

0:55:210:55:24

we also made them do tricks,

0:55:240:55:27

they had to wear clothes and so on -

0:55:270:55:29

and now we learned, and they are in more natural groups,

0:55:290:55:32

in a more natural environment.

0:55:320:55:34

And I think we have to go this way

0:55:340:55:36

because the captive animals that are there now,

0:55:360:55:38

some of them cannot be released,

0:55:380:55:41

so you have to find the best way possible

0:55:410:55:43

for these animals to retire

0:55:430:55:45

and make it as natural as possible.

0:55:450:55:48

Captive killer whales have raised the profile of their kind,

0:55:540:55:59

but their future is uncertain.

0:55:590:56:02

In the time since Moby Doll first went on public display,

0:56:080:56:12

our understanding of killer whales has changed beyond recognition.

0:56:120:56:16

It's amazing today to look back when this study began

0:56:220:56:25

and how little we knew about the species.

0:56:250:56:28

We didn't really know what they ate,

0:56:280:56:30

what their life cycle was like,

0:56:300:56:32

their natural history,

0:56:320:56:33

anything about their biology really. It was all mythology.

0:56:330:56:36

These were just the scary,

0:56:360:56:38

dangerous predators that were to be shot on sight.

0:56:380:56:41

But with evidence gathered from across the globe,

0:56:420:56:45

we now have a clear picture of the killer whale's true nature.

0:56:450:56:50

They can be brutal...

0:56:510:56:53

..intelligent...

0:57:000:57:02

..and can work as a deadly team.

0:57:040:57:06

The emergence of new species changes the way

0:57:120:57:14

we look at killer whale populations across the world.

0:57:140:57:18

While some are struggling to survive,

0:57:200:57:23

others are finding ways to adapt.

0:57:230:57:26

Interpreting their language is still a dream.

0:57:300:57:33

I gather it'll be some time, then,

0:57:350:57:37

before you can classify these words and make this dictionary

0:57:370:57:39

-which you hope to do eventually.

-Yes, it will.

0:57:390:57:41

But the discovery of close families and diverse cultures

0:57:440:57:48

means we can relate to killer whales more closely than to any other

0:57:480:57:51

animal in the ocean.

0:57:510:57:53

Maybe we're not the only ones that are social

0:57:550:57:59

and take care of each other but that animals are more similar to us

0:57:590:58:03

than we believed before.

0:58:030:58:05

After a 50-year journey from fear to fascination,

0:58:080:58:11

a new era of understanding

0:58:110:58:14

is just beginning.

0:58:140:58:16

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:250:58:28

The killer whale was long feared as a sea monster until, in May 1964, one was brought into captivity for the first time. This spawned a journey of discovery into the killer whale's true nature.

It quickly became clear these were not mindless killers - they were, in fact, highly intelligent social creatures. Today, our understanding is deepening still further and the latest revelations are among the most sensational - not only will these top predators 'adopt' and care for injured and abandoned orphans, but it seems there's no longer just the 'killer whale'.