Blockbuster nature series catches dynamite fishermen on film

Documentary filmmakers shooting a new blockbuster nature series in the Philippines said Sunday they chased men they saw fishing with dynamite.

A camera crew working on the new four-part show "Big Pacific" -- which is to start screening across the globe this summer -- filmed as the coastguards they were with gave chase.

"The illegal fishermen fled and crashed into the shore, abandoning their vessel," the series' executive producer Kyle Murdoch told AFP.

He said his crew was in a lagoon in the Philippines shooting a dugong mother and her calf when they "felt a massive underwater explosion.

"They rushed over to the other side of the cove where some people were dynamite fishing. Luckily we filmed the whole thing. The rack and ruin was incredible.

"Our team was devastated by what they saw -- but they were able to capture it all on film and show the real problems these animals face and what local heroes are trying to do," Murdoch added.

Footage of the incident has been included in the "making of" episode of the big-budget series, which is being billed as the next landmark nature series in the mould of the BBC's "Planet Earth" and "Great Barrier Reef".

It will be aired by public broadcasters from the US to China, Europe and Japan this year.

- 'All-out war' -

"Unfortunately, the dynamite fishermen got away," Murdoch said after the series was premiered at the TV industry's top gathering, MIPTV, at Cannes on the French Riviera.

Despite the Philippine government declaring an "all-out war" on rogue fishermen, the practice is still endemic and is estimated to have damaged 70 percent of the archipelago nation's coral reefs.

The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle, an area of water spanning Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands that is known as the global centre of marine biodiversity.

Murdoch said "Big Pacific" was the first major TV series to tackle the world's largest ocean in an emotional cinematic fashion, telling the stories of some of its least-known creatures and showing sights that have never before been seen.

It also challenges some of our most cherished assumptions, he said, including highlighting violence in the humpback whale world. "Whales have this reputation of being the gentlest of creatures. We turn that idea on its head," Murdoch said.

"Some of the most amazing sequences come from the seas around China, which will just blow people away," he added.

- 'Massive tentacled beasts' -

"For me the giant Nomura's jellyfish were incredible," Murdoch said. "These massive jellyfish bigger than people grow very quickly. In the space of a year they go from microscopic dots to massive tentacled beasts."

His New Zealand-based company NHNZ also shot white dolphins off the southern Chinese coast.

"The water quality was surprisingly clear. The white dolphins are an iconic species that need a lot of help and conservation," he said. "Huge efforts (are) being made now by the Chinese government so we were lucky to get incredible access."

But the star of the "Mysterious Pacific", the series' third episode that was shown at MIPdoc, was the white-spotted puffer fish.

It took scientists 16 years to figure out what the beautiful intricate patterns on the seabed off southern Japan were until they discovered that the highly artistic male of the species sculptured them to attract a mate.

The series was also the last worked on by pioneering underwater American photographer Bob Cranston, who died of cancer last year.

"He was one of the very best there ever was," Murdoch said, "we were really lucky to have had him on board."