When is Secrets of the Whales on TV?

James Cameron and Signourney Weaver take us on a breath-taking dive into whale behaviour in this new National Geographic series on Disney Plus.

Scientists believe humpbacks breach to communicate to other whales - although it also looks like fun. © National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley

When is Secrets of the Whales on Disney Plus?

Secrets of the Whales will be available to stream on Disney Plus from 22 April.

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Watch the trailer for Secrets of the Whales:

What is Secrets of the Whales about?

Announced as a new series for Earth Day 2021, Disney Plus has unveiled a documentary that should excite any whale lover. Filmed over three years in 24 locations, it is rightly described as an ‘epic journey’.

Herring are a primary food source for Norway's orcas. © National Geographic for Disney+/Luis Lamar
Herring are a primary food source for Norway’s orcas. © National Geographic for Disney+/Luis Lamar

Each of the four episodes focuses on a different whale or dolphin species: orca, humpback, beluga and sperm, with narwhals also making an appearance. Each also centres on a different theme of behaviour; exploring family ties, communication, co- operation and hunting.

You cannot fault the series on its spectacular cinematography. The joint movie-making skills of producer James Cameron and photographer Brian Ferry are evident throughout, with epic sweeping footage, heart-rending dramatic scenes and a beautifully chosen and suitably emotive score composed by Raphaelle Thibaut.

The narration, provided by actress Sigourney Weaver, does however veer quite far into anthropomorphism at times. Scientific nuance is perhaps pushed aside in favour of slick storytelling. It would have been helpful to hear a little more from whale experts for context in some places.

Overall, if you love whales, you will enjoy this series, and there is no denying that it is a visual feast. From the surreal sight of snoozing sperm whales hovering upright in the water like “trees in a forest”, to the joyous spectacle of hundreds of ghost-like belugas in a seemingly ecstatic, playful reunion, they have captured some important and enchanting footage.

Learn more about other marine wildlife: 

Who narrates Secrets of the Whales?

Sigourney Weaver at the 13th Rome Film Fest in 2018. © Luca Carlino/NurPhoto/Getty
Sigourney Weaver at the 13th Rome Film Fest in 2018. © Luca Carlino/NurPhoto/Getty

Secrets of the Whales is narrated by the award-winning American actress and environmentalist Sigourney Weaver, who has appeared in more than 60 films and is famous for playing Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise and Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist. After appearing in the latter, she became the honorary chair of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. She narrated the American version of Planet Earth, replacing Sir David Attenborough.

Which species appear in Secrets of the Whales?

Five species of whale and dolphin appear in the series, as do a number of other marine species:

1

Orca (Orcinus orca, also known as killer whale)

Orcas in New Zealand follow a unique hunting technique: taking stingrays off the bottom - sometimes in very shallow water. © National Geographic for Disney+/Kina Scollay
Orcas in New Zealand follow a unique hunting technique: taking stingrays off the bottom – sometimes in very shallow water. © National Geographic for Disney+/Kina Scollay

The largest of the dolphin species, orcas are the most widely distributed cetacean. Populations can differ in appearance, behaviour, communication and diet. Their alternative name of killer whales stems from the name ‘asesina ballenas’, given to them by ancient sailors and describing them as ‘whale killer’.

Orcas feed on a wide variety of other ocean creatures, such as other cetaceans, pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), fish including sharks and rays, cephalopods (octopuses and squids), and birds.


2

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Humpback whales undergo one of the longest migrations of any mammal on Earth - over 6,000 miles. © National Geographic for Disney+/Adam Geiger
Humpback whales undergo one of the longest migrations of any mammal on Earth – over 6,000 miles. © National Geographic for Disney+/Adam Geiger

Humpback whales are famous for their whale songs, epic migrations and breaching behaviours. They are known to be a friendly species that often interacts with other cetaceans, including playing with dolphins, forming mixed groups with other whales, and even protecting humans, seals and other cetaceans from orcas and sharks.

Both male and female humpback whales produce vocalisations, although it is only the male which makes the song that the species is known for. Songs are culturally transmitted and differ between populations.


3

Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas)

Belugas are extremely social and have been nicknamed the
Belugas are extremely social and have been nicknamed the “canary of the sea” because of their rich and varied vocal range. © National Geographic for Disney+/Peter Kragh

Beluga whales have a bulbous forehead called a “melon”, which is flexible and can change shapes. They live in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, and are closely related to the narwhal; the two species are the only members of the Monodontidae family. Beluga whales are very sociable and form pods of up to 25 members (the average is ten).

4

Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Many sperm whales are wandering nomads. They travel freely across vast stretches of ocean and stop to interact with local whales. © National Geographic for Disney+/Luis Lamar
Many sperm whales are wandering nomads. They travel freely across vast stretches of ocean and stop to interact with local whales. © National Geographic for Disney+/Luis Lamar

Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales (a group that also includes dolphins, porpoises, beluga whales, and beaked whales), with males growing up to 52 feet and weighing 45 tonnes. They are named after the spermaceti, a waxy substance found in their heads, which made them a target by the commercial whaling industry as spermaceti could be used in a variety of products such as candles, oil lamps and lubricants.


5

Narwhal (Monodon monoceros)

A narwhal's tusk is a long, hollow tooth that usually only develops in males. Its full function is still a mystery. © National Geographic for Disney+/Thomas Miller
A narwhal’s tusk is a long, hollow tooth that usually only develops in males. Its full function is still a mystery. © National Geographic for Disney+/Thomas Miller

Looking like a cross between a unicorn and a whale, narwhals have a long and spiralling tusk that emerges from its head. It can grow up to 10 feet in length, is most commonly found on males, and some narwhals may even have two. This tusk is actually have an enlarged tooth, and can have up to 10 million nerve endings inside.

6

Other species

Sea turtle

Fishing gear is the most common form of plastic pollution in the ocean, and it is often lethal to marine wildlife, including whales.The National Geographic team saved this sea turtle while on assignment in the Indian Ocean. © National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley
Fishing gear is the most common form of plastic pollution in the ocean, and it is often lethal to marine wildlife, including whales. The National Geographic team saved this sea turtle while on assignment in the Indian Ocean. © National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)

Polar bears share the summering areas with beluga whales and pose a near-constant threat. © National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley
Polar bears share the summering areas with beluga whales and pose a near-constant threat. © National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley

Southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina)

Orcas in the Falkland Islands pursue powerful elephant seals - a feat they can't do alone. © National Geographic for Disney+/Kevin Krug
Orcas in the Falkland Islands pursue powerful elephant seals – a feat they can’t do alone. © National Geographic for Disney+/Kevin Krug

Herring

Herring are a primary food source for Norway's orcas. © National Geographic for Disney+/Luis Lamar
Herring are a primary food source for Norway’s orcas. © National Geographic for Disney+/Luis Lamar

Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua)

Awkward on land and graceful in the water, gentoo penguins are a favourite orca prey in the waters off Antarctica. © National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley
Awkward on land and graceful in the water, gentoo penguins are a favourite orca prey in the waters off Antarctica. © National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley

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Main image: Scientists believe humpbacks breach to communicate to other whales – although it also looks like fun. © National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley