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A STUDYGUIDE bY Andrew Fildes


Planet Earth is a BBC production with five episodes in the first series (episodes one through
five) and six episodes in the second series (episodes six through eleven). Each episode
examines a specific environment, focussing on key species or relationships in each habitat;
the challenges they face; the behaviours they exhibit and the adaptations that enable them to
survive. Recent advances in photography are used to achieve some spectacular first sights
in particular, stabilised aerial photography gives us remarkable views of migrating animals
and the techniques used by their predators to hunt them.
As the series examines pristine environments where possible, they are often extreme.
These are the parts of the world where few humans have chosen to live as the climate and
landscape is too challenging, too difficult and dangerous. The plants and animals that do
survive here have made some spectacular adaptations in forms and behaviour to live in these
far reaches of the planet.
The series is suitable for middle secondary students studying Science and SOSE, and for
senior secondary students of Biology, Environmental Science and Geography.


Episode Nine: Shallow
The continents are fringed by continental shelves, waters up to 200
metres deep that may stretch out hundreds of kilometres before plunging to
the abyssal depths. While they are less
than ten percent of the worlds ocean
areas, they hold the vast majority of
marine life because this is where we
find the breeding and feeding grounds.
This episode of Planet Earth ranges
from the remarkable biodiversity of the
tropical coral reefs to the rich polar
feeding grounds, using the migration
of a humpback whale mother and calf
as an example to demonstrate the difference between the marine environments available to them. Why would
the mature whales choose to starve
themselves for half the year and what
drives them to migrate thousands of
miles along the coasts of Australia and
other continents? On the way they
may pass the great coral reefs like the
Great Barrier Reef, the largest organic
structures on earth and yet built by
some of the smallest organisms. A
symbiosis between coral polyps and
algae creates rich gardens in otherwise barren tropical marine deserts,
especially in Indonesia where the
most diverse reefs in the world exist.
Hunting packs of sea snakes work in
harmony with carnivorous goatfish to
flush out prey from coral crannies in
astonishing scenes filmed in detail for
the first time.

The whale has raised her calf to the

stage where it can begin to feed
itself and shes starving, so its time
for the journey south to the great
summer feeding grounds. As the
waters become colder and rougher,
the nutrients are stirred up from the
ocean floor by cold currents, providing
food for the phytoplankton algae and
seaweeds, food to power the richest

marine environments on earth. The

massive quantities of new green life
support invertebrates like jellies and
krill, food in turn for small fish and
squid. Now the large fish and mammals like dolphin and seals can survive
on the dense food resources and even
starfish pursue each other across the
ocean floor in time-lapsed mass hunts,
suddenly made thrilling by the speed
of the camera.

Episode 9: Shallow Seas

Time Log


00:00 - 01:20

Humpback Whale and Calf

01:20 - 03:40

Great Barrier Reef

03:40 - 05:30

Indonesian Coral Reef

05:30 - 09:20

Sea Snakes and Goatfish

09:20 - 12:25

Life on the Sands

12:25 - 13:25

Seagrass Grazers - Dugongs

13:25 - 15:20

Dolphins - Shallow Hunting

15:20 - 19:20

Bahrain Cormorants

19:20 - 21:45

Humpback Whale and Calf

21:45 - 23:45

Algal Bloom and System

23:45 - 26:57

Sea Mammals Hunting

26:57 - 28:45

Kelp Forests

28:45 - 30:35

Starfish Hunts (time lapse)

30:35 - 32:45

Seals, Stingrays and Squid

32:45 - 35:45

Seals and Sharks

35:45 - 39:15

King Penguins

39:15 - 41:25

Predatory Seals

41:25 - 44:00

Humpback Whale and Calf

44:00 - 44:50

Shearwaters and Whales

44:50 - end

(Timings are approximate)


Away from the reefs and out on the

sands, camouflage and concealment
are the key to survival but the huge
sea cows, dugong, can graze the seagrass meadows safely. However the
fish find that even the extreme shallows are no guarantee of safety when
dolphins are intelligent enough to learn

to hydroplane in inches of water.

In some places such as the Cape

of South Africa, the cold currents
create permanent feeding grounds
where squid are taken by fur seals
which in their turn fall victim to huge,
acrobatic great white sharks. But the
seals themselves can be murderous
predators as we see on Marion Island
in the roaring forties where the fur
seals have learned to catch and kill
the homecoming king penguins on the
gravel beaches of their rookeries.

Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae

Pygmy Seahorse Hippocampus
File Clam Ctenoides ales
Banded Sea Krait Laticauda colubrina
Yellow (or Gold) Saddle Goatfish
Parupeneus cyclostomus
Bluefin Trevally Caranx melampygus
Veined Octopus Octopus marginatus
Oriental Flying Gurnard Dactyloptena
Jawfish Opistognathidae spp.
Wonderpus Octopus Wonderpuss
Green Turtle Chelonia mydas
Sea grasses Zostera spp.
Dugong Dugong dugon
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus
Socotran Cormorant Phalacrocorax
Salps Salpa fusiformis
Comb Jellies Ctenophora spp.
Krill Euphausiid spp.
South American Sea Lion Otaria

Dusky Dolphin Lagenorhynchus
Giant Kelp Macrocystis pyrifera
Purple Sea Urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus
Sunflower Star Pycnopodia helianthoides
Brittle Star Ophiothrix spiculata
Sand Dollar Echinarachnius parma
Chokka Squid Loligo vulgaris reynaudii
Short-tail Stingray Dasyatis brevicaudata
Ragged Tooth Shark Carcharias
Great White Shark Carcharodon
Cape Fur Seals Arctocephalus pusillus
King Penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus
Southern Elephant Seal Mirounga
Subantarctic Fur Seal Arctocephalus
Short Tailed Shearwater Puffinus
tenuirostris griseus


The migrations have come to an end

as the humpbacks reach the polar
seas and can now gorge themselves
on up to three tonnes of krill each
day, one of the worlds largest animals
fattening itself for the coming year on
one of the smallest. They only have
a couple of months to lay down the
fat reserves they need for the coming year. In the Aleutian Islands south
of Alaska, five million shearwaters
(mutton birds) have made the epic
flight from Australia to exploit the
northern krill swarms. Recent falls in
abundance of krill threaten these great
systems and migrations.

Species List

Blackline Master | Planet Earth | Episode 9: Shallow Seas

Viewing Questions


1 What are continental shelves and how deep are they?

11 How do the West Australian dolphins catch fish in the


2 What percentage of the worlds oceans are they?

12 What plant drives the marine ecosystem in spring and


3 Where do the humpback whales breed?

13 What is the most abundant animal on the planet?

4 Why do the whales go there to breed and mate?

14 What kind of plant is the giant kelp?

15 Which small animal kills the kelp towers?

5 How much milk does the whale calf need each day?

16 What eats the squid in the Benguela current?

6 What organisms build the great offshore reefs?

17 Which is the smaller of the sharks that predate seals

7 How do algae help the corals feed?

and squid?

8 Why do the snakes hunt with the large predatory fish?

18 Which penguin lives on Marion Island?

9 Where are the largest sea grass meadows in the world?

19 Where do the shearwaters in Alaska come from?

10 What huge animal grazes on them?

20 How much krill can a humpback whale eat each day?


Discussion Questions | Planet Earth | Episode 9: Shallow Seas



Extension Tasks

1. Mutualism is a form of symbiosis

a relationship where both species
benefit. So is the hunting behaviour of the snakes and fish. How
common are these relationships in
2. How many of the large animals
that we see in this episode are
actually mammals rather than fish?
Why is this and what adaptations
are required?
3. Every ecosystem is powered up by
the production of green material
(producers) grass on earth and
algae in the ocean and freshwaters. Is this in fact true?
4. We tend to assume that tropical
waters are much more diverse and
richer marine environments. Why is
this an illusion?
5. Dugongs feed on the sea grass
meadows around sub-tropical
Australia. What are the greatest
threats to this endangered mammal?

Try collecting and preserving

examples of local algae and small
seaweeds details here: http://
Terms like symbiosis, commensalism, mutualism, parasitism and
others represent a whole spectrum
of relationships between plants
and organisms. Investigate the
precise differences and prepare a
presentation or report with classic
examples of each type.
Draw up a table or a visual presentation (poster) that shows the food
webs of the polar habitat during
the spring and summer feeding
Investigate the possible reasons
for sudden decline in the krill
populations and the effect that this
might have on the planets marine

Algae are simple living aquatic organisms, often floating, that capture light

energy through photosynthesis, using

it to convert inorganic nutrients into
organic matter like other green plants.
Algae range from single-cell floating
organisms to multicellular organisms,
some with fairly complex form and
(if marine) called seaweeds. All lack
leaves, roots, flowers and other organ
structures that characterize higher
plants. They are the powerhouse of
the marine environment as we see in
this episode and are at their richest in
cool waters which are far richer in the
upwelling nutrients (such as phosphates). These nutrients are brought to
the surface by cold currents from the
seabed where they have settled over
millions of years. Most fisheries in the
world are based on the productivity
of offshore cold currents. In contrast,
tropical waters have high biodiversity
(more species) but far lower biomass
(quantities of fish and other life). Alga
species seen in this episode range
from tiny single cells that live inside
coral polyps through to the massive
bull kelp towers.
Although algae seem to be simple


Discussion Questions

plants, they actually span more than

one domain, including both eukaryota
and bacteria (blue-green algae cyanobacteria), as well as more than one
kingdom, including plants and protists,
the latter being thought more animallike (see protozoa). Therefore algae
are not a single evolutionary line, but
a level of organization that may have
developed several times in the early
history of life on earth. They are perhaps the most important ecosystem
producer on the planet, rivalling the
role of grass in land-based systems.
All algae have photosynthetic machinery ultimately derived from the
cyanobacteria, and produce oxygen
as a byproduct of photosynthesis. It
is estimated that algae produce about
73 to 87 per cent of the net global
production of oxygen which is available to humans and other terrestrial
animals for respiration.

The various sorts of algae play

significant roles in aquatic ecology.
Microscopic forms that live suspended
in the water column called phytoplankton provide the food base for
most marine food chains. In very high
densities (so-called algal blooms)
these algae may discolour the water
and outcompete or even poison other
life forms, especially in their blue and
red forms so-called red tides for
instance. Seaweeds grow mostly in
shallow marine waters. Some are used
as human food or harvested for useful
substances such as agar (a thickener
used in foods and products like shampoo) or fertilizer. The study of marine
algae is called phycology or algology.

Prokaryotic algae
Cyanobacteria have been included

among the algae, referred to as the

cyanophytes or blue-green algae (the
term algae refers to any aquatic
organisms capable of photosynthesis
though some recent work on algae
specifically exclude them). Cyanobacteria are some of the oldest organisms
to appear in the fossil record dating
back to the Precambrian, possibly as
far as about 3.5 billion years. They are
thought to be the oldest organisms on
earth still living in the form of stromatolites in Western Australia (http://
Ancient cyanobacteria likely produced
much of the oxygen in the Earths

Eukaryotic algae
All other algae are eukaryotes and
conduct photosynthesis within membrane-bound structures (organelles)
called chroloplasts containing DNA.
The exact nature of the chloroplasts
is different among the different lines
of algae, and some members are no
longer photosynthetic. Some retain
plastids, but not chloroplasts, while
others have lost them entirely.


Algae are usually found in damp places or bodies of water and are common
in terrestrial as well as aquatic environments. However, terrestrial algae
are usually rather inconspicuous and
far more common in moist, tropi-

cal regions than dry ones, because

they lack vascular tissues and other
adaptations to live on land. Algae can
endure dryness and other conditions
only in symbiosis such as with a fungus like lichen.

Case Study | Planet Earth | Episode 9: Shallow Seas

Algae and symbiosis



corals. The common sybioses are:

Algae are both very fragile and very

adaptable so many microscopic species have survived by entering into
relationships with other species. Some
even invade the tissues of fish (like
carp) to survive.

Corals algae known as zooxanthellae are symbionts with corals. Typical amongst these is the
dinoflagellate symbiodinium, found
in many hard corals. The loss of
symbiodinium, or other zooxanthellae, from the host is known as
coral bleaching and causes death
of the reef area. Corals typically
filter feed at night, sifting particles from the water but the algae
also photosynthesise during the
daylight hours, providing the corals
with food during the other half of
the day.
Sponges green algae live close

In symbiotic relationships, the algae

supply photosynthates (organic substances) to the host organism which
in turn provides physical protection or
a moist environment to the algal cells.
The host organism derives some or
all of its energy requirements from the
algae. The example seen in this Planet
Earth episode is that of algae living in

to the surface of some sponges,

for example, breadcrumb sponge
(halichondria panicea). The alga is
thus protected from predators; the
sponge is provided with oxygen
and sugars which can account for
up to eighty per cent of sponge
growth in some species.
Lichens a fungus is the host, living on bare rock or tree bark usually with a green alga or a cyanobacterium as its internal symbiont.
Both fungal and algal species
found in lichens are capable of living independently, but the relationship allows them to invade new
habitats, too dry for the algae and
too low in nutrients for the fungus.


Algae and symbiosis



Viewing Questions
1 The shallow areas around continental coasts down to 200m
2 Eight per cent
3 Whales migrate to breed in warm
tropical seas
4 There are few predators and the
waters are calm
5 500 litres
6 Coral polyps
7 By providing food during the daylight hours
8 Theyre too slow without assistance
9 Shark Bay, Western Australia
10 The Dugong
11 Hydroplaning
12 Marine algae
13 Krill
14 An alga
15 Purple sea urchins
16 Seals and stingrays

17 The ragged toothed shark

18 King penguin
19 Australia
20 Three tonnes each day

Discussion Questions
1 Endless examples but students
might like to consider the nature of
their relationships with their pets
or with the organisms that infest
their own intestines.
2 Seals, whales, dolphins, dugongs.
They appear to have returned to
the water as there were abundant food resources there but the
physical adaptations required were
extreme including loss of limbs,
huge fat reserves, seasonal behaviour patterns. However many are
still gregarious they form tribes or
3 Almost exclusively. There is some

evidence that volcanic vents,

smokers, in the deep ocean can
support an ecosystem without it
but every dark system, even dark
ones like caves, require a dependence on growing plants.
4 Tropical waters are low in nutrients and algae-coral reefs are the
exception as they can protect and
exploit algae but they are like oases the exception and the rest
of the environment is an underwater sand desert.
5 Destruction of seagrass areas by
recreation like boating, by pollution and injuries to animals by boat
propellers are serious problems.
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Planet Earth logo BBC 2006. BBC
logo BBC 1996.

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