Our Planet II – Episode 2 “Following the Sun” Recap & Review

Following the Sun

Episode 2 of Our Planet II returns to the Laysan Albatross chick from before. He’s ready to make his flight out to the maiden ocean but of course, there’s no room for error here. It’s just the simple matter of having to pass tiger sharks prowling around. So, do all the albatross make it? Without wind, some of these are hopeless and end up falling to the deadly sea below, becoming prey to the tiger shark. It’s life or death, and thankfully for some, they make it, narrowly escaping the jaws of death.

We’re up to July in the calendar, and the flower meadows of Europe receive more sunlight than at any other time of the year. This inevitably makes it a very busy time for honeybees. A colony of bees can fly over 9000 kilometers and travel to a million different flowers.

As human beings, we’ve exploited these insects to create superorganisms, creating a massive amount of honey as a result. However, there’s only so many that can live in one hive, so when enough are gathered together, to prevent overpopulation, 30,000 bees gather around the queen, who is shielded by the swarm out in the open.

They’re vulnerable here though and are forced to wait as scouts set off to find the perfect home. After finding a lovely spot in a tree, a little dance with vibrations ensues when the scout returns, helping to point out where the new home is situated. This is enough to move the entire colony in a breathtaking display of teamwork and ingenuity.

In July, the further north we travel, the more sunlight we receive. And that can turn the arctic tundra into a grassland, at least for a while. It attracts more than a million snow geese there, who have travelled the length of North America to breed. Arctic summers are short though, so they have to lay eggs immediately when they arrive.

That’s not great news though, given arctic foxes are in the vicinity and rely on these eggs to survive. They’re not the only ones though, as bears are also in this area prowling around. For those lucky enough to navigate these predators, once the chicks are hatched, they start their long migration south to Mexico.

Lions control the same territory year in and out, and they actually rely on these migrations to come to them, rather than being on the move themselves. Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest are on the menu today though, and they make up the biggest terrestrial migration on Earth.

The wildebeest they have to pass through long grass to get to their destination, which is actually a perfect spot for the lions. They can use this to hunt, and they do so from downwind to prevent their scent from being detected. And naturally, they get their meal, picking off the weakest and most vulnerable in the group.

August, in Vancouver Island, day breaks over Cedar Lake but something stirs in its depths. Tadpoles spend their nights hiding in deep, cool water but they set off when the sun rises. Thousands of them, heading for the sunlit shallows. It’s five degrees warmer here and it allows them to speed up their transformation to toads.

But during the night, it’s too dark so they have to move back to the depths. Over and over again they make this journey… but they’re not alone. Dragonfly larvae are ambush predators, while blind leeches on the seabed will suck the blood out of anything that’s still there.

Once they do make it to the surface and having evolved into toads, they have to evade snakes too but the sheer number of toad  dwarf that of the snakes and allow them to head up into the forest. That’s where they’ll stay for four years before they’re ready to breed and lay eggs in the water again, starting off that same cycle.

Speaking of journeys in water, sockeye salmon have perhaps the most extraordinary journey. After 3 years of feeding in the Bering Sea, they travel across hundreds of kilometers of ocean to find the exact spot in which they actually hatched. Here, they’re to travel 200 kilometers upstream past Lake Iliamna, to their spawning pools beyond. It’s the last journey these salmon will ever make. As they enter the river, they stop eating and put all their efforts into battling the currents.

As they become more mature, these salmon turn red, with the more red they become, the better chances of becoming a suitable mate for the females. As well as battling against each other though, they also have to contend with predators up stream that rely on this Great Salmon Run. And that includes bears, that lie in ambush for these fish, relying on them to fatten up for the winter months ahead.

For those who survive, the sockeye salmon make it into the pools but they also have freshwater seals to deal with. Despite not having eaten for 8 weeks, they can still outswim the predators but seals are clever. They wait for the salmon to come to them, and specifically the female that have calorie-rich eggs.

The salmon remaining after this treacherous gauntlet eventually reach the spawning pools, but more fights among the salmon ensues as they battle for the best nesting pools before eventually mating and, inevitably, dying.

We then jet off to August in the High Arctic, where little is left of the sea ice. This inevitably makes it difficult for polar bears to navigate. Swimming continuously for days on end, they’re forced to try and find food but they consume a lot more energy swimming than travelling across the ice. That’s not good news for the cubs, who grow tired much quicker.

With food so scarce, there’s no time for rest but the younger cub journeying with his parent has very little energy left. Unable to follow so quickly, the weak cub panics and finds himself stranded. If he can’t keep up, he will be abandoned. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen but it’s clear this cub may not make it in the long-term.

September brings big changes in the Persian Gulf, making the oceans here the hottest on the planet. The best feeding event for the whale sharks is about to take place, and that comes right in the waters of the Al Shaheen Oil Fields. The oil reef platforms act as reefs with hundreds of different species gathering here. With big ships unable to pass nearby, it allows for a marine sanctuary where these fish can spawn in safety.

Among them, are tuna. They can only breed when the water is 25 degrees Celsius or more, so at this time of year, it becomes perfect for hatching. And of course, the perfect meal for whale sharks. As the camera zooms out, we see the sheer staggering number of whale sharks gathered in this location.

Back in the Serengeti, we return to the wildebeest and zebra who are still on the move. They’re in search of fresh water and food. However, they need to contend with the Mara River. With fast-flowing water abound, this river actually claims the lives of over 6000 animals a year. With the herd needing to pass, it seems impregnable. Pressure mounts on those at the front but soon, all of them try to make the crossing. But they’re not alone.

Many wildebeest die in the huge crush that ensues, but the zebra hold back. Why? Well, the five-meter long Nile crocodiles are prowling these waters and are desperate for a meal. Unfortunately, the zebra are stuck in a precarious position, and with more crocodile joining the fray, will they make it out in time?

The Episode Review

The second episode of Our Planet II continues the great work done before, with plenty of drama, interesting stories and breathtaking visuals. The decision to end each of these chapters on a cliffhanger is actually quite a smart one, enticing you to really get into the thick of action and get absorbed in what’s happening, desperate to watch the next episode to see how it ends.

There’s a great blend of facts along the way too, while the masterful narration from David Attenborough combines with the excellent  musical score to make for a great watch. Roll on the next episode!

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You can read our full season review for Our Planet II here!

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