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Walking With Beasts BBC Part02 Whale Killer

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When the dinosaurs disappeared|so too did the gigantic
marine reptiles that once|terrorised the oceans.
For almost twenty-five million|years there was nothing around
to eat the sharks.
But there are now awesome new|monsters of the deep.
The giant whales have arrived.
Forget the gentle filter feeders|of the twenty-first century.
These days every whale is a killer.
lt is the late Eocene and the|world is still a hot one.
However it is drier than before|and so where once the land
was completely covered|in lush rainforest
there are now more open spaces.
Freed from the constraints of|living in dense forest
some mammals have started|to get larger.
Here on the scrub plains|big is beautiful.
These changes have not|suited everyone.
The large killer birds are no|longer much in evidence,
replaced on most continents|by fearsome new mammal predators.
Like dinosaurs before them mammals|dominate the planet.
But they are about to undergo|their severest challenge.
The climate change the world|has seen so f ar is mild
compared to what is coming.
This programme is about the|beginning of primate chaos
The problem starts not on land|but in the ocean and affects
even the mightiest of mammals.
This is the legendary Tethys|a tropical sea that
stretches almost half way round|the world and has connected
Asia with the Atlantic since the|time of the dinosaurs.
lt is now home to one of the|mammal's biggest success stories.
Basilosaurus - eighteen metres|of predatory whale.
Four times the length of|a Great White Shark.
This female weighs sixty tons
lncredible to think then their ancestors|were tiny furry shrew like animals
that lived in trees.
At this time of year off|the coast of the Northern Tethys
Basilosaurus gather to mate.
A female is being eagerly pursued|by several males.
But it is the eldest and biggest|male that she chooses to mate with
Mating is not an easy task for two|such huge free floating animals
they need a little extra help.
As the successful male manoeuvres|into position he calls upon
one small legacy of their distant|land ancestors.
Basilosaurus retain two|tiny back legs.
These are useless for walking|or even swimming,
but they are used to help lock|their long narrow bodies
together during mating.
The whales of the future will|lose these legs altogether.
The courtship is over but as|it will turn out,
a natural disaster that is|looming is about to make things
very tough indeed for|marine life.
This female's f ate is being|influenced by events f ar f ar
away in the Antarctic.
For the first time in hundreds of|millions of years the sea
is freezing at the Poles, throwing|ocean currents into turmoil.
For a whale that needs on average|eighty kilograms of food a day,
the slightest change of fish|stocks is bad news.
She is at the top of a food chain|that is about to collapse and
she has just become pregnant.
The ocean currents are also|starting to disrupt the climate
and have already affected weather|patterns along the Tethys coastline.
Many areas used to high rainf all|have suffered prolonged
drought this year.
Despite these problems life|ploughs on as best it can.
But the drought can have some|pretty nasty side-effects.
This is Andrewsarchus, a huge|carnivore as tall as a horse
and weighing close to a ton.
Normally he wanders inland in|search of food,
but the drought has driven him|onto the beach.
Bad news for the exhausted turtles|struggling back to the water
after a night laying eggs.
At first the Andrewsarchus seems|a little unsure of
what to do with these curious|shelled creatures.
He is more used to picking|over the carcasses
of giant herbivores.
Despite appearance|Andrewsarchus is not related
to modern scavengers like dogs|or hyenas.
Bizarrely he has hooves on his|feet instead of claws.
ln f act his nearest modern|relatives are hoofed
animals like sheep and goats ...
He is in a sense a sheep|in wolf's clothing.
He is also the largest mammal|carnivore ever to walk the earth.
His huge one metre long jaws are|designed to crush anything,
so the turtle's main defence|is of little use.
During droughts scavengers often do well|but in the long run the hoofed
predators will not adapt quickly enough|to changes in the climate.
He is the last of a dying breed.
Months have passed and the erratic|ocean currents have disturbed
the fish stock so much that|the female Basilosaurus is searching
for food hundreds of miles from her|usual hunting grounds.
Four months pregnant, her situation|has become critical.
She is now forced to hunt|in the most unlikely places.
Lining the southern edges of|the Tethys are endless
expanses of mangrove swamp.
ln the Eocene it's a vast thriving|network of waterways,
but believe it or not you are looking|at what will become one of
the driest areas on the planet|the Sahara Desert.
lt's hardly a classic hunting ground|for an ocean-going whale,
but she is desperate and there is|prey here of a sort.
ln the labyrinth of tidal channels|her size is a real handicap,
but hunger draws her in.
Watching from the branches|above are primates.
These are Apidium that live in highly|social groups and word quickly
gets around when a threat is spotted.
Other creatures here are oblivious|to the new danger.
The amphibious mammal Moeritherium|is too large to be bothered
by the usual predators|such as crocodiles,
so they ignore the chattering primates|and return to the business of eating.
The Apidium move away from the channel|and continue through the mangroves
looking for fruiting trees.
Because different trees fruit at|different times they often have
to cross the waterways.
This is a very risky activity.
There are sharks and crocodiles|to worry about ...
and now there is a whale as well.
lt's a leap of f aith,|but leaping is one thing
Apidium are very good at.
The whale is frustrated for the moment.
With the rising tide however some|waterways become too wide to
jump and the Apidium have to find more|hazardous ways across closer
to the water.
Today their nightmare came true.
lt was a shark.
They certainly won't cross now,
they'll have to wait for|the tide to go down.
By contrast the water isn't usually|dangerous for the Moeritherium.
They spend most of their day here.
Although they are shaped like hippos|and look a bit like pigs,
Moeritherium are related to neither.
Look closely though and the|Moeritherium's nose betrays
its true f amily connection.
The nostrils and lip have joined|together to become one dextrous
muscular unit which helps|them forage for food.
This is in f act a type of trunk.
These benign herbivores are early|relatives of the elephant.
At around two hundred kilograms|they are too big for the sharks.
One Moeritherium heads off|for pastures new ...
But he is heading straight for|the jaws of the female Basilosaurus.
The Moeritherium scrabbles onto|dry land just in time.
But the hungry Basilosaurus|isn't about to give up yet.
Dry land and safety are only|temporary things in the mangroves.
The water still has some way to rise|and most solid ground will
become seabed in just a few hours|time as the high tide sweeps in.
The Basilosaurus will soon be able|to reach the stranded Moertherium.
ln her desperation she has attacked|too early and run aground.
By the time the whale has worked|herself free the Moeritherium
has escaped to the shallower channels|where even the starving
Basilosaurus won't follow.
For the whale, the mangroves|are turning out to be no
better than the open sea.
The Eocene El Nino continues|to wreak havoc.
The weather patterns that|animals rely on are confused.
ln the Northern Tethys the rains|have come, but six weeks
later than usual.
And then instead of lasting months|they are over in a few weeks.
ln the scrubland the rains have|finally provided new growth,
but the damage caused by the prolonged|drought has already been done.
These Brontothere herds in particular|have been hit hard.
Though distantly related to horses and|rhinos they're not much like either.
They're twice as big as modern rhinos|with brains just one third of the size.
They are not the brightest of beasts
Still they are one of the most|successful groups of mammals around,
found across the Northern Hemisphere|in herds of hundreds.
This year though some herds are|in a sorry state.
This should be a time for calving|but a high proportion
are being still-born.
The few youngsters that have survived|the drought continue to behave as
youngsters always do.
These two adolescent males practice|for adulthood, challenging one
another over as yet non existent females.
ln another difference to rhinos the|outgrowths on their noses are not
horn or hair, but bone.
These are more for show than|for head-butting.
The bone crests are f ar|too brittle for that.
The scavengers are having|a better time of it.
And Andrewsarchus is trying to harass|a mother Brontothere and get at
her dead calf.
The female though is being|fiercely protective.
lt is impossible to say whether|this mother even understands
that her calf is dead.
Like most mammals she has a very|strong bond with her
offspring and will defend it for|as long as she can.
Now a second Andrewsarchus has arrived.
lt is going to be difficult for|the mother to keep them both away.
The first Andrewsarchus seizes|its chance.
After all day defending a lost cause|the mother appears to be giving up.
The scavengers aren't used to|having to share the spoils.
As they wrestle for the calf|the mother mistakes its movement
for signs of life
She is spurred into action again.
She returns to her lonely and|fruitless vigil.
The Andrewsarchus will be back.
As the weeks pass the environmental|crisis at sea shows
no sign of easing.
lt can only be described|as an ocean f amine.
For the female Basilosaurus|who is now heavily pregnant
things are desperate.
She is getting barely enough|for herself to eat never mind
her unborn calf.
With her limited f at reserves|all but gone,
her body will soon abort her offspring|in order to preserve her own life.
Suddenly the sea around her is filled|with the bustling activity of a
group of smaller whales called Dorudon.
When Dorudon gather in numbers|it means that the females are
about to give birth.
This might look like a friendly greeting|it is anything but.
The smaller whales are mobbing|the giant, using their
numbers to try and force her away.
Basilosaurus preys on their young|and somewhere nearby must be the
Dorudon's calving ground.
lt appears as though she has been|driven to the seabed.
But there is method in her madness.
She has to do something that is more|important than ever if her unborn
calf is to survive.
She must scratch.
By dragging herself over a convenient|sandbar she can slough off
the outer layer of her skin and with|it any parasites or barnacles that
may have got a foothold.
For an animal that relies|on speed to hunt,
keeping her body sleek and|streamlined is the difference
between success and hunger.
She is ready to go hunting whales.
Every year Dorudon gather in this calm,|protected lagoon to give birth.
The first calves are appearing|just a few days old and already
in mortal danger.
The Basilosaurus has found the lagoon ...
She has been spotted and the calves|are quickly shepherded away
from the threat.
Defending together the adult Dorudon|launch aggressive attacks against
the Basilosaurus in an attempt|to drive her off.
Their efforts appear|surprisingly effective.
The Basilosaurus moves away.
Calm is restored but|it won't last for long.
This is a hungry mother.
Over the course of the next few days|the Basilosaurus returns
time after time.
The lagoon is transformed from|a sanctuary into a bloodbath
This is what it means to be|top of the food chain.
lt has taken the death of several|Dorudon calves to further the survival
of the unborn Basilosaurus.
lt has been a year since|the female Basilosaurus mated.
She is once again out in the open seas
But this time she is not alone.
Against all the odds|she has finally given birth.
Against the odds she and|her calf have survived.
Sadly what they have been through|is merely the start of the climate
chaos to follow which will end|the Eocene period and cause the largest
extinction since the death|of the dinosaurs.
As devastating as any meteor will be|the catastrophic disruption of
the ocean's currents caused|by the gradual freezing of Antarctica.
Like a gigantic El Nino only|much much worse.
Twenty percent of living things|on earth will die out.
Whales as a group will survive|but Basilosaurus and her kind
will not be among them.
Next time mammals on land go|from big to bigger.
We will walk with the lndricothere's -
...mammals that rival in size|the dinosaurs of old.
lt is a world of the big,|the bad and the ugly.
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