Big Beasts (2023–…): Season 1, Episode 1 - The Grey Whale - full transcript

Embarking on an epic journey for food, a mother whale leads her calf on the longest migration of any mammal.

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[Tom Hiddleston]
Giant animals, living legends.

Fantastic creatures.

These are nature's big beasts.

But experience the world
from their perspective,

and you'll see it's not easy being huge.


- The larger the animal...
- [growling]

...the higher the stakes

and the more epic the adventure.

Parents go to great lengths
to keep their children safe.

But one ocean giant
goes further than any other.


As long as a bus,

this eight-year-old gray whale

is about to make the greatest migration
of any mammal on the planet.

An epic undertaking...

especially with
a two-month-old calf in tow.

Already 20-feet long
and growing fast on fat-rich milk.

But while this warm,
sheltered bay in Mexico

seems an ideal place to raise a calf...

there's nothing here for Mum to eat...

and she's slowly starving.

Her feeding grounds are 5,000 miles away.
Far to the north.

A grueling journey
that will risk her baby's life.

But they must leave now,
or Mum won't have the energy to make it.

With a deep breath
that would fill our lungs a hundred times...

she leads her little leviathan
from the safety of his nursery...

into the big, blue beyond.

Mother and calf must travel the length
of North America's west coast,

through the Pacific.

This vast ocean contains over half
of the water on Earth

and an enormous number of marine giants.

The world's biggest fish.

The deadliest sharks.

And a legendary sea monster.


Giant Pacific octopuses
can weigh 100 pounds

and reach the length of three men.

And this one is on a mission
to grow even larger.

There are plenty of places to hide here...

but not from a predator as smart as her.

With one central brain
and a mini-brain in every arm,

octopuses are the most intelligent
invertebrates in the world.



And she's more than a cold-blooded killer.

Now four years old,
she's about to become a mum.

The bigger she gets, the better
the chances her babies will survive.

So she's doing all she can
to pile on the pounds.


She's still hungry,

but it's time to take a breather.

Even with three hearts
to oxygenate her body,

she's so huge,
it's easy to run out of steam.

[whale rumbles]

But the gray whales must press on.

Using the coastline to navigate,
they travel at three miles an hour.

It's hard for the calf to keep up.

To maintain his strength,
he refuels on a bath full of milk a day.

But while he gains 300 pounds a week,
Mum is losing weight.

And her next meal
is still thousands of miles away.

This journey is her calf's
first chance to meet the locals.



A family of dolphins
come to ride their bow wave.

Their eight-foot bodies
dwarfed by his massive mum.

[whale rumbles]

[dolphins whistling]

But even she seems small
compared to one giant out here.

[whale calling]

The loudest call the calf will ever hear.

It carries over a thousand miles

and belongs to
the largest animal ever to have lived.

A blue whale.

Ninety-feet long, it's twice the length
of the gray whale mum.

With dense saltwater
to support their weight,

ocean animals can become
far larger than those on land.

Blue whales supersize

by feeding on creatures
no bigger than a fingertip.

In just one gulp,
they can swallow half a million calories.

Enough krill to fill a truck.

Thankfully, this gentle giant is no threat
to the mother and calf.

After 800 miles,
they've made it to California.

[people laughing, chattering]

Home to unusual creatures...

wary residents...

and a most extraordinary colossus.

[otters squeaking]

Giant kelp.

The world's largest algae.

And one of
the fastest-growing organisms of all.

Its huge fronds can gain
two feet every day...

and reach the height of an oak tree.

Making it the tallest living thing
in the ocean.

Air-filled sacs keep the kelp upright.

And like a vast underwater rain forest,

these big friendly giants provide food
and shelter for all sorts of sea life.

Plenty of prey for a hungry mum-to-be.

The enormous octopus is on the hunt again.


But this time, she's not looking for food.

Now she's built up her reserves,
she needs somewhere safe to lay her eggs.

And she'd better find it fast.

For a sea lion,
even a giant octopus is a soft target.

A big, boneless body full of protein.

Changing shape and color...

in the blink of an eye,
she blends into the background.

But she's already been spotted.

No matter, this queen of camouflage
is also an expert escape artist.

[sea lion barks]

She can disappear in a puff of ink.

And for her final,
seemingly impossible trick...

she squeezes her gargantuan body

through a gap no wider than a mail slot.

Safe inside her future nursery,

she closes the door
for the first and last time.

One giant's enemy is another's friend.

Nosy sea lions,
keen to check out their enormous visitors,

join the whales
for a game of underwater tag.

[whale calls]

Then suddenly their playmates vanish.

[distant whistling]

The calf has no idea
what these calls mean.

But Mum knows only too well.


Known as killer whales for a reason.

These six-ton pack hunters are the most
powerful predatory force in the ocean.

And this pod specializes
in gray whale calves.

Nine times out of ten, they succeed.

Being as big as a bus...

there's only one place
the whales can hide.

But orcas don't only locate prey by sight...

[orcas whistling, clicking]

...they also use sound.


[clicking, whistling]

A sea lion alone in the open
gives the calf a lucky escape.

Mum's hiding place worked.


By bouncing back the orcas' clicks,
the kelp helped to save the calf's life.

These underwater forests
provide sanctuary for many.

But still, nothing for Mum to eat.

Gray whales only feed on creatures hidden
on the seabed in fertile northern waters.

While her journey continues...

[sea lions grunting]

...away from prying eyes,

the octopus mum is also going hungry.

For four weeks, she hasn't eaten a thing.

She's been busy laying
a hundred thousand eggs.

Each a sea monster in the making.

Becoming a mum has worn her down,

but the real work has only just begun.

She must constantly bathe her offspring
in oxygen-rich water.

Keep them clean.

And guard them from thieves.

Her brood won't hatch
for another seven months,

and all that time she'll be on duty.

Unable to leave. Unable to eat.

Size is now her only superpower.

Her huge body is her babies' fortress.

And with luck, it'll give her the stamina
to ensure they survive.

Raising enormous babies
means working around the clock.

[sea gulls squawking]

Night and day, this devoted mum
urges her calf north.

[whale rumbles]

The further they go,
the colder and rougher it gets.

[surfers whooping, chattering]


Hugging the shallow coast,

keeping away from danger
in the open ocean...

they move closer to the richer seas ahead.

They've been traveling 70 miles a day
for over a month.

While her calf has full-fat milk on tap,

Mum's now swimming on empty.

Starvation is such a risk
for migrating gray whales.

Some never complete the journey.

[sea gulls squawking]

But salvation is just a week away.

[sea gulls squawking]

500 miles ahead, off the coast of Canada,

millions of herring
are gathering to breed.

An epic spectacle that attracts attention
from far and wide.

Although many fish are taken,
vast numbers survive.

Enough to make this stretch of ocean
change color.

Fertilized eggs transform the seabed

into a magical winter wonderland.

Full of food for hungry giants
coming this way.

For the mother octopus,
there's no such lifeline ahead.

She's still tending her brood.

But months without eating
have taken their toll.

Barely any energy left,
but her job almost done.

With one last jet of water,
she helps her babies on their way.

She will never see them again.

Giving life to a hundred thousand babies
has cost this mother her own.

Her story may be over,

but many new ones are just beginning.

The babies that survive
will grow a thousand times bigger,

into legends of the deep, just like Mum.

The journey is almost over
for the whale mum too.

After thousands of grueling miles,

finally, she's reached her goal.


The sea is brimming with herring eggs.

Enough for everyone.

[otters squeaking]

At last, this resilient mother can feed.

Rolling on the sea floor, she sucks up
millions of eggs and invertebrates,

filtering them out
through comb-like plates in her jaw.

For the first time in six months,
she feasts until she's full.

Motherhood is the ultimate feat
of endurance for a gray whale.

But the hardest part of the journey
is now behind her.

From here on,
mum and calf can cruise further north

in the company of other whales.

They'll feed up through the summer,

preparing for the epic return journey
in a few months' time.