Chasing Arctic Whale, Filmmaker Found Thin Ice

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"I tried all my tricks," Ravetch said. "I turned on my back and began to swim backwards. It still didn't help, and my legs were running out of gas … I decided that I had to drop all the weight, or I wasn't going to make it."

Reluctantly, Ravetch decided to jettison his equipment. But before he did, he looked down and saw 50 Beluga whales swimming beneath him, the closest they had ever been. "This blanket of white underneath me distracted me from dropping my weights," Ravetch recalled. "I took one more look up at where the ice might be, and it seemed closer."

A moment earlier, Ravetch said it seemed impossible to swim on. But now, no longer alone, the filmmaker kicked as hard as he could and swam to safety.

Crittercams

Ravetch has documented his experiences with ocean creatures in more than 90 television programs.

For his latest film on bowhead whales, Ravetch traveled to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic with a team of researchers. The scientists and filmmaker gained a never before seen look into the lives of these massive Arctic mammals.

Weighing upward of 60 tons (54 metric tons) and reaching lengths up to 50 feet (15 meters), the bowhead whale is one of the Arctic's great mysteries. The creature may live for a century, possibly two.

Employing Crittercams (a research tool safely worn by animals that captures video, audio, and other data), satellite transmitters, and a state-of-the-art research vessel, the scientists gained valuable knowledge about the lives of bowhead whales.

Little had been known about the whale's specific migration paths. But with the help of a satellite transmitter, researchers were able to identify the path these whales travel from Greenland to Lancaster Sound, Canada, a 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) journey the whale makes in just ten days.

In nearly 15 years of Arctic travel, Ravetch said he had never been able to film a bowhead whale close-up—until that expedition.

"Finding the bowhead in clear water was really challenging," Ravetch said. "The logistics of finding animals in the Arctic is difficult. The obstacles of … how to get over the ice, under the ice, around the ice—80 percent of your time is [spent] just doing that."

Ultimate Explorer's On Thin Ice premieres Sunday, June 27, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC TV.

For more whale news, scroll down

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