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Making Ocean Mysteries

August 27, 2012 

Making Ocean Mysteries

Georgia Aquarium Public Relations Manager Ashley Lansdale recounts her recent travels with the crew of Ocean Mysteries as they filmed in Alaska.

The flight from Atlanta to Anchorage is about 4,000 miles and takes around 10 hours depending on where you layover. As I sit on my third flight to Anchorage from Atlanta (yes, I typed that correctly, third flight) to meet Jeff Corwin and the Ocean Mysteries crew, I am in complete awe of how America’s last frontier has been such an inspiring place for the series.

The Ocean Mysteries team works with researchers from the Alaska SeaLife Center. 

Going over some of these moments, I can’t help but reflect on the heroic efforts of some of the world’s leading biologists and veterinarians who came together to save a newborn, stranded beluga whale calf in Bristol Bay. We had two Georgia Aquarium team members (top-level beluga whale experts) on-site in Seward who rushed to help with this effort within a day of the stranding. Having recently gone through an unprecedented birth and devastating loss of a beluga whale calf here at Georgia Aquarium, we knew our team was one of the best-equipped for this task. In fact, if beluga whales didn’t live in zoos and aquariums, there would be no knowledge of the type of care a beluga whale calf requires. Even though the calf succumbed to complications from an already-weakened immune system, what we learned from the calf is invaluable. The calf would have never survived as long as he did had it not been for the incredible care this expert team was able to provide and the Ocean Mysteries team is grateful for the opportunity to tell this story in season two.

Georgia Aquarium’s Dennis Christen and Jeff Corwin bottle feed the beluga calf who was rescued off the coast of Bristol Bay in June.  

I also think of what this means on a greater scale – the importance of educating the public about beluga whales and other animals and inspiring them to care about their fates. That’s why I’m so proud to be a part of the Ocean Mysteries and Georgia Aquarium teams, working alongside Jeff Corwin and our experts and partners to tell these stories and instill a sense of responsibility for conservation among our viewers. As we begin field production for season two of Ocean Mysteries, I would like to share some of these incredible and inspiring moments from my perspective. Hopefully, you’ll visit to catch up on the behind-the-scenes happenings and thrilling moments we experience while creating this show.

Alaska: Part 1

Being in Alaska is an indescribable experience in itself. The air is pristine and the views are breathtaking, but what really amazes me is just how big Alaska really is. For some perspective, Alaska has more coastline than the entire continental United States combined. What better place to discover “ocean mysteries” than here in America’s last frontier. With help from the Alaska SeaLife Center, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, we set out to do just that. Here are some highlights and fun behind-the-scenes moments from our 12-day shoot.

The Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) is an amazing place. As Alaska’s only public aquarium and ocean marine wildlife rescue center, it’s a very important place as well. Jeff and our team participated in health assessments with Steller sea lions. The center is the only facility in the U.S. that houses Steller sea lions in human care for research-specific purposes, making this a one-of-a-kind experience. The Ocean Mysteries crew also travelled to the Gulf of Alaska with the ASLC to make repairs to several cameras used to monitor wildlife in the area for the purpose of studying Steller sea lion populations – a task only federally-permitted researchers are able to perform. We were able to get a birds-eye view of hauled out Steller sea lions and their pups while witnessing researchers collect and record data on reproductive success, extent of maternal care and investment, pup mortality and other behavioral studies. The photos below describe what words can’t – getting a production crew and gear up and down a mountain on an island is not as easy as it looks!


The Ocean Mysteries team works with researchers from the Alaska SeaLife Center to document their Steller sea lion research.  

On our third day in Alaska, we received a call that a day-old harbor seal pup had been separated from his mother and stranded near Homer. Jeff and our team met up with the ASLC rescue team who made the six-hour round-trip trek to make this rescue. Jeff helped the team admit the pup, checking vitals and performing routine exams. The Alaska SeaLife Center graciously allowed Jeff to name the pup Ali, after Mohamed Ali, for his fighting spirit. What a moving experience it was to see such a helpless animal receive this incredible amount of care. Ali continues to do well and will likely be released later this year. Here’s a great shot of Jeff and Ali.

Ocean Mysteries host Jeff Corwin poses with rescued harbor seal Ali following his rescue in June.

Perhaps, one of the most awe-inspiring moments of this trip was our expedition to Aialik Glacier – a monstrosity of a glacier sourced from the Harding Icefield reaching 400 feet tall and over two miles wide. When Jeff insisted we make the trip out to the glacier to observe harbor seals in their natural environment, I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect – I mean, it’s a big piece of ice right? As our captain carefully maneuvered our boat to avoid the massive ice chunks that had broken off (or calved) from the glacier, I think we all understood why our host had been so keen on this trip. Being so close to something so awe-inspiring can really put things in perspective. We are just tiny witnesses to these magnificent resources – glacial ice is the largest reservoir of fresh water on Earth, supporting one third of the world's population. Also, here’s a fun photo of a harbor seal hauled out on an iceberg.

Hauled out Harbor Seal: A wild harbor seal hauls out on an ice burg near Aialik Glacier.  

Of course there were many more great moments and stories from our time in Alaska. We certainly hope you’ll tune into Ocean Mysteries this fall to experience it with us. More updates from our Ocean Mysteries adventures in the field to come soon!

About the author: As PR manager at Georgia Aquarium, much of Ashley’s time is focused on the Ocean Mysteries project. She serves as Georgia Aquarium’s liaison between the production team and Georgia Aquarium experts and partners, helping to develop episodes and facilitate production in the field and on-site at Georgia Aquarium. Be sure to watch Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin from Georgia Aquarium Saturday mornings on ABC, check local listings for times.

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