It's a blue world of flying fish, big bubbles and quick sex changes


Some of TV's finest work has gone into the various "Planet Earth" projects. BBC people mix technical skill, esthetic brilliance and solid science. Now the second underwater edition is Saturdays on BBC America; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Deep below the
surface, there are worlds we never imagined.

There are clever
fish that crack shells ... leaping ones that snag birds ... and
pleasant ones that then change sex and attitude.

“Changing sex is
commonplace in the ocean,” said Mark Brownlow, a producer of
cable's lush “Planet Earth: Blue Planet II.”

There
are even “gender-fluid fish” that change often, said producer
James Honeyborne. Still, he's struck by the kobudai, which does it
spectacularly. As a female, it's gentle; then comes the
transformation: “That male is an extraordinary expression of
testosterone, with a huge head and wobbly chin” and aggressive
attitude.

Even
the experts find new things
.
Brownlee is struck by the
tusk fish: “It picks up a clam and smashes it against its coral
anvil, to open it up and get to the meat inside .... We never really
thought that fish were capable of these levels of complex behavior.”

And
David Attenborough, 91, can still be surprised. He marvels at a
trevally, leaping at low-flying birds. They “have to calculate
where it's going to be,” he said. “It would take a bank of
computers to do that, but that's what the trevally does. It comes out
of the water and wallop! It's quite extraordinary.”

Attenborough
started in TV's black-and-white days, far from this mega-project

“Filming
took over four years,” said BBC America president Sarah Barnett.
“The teams mounted 125 expeditions, visited 39 countries and filmed
on every continent.”

She
means every one; Antarctica is prominent in Saturday's episode.

Some
expeditions were “utter disaster,” producer Orla Doherty said,
and some brought bonuses. Had one arrived a day later, it would have
found nothing. Instead, it filmed a spectacle -- “giant bubbles,
just shooting out like rockets. It was like we had landed on another
planet.”

-- “Planet Earth:
Blue Planet II,” 9 p.m. Saturdays, BBC America.

-- Second episode,
Jan. 27, includes Antarctica. It's surrounded by a rerun of the
original, 11-hour “Planet Earth,” from noon to 9 p.m. and 10:30
p.m. to 12:30 a.m.