Tag Archives: nature

The Making of “Age of Big Cats”

Martin Dohrn, Writer & Series Producer

Twenty years ago, a project like Age of Big cats would have been impossible to make. Much of the technology that has made this series achievable today, had yet to be invented. But more importantly, our knowledge of big cats was relatively limited, and some species were still so elusive and shy that sightings were extremely rare. Filming them in the wild was for the most part unachievable without years in the field and extreme luck.

But things are very different now. New ultra sensitive color and infra-red cameras have given us a clearer view of the nocturnal habits of some more familiar cats than ever before. High resolution 4K (8 mega-pixel) and 8K (32 megapixel) movie cameras allow us to film behavioral sequences in unprecedented detail. High resolution camera traps provide us with intimate images of their secretive lives from just metres away.

But the cats themselves have become more amenable to human observation. Filming cats that would rather not be seen at all is difficult and rarely delivers natural behavior. Some cats like the jaguar, snow leopard and puma have now become easy to see in a few places, when as recently as a decade ago, they were still on the “almost impossible to film” list. In fact, for the making of this series, we were able to film pumas, jaguars and leopards on foot at close range, without the cats showing aggression or fear. They were mostly unfazed by our presence.

However, some individuals did take a curious interest and in Chile this was almost a problem. There was a puma we named Friendly, as she would often approach us and sniff the bags at our feet before moving on. Matthew Kingdon, one of our camera operators, got a real surprise when she wandered up to him, then watched as he slowly walked backwards away from her (the correct response with any big cat). The other pumas were less inquisitive, but equally relaxed to the point that they just carried on with their lives when we were there, treating us more like furniture.

 Filming on foot in the dark brings its own problems. At night in Costa Rica, we watched with the infra red camera as Jack Hynes walked down the path to the beach, towards a jaguar that was on the look out for a turtle. We were able to warn Jack by radio and he waited as she wandered onto the beach. She carried on past our hide and into the forest. Jack never saw her despite the fact she was just metres from him. But later that night Jack did meet her.

We knew there was a dead turtle at the edge of the forest and that the jaguar was further down the beach, so Jack crept closer to the turtle and hid behind a small log. He didn’t know that the jaguar had now made its way back to the turtle. When he turned on the camera, the jaguar was staring at him from just a few metres away.

 


At first, she didn’t know what Jack was, so started creeping towards him – at which point his sudden movement surprised the jaguar who now realized he was a person and moved off.

For leopards, lions and cheetahs, most of the filming was from a vehicle, which most cats regard as something different from a person, so behave naturally. Cars have the advantage of being able to move lots of camera equipment around … day cameras, night cameras, infra red cameras, camera traps and thermal cameras, all at once. They also have the advantage of being able to protect cameras and people from the weather.

 

In the Masai Mara in 2017, the so called ‘short rains’ turned out to be an almost daily deluge, usually just after sunset when the lions were waking up to go hunting.  The rain was so heavy at times that small dry ditches would become rivers 20 metres wide in a matter of minutes. – rivers that no four wheel drive vehicle should attempt to cross. But we did, and on several occasions became stuck in a rising flood.

Despite the weather setbacks, we succeeded in capturing extraordinary natural behavior of cats, and although I have spent my lifetime filming them in the wild, what we were able to film this time, surpassed all my hopes.  Combined with new science on cats and their origins we’ve been able to create a compelling story that shows big cats in a new light.

 

Interested in learning more?
Check out our website and watch Age of Big Cats, now streaming in Ultra HD 4K, only on CuriosityStream.

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Can’t Get Enough Sharks?

You might think you know sharks – but these beautiful, endangered animals are more than meets the eye.

Here are 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Sharks:


10)
Contrary to popular opinion,
sharks cannot smell a drop of blood a mile away. They do, however, possess a pretty impressive sense of smell due to an enlarged olfactory bulb in their brains. A lemon shark is capable of detecting tuna oil at one part per 25 million,  about 10 drops in an average-sized home swimming pool.

9) They also possess electroreception, allowing them to detect weak electric fields in the water. This allows them “see” hiding animals in darkness or obscured by ocean plants.

8) Throughout the Renaissance, sharks had a strange assortment of names: Ziphius, Sea Dog, and De Lamia (named after a child-eating demon in Greek mythology).

7) While other fish use an air-filled swim bladder to stay afloat in water, sharks use their livers. A shark’s liver is filled with oil and can be used to regulate buoyancy!

6) The smallest shark in the world is the Dwarf lanternshark.  These guys reach a maximum length of 8 inches – most can be held comfortably in the human hand. As its name implies, the Lanternshark is capable of producing light from a distinctive array of photophores, meaning its body lights up on its own! This feat is called bioluminescence. (Curious about bioluminescence? Check out Light On Earth on CuriosityStream!)

5) Unlike most sharks, the Caribbean reef shark hunts in packs. For this reason, injured Caribbean reef sharks can continue to thrive because their pack-mates will provide them with leftovers.

4) Sharks can go through 30,000 teeth over the course of their lifetime. Unlike humans, sharks will never stop regrowing lost teeth. They grow from the back and move forward as front teeth are lost while hunting.

3) Great White Sharks have evolved such that they must keep swimming in order to breathe. You know the menacing grin of a Great White? That’s not a threat – they simply must keep their mouths open as they move so they can take in oxygen from the water!

2) The earliest shark fossil record is 420 million years old, this makes sharks one of the oldest species still in existence. Sharks were contemporaries of T-Rex!

1) You might be afraid of sharks, but they have much more reason to be afraid of you. In 2017, there were 5 human fatalities due to shark attacks worldwide. That same year, around 100 million sharks were killed due to finning – the process of cutting off shark fins for commercial use.


Curious where we got these Shark Facts? Check out the Shark Dive Trailer below:

 Want more? Swim with the sharks by watching
SHARK DIVE – streaming now on CuriosityStream.

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Moments Before the Eclipse

An eclipse is far and away the most powerful and stunning of all the celestial phenomena.  Seeing the sun’s corona is a life-changing experience.  But in the seconds leading up to totality, there will be plenty more to see… if you know where to look.  In anticipation on the August 21st solar eclipse, I sat down with Mark Bender – filmmaker, eclipse chaser, and director of our original series, Eclipse Across America – and asked what advice he would give to our readers before the event.

Mark Bender, Eclipse Chaser

Train your eyes for darkness

It may sound crazy, but if you are looking to heighten the experience even more, blindfold yourself for an hour before totality.  Remember, the totality only lasts for just over 2 minutes.  It would take your eyes more than that to really adjust to the darkness.  Think of walking into a dark movie theater: at first, you can’t see a thing, but as your eyes adjust, the steps and seats become more clear.  Imagine having your eyes fully adjusted to darkness for the entire time of totality.  What you see will be even more stunning!

Look out for shadow bands

Right before totality, some very lucky eclipse watchers may see the shadow bands.  I thought they were just a myth, until I got lucky one time.  Right before a total eclipse, little snake-like shadows from the moon crossing the sun appear to be slithering and shimmering across the ground.  But they are so faint, the contrast has to be just right to see them.  Some people will lay down a large white sheet to try to catch sight of them.  In 2015, I saw the eclipse in Svalbard, Norway, just 800 miles from the North Pole.  I was standing on a landscape covered with ice – just like an enormous white sheet.  And there they were!  It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.

Keep an eye on the forecast

Some of the biggest surprises are often weather-related.  During the eclipse of 1999, I was watching in Cornwall, England.  It was a completely overcast and rainy day.  Leading up to the eclipse, you couldn’t see the sun at all.  Three minutes before totality, the sun started to peak though, and with one minute to go, clouds dissipated and the entire sky opened up.  We lucked out, but the best was yet to come.  Even though the rain had stopped, there was still so much water vapor in the air.  When the sun eclipsed, the corona was full of tiny rainbows!  Imaging seeing the stunning corona in full color!  I have never seen that since, but anything is possible.  You just don’t know how it will play out.

Stay aware of wild animals

Animals in the wild take their behavioral cues from the Sun and the Moon, and the eclipse will affect that for sure.  Watching the 2012 annular eclipse in West Texas, wolves started howling as darkness fell…and I won’t admit to joining in!  Just remember, if they think it is nightfall, then you’re a visitor in their space until the Sun re-emerges.

It may get emotional

Above all, I am most fascinated by human behavior during a total eclipse.  Tears, shouts of joy, stunned silence, experienced astronomers and scientists stuttering with a total loss of words.  There is truly no way to describe it.

 

Watch the Eclipse Across America series trailer here:

All four episodes of Eclipse Across America are available now in Ultra HD 4K, only on CuriosityStream.

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Beyond the Black Disk

On August 21st, 2017, the United States will be treated to an event that hasn’t been seen in 99 years: a coast to coast total solar eclipse.  By that night, photographs of the blackened sun and its extraordinary corona will fill the Internet, but for those looking for something a little different, there are more eclipse day wonders to look out for ‘beyond the black disk.’

Enter our exclusive, original 4-part series, Eclipse Across America In anticipation of the once-in-a-lifetime event, our film crew teamed up with leading eclipse chasers, astronomers, and NASA scientists to travel and explore the path of the August eclipse.  What they returned with is a preview of the different eclipse phenomena that
will be on display that day and an inside look at how scientists are using this event to help us understand not only our home star, but the countless others in our Universe.

Inside an approximately 70-mile wide track stretching from Oregon to South Carolina (known as the path of totality), millions of lucky people will have a chance to witness the fully-eclipsed sun and its corona glowing around its edge.  This view of the sun’s outer atmosphere is truly one of a kind in our Solar System, making this August’s eclipse a “can’t miss” event for citizen scientists and astronomers alike.  But in the seconds leading up to the corona coming out, there will be plenty more to see… if you know where to look.

The experience of a total solar eclipse is really the experience of being in the shadow of the moon.  As serene as those moments of totality may appear, this shadow is actually traveling more than 1000 mph!  That motion may be difficult to sense from ground-level, but from a high point within the path of totality–a mountaintop, a butte, or even a hill with a clear, wide view of its surroundings–you will have a chance to look down and witness that shadow racing across the surface…weather permitting, of course!

As that shadow speeds toward you on the ground, the so-called ‘diamond ring’ phenomenon will be revealed up in the sky.  The moon’s cratered surface yields a bumpy, uneven silhouette so when it passes in front of the sun on August 21st there will be a moment when one final beam of light finds its way through one of these imperfections on the moon’s edge.  From Earth, this beam will glow like a sparkling gem on
the edge of a dimly lit ring.  But even this tiny fraction of the sun’s light will be far too bright to observe with bare eyes.  Make sure you’re still wearing your eclipse glasses for this one.

While the diamond ring will only be visible from inside the path of totality, Baily’s beads will be best experienced just along the edge of that path.  One example–at the Gateway Arch, in St. Louis, Missouri, the alignment between the observer, the moon, and the sun will be ever so slightly shifted off center.  Looking up from the base of the Arch, the moon will cover more than 99.95% of the sun’s surface, and similar to the diamond ring effect, trickles of light will find their way through the moon’s canyons and imperfections.  But instead of a single gem of light, the result here will be the appearance of a luminous, beaded edge that you will be able to see through your eclipse glasses far longer than anyone stationed near the center of the path of totality.

And then, for those in the path of totality, comes the corona.  It will be stunning, guaranteed.  Even seasoned eclipse chasers don’t always have the words to describe the power of the experience. Will you?

 

Watch the Eclipse Across America series trailer here:

 

All four episodes of Eclipse Across America are available now in Ultra HD 4K, only on CuriosityStream.

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Travel back in time to when dinosaurs ruled the land

Ancient Earth is available now in Ultra HD 4k, HD and standard definition on CuriosityStream.  This 3-part original series awakens the magnificent prehistoric creatures that previously roamed Earth through extraordinary animation, produced in collaboration with 12-time Emmy Award winning Pixeldust Studios.

Who isn’t curious about the creatures that roamed the Earth long before mankind?  The success of blockbuster films about dinosaurs, history museums, children’s books and more prove that the prehistoric age is as much a part of modern day pop culture and interest than ever before.

Over here at CuriosityStream, we’ve heard from several of you (and your kiddos!) that you just can’t get enough content about all things prehistoric.  Today, we’re delivering on that request with our new original, exclusive series Ancient Earth, which will take you on an extraordinary journey back in time to an era when ferocious saber-toothed carnivores, terrifying 40-foot sharks and massive dinosaurs dominated our planet.  The series couldn’t come at a more relevant time, as scientists are gathering growing evidence that we’re now in the middle of our planet’s sixth mass extinction, with dramatic declines in wildlife populations around the world.

Everyone will find something for them in Ancient Earth.  Animation lovers will nerd out over incredibly realistic animations that bring to life some of the fascinating and almost otherworldly creatures that once lived, but were wiped out during the worst mass extinction events.  History buffs will be equally tantalized, as the series is based on the newest resources and research from experts at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History.  Kids of all ages will love that watching a show featuring fight scenes and stories of dinosaur survival and extinction is approved by their parents.  And those parents can be happy knowing that the series is not only a lesson in prehistoric creatures, but nature as well, since each episode offers an immersive experience with period-accurate environmental and landscape elements.

Ancient Earth features the extraordinary lifeforms that evolved during three of Earth’s most significant geologic periods, and the cataclysmic events that resulted in their demise:

  • Episode 1 – The Permian Period introduces viewers to the life that sprung forth on land and sea more than 252 million years ago, including terrifying creatures like the saber-toothed Gorgonopsid and shark-like Helicoprion.
  • Episode 2 – The Triassic Period reveals how the power of evolution ushered in the first era of early dinosaurs, most of which were ultimately annihilated by waves of lava and toxic gas from extreme volcanic activity.
  • Episode 3 – The Cretaceous Period highlights magnificent dinosaurs like Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex, and massive pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatius—one of the largest flying creatures of all time.

 

Watch the series trailer here:

All three episodes of Ancient Earth are available now, only on CuriosityStream.

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Love is a curious thing

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we are featuring a wide variety of content that looks at intimate relationships, both human and animal, from scientific and historical perspectives.  Sit back and share these touching programs with someone special tonight!

Leaps in Evolution: Creation of Motherly Love

Episode two of our three-part series Leaps in Evolution examines the unique bond between mother and child, across all species, and how it has evolved.
Most human mothers raise fetuses inside their wombs and breast feed their babies for a long time after birth.  Have you ever stopped to wonder what made humans evolve so that we raise our children so affectionately?  The latest research reveals an unexpected origin of mothers’ affection toward their children.  Scientists believe that our ancestors experienced unforeseen dramatic changes in DNA under threats of extinction.  These DNA changes caused humans to be devoted to raising children.

Learn about the scientific interpretation of the evolutionary roots of our affectionate bonds with our kids in this heartwarming documentary, Leaps in Evolution: Creation of Motherly Love.

 

Additional Featured Content

Curious Minds: Sexual Selection – Explore why males and females behave the way they do across the animal kingdom when they select their mates.

 

JFK: Fact & Fable – The world is captivated by the love story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. Our original film outlines how she cemented his legacy in the name of love.

 

Science Shorts: The Love Hormone – Oxytocin is believed to be responsible for human intimate relationships. But how exactly does it affect the body and mind?

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Top 10 Curious Moments of 2016

As we look back on 2016, we want to take this opportunity to thank you for being a part of our curious community.  This past year has been monumental for science and technology and CuriosityStream been there every step of the way with documentaries that explore key moments in science, history, space, technology, nature and the human spirit.

Journey down memory lane by binge-watching our top 10 curious moments of the year.  Who knows what 2017 will have in store?

               

               

               

               

               

 

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CuriosityStream Debuts David Attenborough’s Light On Earth

Memorial Day weekend ushers in the summer season and the time outdoors that comes with it. As you enjoy getting out in nature this summer, CuriosityStream’s nonfiction documentaries will be there to help guide you.  Whether you prefer chilling at the beach, hiking and camping in national parks or simply spending an afternoon in your own backyard, there are always opportunities to reconnect with your natural surroundings and appreciate the breadth and depth of Earth’s wonders.

Perhaps along your summer journeys, you too will have questions.  Why does a firefly light up at dusk?  How does a millipede benefit from its own nighttime luminescence?  What causes those radiant, nocturnal tides in tropical waters?

These questions and more are explored in CuriosityStream’s exclusive debut of David Attenborough’s Light On Earth (available to U.S. subscribers).  This special 4K production utilizes new camera techniques to capture never-before-seen footage of bioluminescent phenomena, guided by the world’s foremost naturalist, Sir David Attenborough.

“In the oceans, and on land, living creatures of many kinds have harnessed the power of light in extraordinary ways: to mate, to lie or even to hide under a cloak of light. Yet with the latest cameras and technology we are only beginning to understand the lives of luminous creatures. There remain many mysteries. But what a beautiful world they create… and what a beautiful world awaits the scientists of the future.”  — Sir David Attenborough

The film represents the first collaboration between CuriosityStream’s in-house production studio and Terra Mater Studios (David Attenborough’s production partners). However, it is not the first association between CuriosityStream’s founder, John Hendricks, and Sir David Attenborough.

EHN Attenborough

Elizabeth Hendricks North & Sir David Attenborough, Smithsonian, May 2015

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Attenborough and hearing him reminisce about co-productions years ago between BBC and Discovery Communications, which my father, John Hendricks, also founded and led as Board Chairman until 2014.  The legendary British naturalist is as lively and curious as anyone I have ever met, and his animated story-telling had us all rapt.  Attenborough’s energy and enthusiasm is boundless, as you will see for yourself in Light On Earth.

LOE shroom

This bioluminescent mushroom emits light 24 hours a day, but is captured like never before using brand new camera techniques in CuriosityStream’s Light On Earth.

 

It is my hope that this film (and future wildlife films) continue to inspire wonder about the planet and engage the next generation of naturalists.  As David Attenborough’s Light On Earth magnificently conveys to viewers, we live on a planet with many mysteries waiting to be uncovered and better understood.

 

 

 

Let your curiosity guide you this summer.

EHN signature

Elizabeth Hendricks North is President and CEO of CuriosityStream. Follow her on Twitter @ehendricksnorth.

 

Watch a preview of Light On Earth :



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Notes from the Filmmaker: American Wildlife

Mark Emery is the award-winning filmmaker behind CuriosityStream’s newest original 4K series, American Wildlife.  Emery is an in-demand wildlife and nature cinematographer and photographer, whose films and photographs have been showcased around the world. American Wildlife can be seen exclusively on CuriosityStream in ultra high definition 4K, as well as HD and standard definition.

In the fall of 2015, I heard CuriosityStream producer Jorge Franzini speak at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival about an intriguing idea – films for folks of all ages who like to be entertained but also like to learn, a kind of Netflix for the curious soul.  I have been working on films for many of the natural history companies for years. Though the formula for these shows can be entertaining, I was looking for a change. Steve Burns, the Chief Programming Officer for CuriosityStream, and Franzini worked with me to develop American Wildlife – the original short format pieces that you can see exclusively on CuriosityStream right now.

I worked with young editors, one who had created and edited the music videos for some of the best rock groups in the country. My long time friend, arranger and composer Tracy Collins, and I wrote the music and we were off and running. There is a wonderful freedom to this format. For one, the films are not edited for television, so there are no false build ups heading into commercials to make you come back, no repeating information after a commercial break – tricks that drive us all a little batty. You just build the story around the best footage and score the music to the rhythm of the animals’ movements.

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On the range

As for the narration, the team at CuriosityStream did not want the “Voice of God” narration found in so many shows. I am quite sure there is a God and I am quite sure it is not me, so that was not a problem! I just talked about the footage, somewhat like a director’s cut. I am not a scientist, not a biologist, herpetologist, or ichthyologist. Actually, I am a Presbyterian and not even very good at that, so the stories are reported in layman terms, the way I would explain these subjects to family and friends.

Mark and Mary 2270

Getting up close and personal

I also persuaded, through the extensive use of smoked salmon, Bruce Swedien to record some of the audio. Bruce is one of the premier recording engineers in the world with five Grammys and many more nominations. Bruce engineered Thriller for Michael Jackson, he’s worked with Paul McCartney, Duke Ellington, jazz greats Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock, he’s done 14 albums for Quincy Jones, the score for The Whiz and The Color Purple, and so many more.

Mark&Mary Emery king

Mark and Mary’s adventures

We are amping up to do more as we continue to learn what we can do with this format. Many thanks to Steve Burns and Jorge Franzini for the excellent coaching and encouragement.  Now, I am off with my wife Mary to spend five months in bush Alaska, 300 miles from the nearest connecting road, to find more stories and catch more salmon to smoke for Bruce!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making Your List, Checking It Twice

For me, it’s all about my in-laws. The generous grandparents who shower family with gifts around the holidays. The grandparents who gush over every handmade ornament or craft du jour from the kids, because they really don’t need another sweater, or another delicious-smelling hand lotion set. They have everything they want, but we still search for that meaningful gift to show them how much we appreciate and love them.

Or maybe it’s your younger brother who is exploring the world, and needs something that travels light. Or your child’s favorite teacher, who will certainly get her share of mugs and baked goodies.

This year, consider giving the gift of curiosity! CuriosityStream is now offering its first ever gift cards. Your special someone will have instant, unlimited access to over 1,000 non-fiction documentaries on science, technology, history, nature, pop culture and more.

The gift cards are available in both electronic and physical gift cards, starting at $29.99 for a 12-month subscription. Electronic gift cards are available instantly at CuriosityStream.com/gift and physical gift cards can be purchased at Amazon.com, search “CuriosityStream.”

CS-GiftCard-Present

More proof a gift card is a great idea: the National Retail Federation’s annual holiday survey reports that gift cards continue to be the number 1 requested item. 58.8% of shoppers this year said they wanted a handy, convenient gift card more than anything else, making it the most requested present 9 years in a row.

So for me, the gift of curiosity is the answer to one of my toughest holiday gift-giving challenges. But shhh.. don’t tell my father-in law. I don’t want to ruin the surprise!

 

Happy Holidays,

Vanessa

 

 

 

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