Blue Planet II producer Orla Doherty spent a whopping 500 (!) hours at great depths while filming the alternately fascinating and terrifying ‘The Deep‘ episode. Here she spills on her incredibly unique job, favorite creatures, and most memorable experiences underwater.
When your friends hear about your experiences, do they think you’re crazy? How do you describe your job to strangers?
Doherty: Most of my friends tell me that they would never get into a submarine at the surface, let alone descend into the darkness of the deep in one. But they don’t think I’m crazy, they know that I have a need to see more and more of the ocean, a world we’ll possibly never know entirely.
How do you keep from going mad down there?
Doherty: I’m so busy focusing on what’s around us down there — whether that’s a black void with nothing happening, or a carpet of life as dense as a shallow, tropical coral reef. Every minute I’m looking for the next potential shot. It could be something I’m expecting to find but so many times, something happens in front of us that we never anticipated and then it’s a case of capturing the moment, then gathering more material to build a whole sequence.
You got up close and personal with so many fascinating creatures — sperm whales, squid, and Barreleye fish to name a few. Which animal blew you away more than any other?
Doherty: It was the Humboldt Squid, not the giant squid – the Humboldt is smaller than the giant but it’s still a massive squid, two meters long, and more impressive because it lives in packs of thousands. Watching them coordinate with each other, flashing signals using color patterns, moving in absolute synchrony, was incredible — like a high-speed, deep-sea ballet. But my absolute favorite creature of the deep is the six gill shark. I know lots of sharks but the six gill takes my breath away. I met one on each of my first three dives and they are just beautiful – ancient, slow, beautiful swimmers, mooching along the deep sea floor. And then we filmed an amazing sequence where they rip apart the carcass of a sperm whale, and show their other side!
Can you walk us through one typical day in the life of a Blue Planet II producer during filming?
Doherty: There quite simply isn’t one. I could be writing a script, drawing a storyboard, having phonecalls with amazing scientists, testing a piece of camera kit for the next shoot, applying for a permit, or diving to a thousand meters deep somewhere in the world’s oceans…
What was your most terrifying moment while working on Blue Planet II?
Doherty: Terrifying is over-egging it, but my heart beat the fastest when we were taking on water 450 meters deep in Antarctica. It took 20 minutes to resolve the situation – and they were definitely the most exciting 20 minutes I had in the deep over the 500 hours I was down there. But the submersible crews that we worked with are simply the best and had the problem solved as fast as they possibly could.