Undersea Life Like You’ve Never Seen It Before

By Pam McLennan, Epoch Times
September 15, 2015 Updated: September 25, 2015

In “Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean,” currently playing at IMAX theatres across Canada, Cousteau gets up close with a broad diversity of ocean creatures—many of them captured on film for the first time.

Jean-Michel is the son of the great Jacques Cousteau, the renowned undersea explorer who introduced marine conservation to the world through his books, films, and TV documentaries and series.

In educating the world about the delicate balance of the oceans and their plant and animal inhabitants, the elder Cousteau wanted people to know the value of the oceans so they would look after them. “People protect what they love,” he said.

Jean-Michel took that sentiment to heart, and while working with his father at an early age, began studying and photographing underwater ecosystems. Now, he also makes films and travels internationally talking about the need to clean up the world’s oceans.

“How can people protect what they don’t understand?” he asked in a 2010 TED Talk. To this end, he continues his father’s scientific communication approach to help educate people of all ages about ocean life.

The camera goes right inside the mouth of a giant grouper fish—a mouth so large it looks like it could easily engulf a human head.

“Secret Ocean” was shot in underwater environments of the Bahamas, Fiji, and Catalina Island using a high-speed camera that shows some of the smallest creatures and their movements—something the human eye is unable to detect because they occur so quickly. There is an abundance of fish, shellfish, octopi, and plants, each with an important role in the food chain.

The film starts by introducing plankton, which interestingly is composed of a myriad of organisms that include both plants and animals, which Cousteau calls the source of life. Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that live closer to the water’s surface. There are at least one million of them in a teaspoon of seawater.

Zooplankton are animals that vary in size from tiny to large, such as jellyfish, that feed on phytoplankton and in turn are eaten by many of the creatures that they share the ocean with. Thus, phytoplankton is the beginning of the underwater food chain.

The film then shows Christmas tree worms, spiral-shaped colourful creatures approximately 3.8 centimetres in size. They are very shy and quickly move in and out of calcium carbonate tubes in the sand to avoid being eaten.

When the Christmas tree worms die, the empty tubes are inhabited by tiny fish like gobies and blennies that are an important source of food for larger fish.

The defense mechanism of the black-spotted sea cucumber is self-evisceration of its vital organs, the aim being to distract the predator and allow the sea cucumber to escape. Amazingly, the organs grow back. Its cylindrical body is covered in brown spots and black polka dots and we see it “vacuuming” the ocean floor to find food. Later, it expels clean sand from its body.

Although life in the ocean is all about survival, some of its inhabitants form what Cousteau calls “helpful partnerships.” Many mutually beneficial relationships exist. For example, the clownfish lives within the sea anemone as it is immune to the anemone’s sting. The clownfish protects the anemone from predators and the anemone eats scraps of food dropped by the fish.

We see the red and white banded cleaner shrimp make a meal of parasites, fungi, and dead tissue that it removes from the bodies and even mouths of fish in the vicinity, which in turn, keeps the fish healthy.

The camera goes right inside the mouth of a giant grouper fish—a mouth so large it looks like it could easily engulf a human head. There are crushing teeth further down the throat that tear up the flesh of whatever the grouper eats.

The 40-minute film also looks at crabs, eels, lobster, squid, sharks, and many other colourful and interesting creatures. It is an absorbing portrait of life under the waters of the world.

Teachers can download an educator’s guide at www.secretocean-thefilm.com. It contains information, drawings, and quizzes that can be used both before and after seeing the movie.