How Blue Planet II filmed the incredible fish vs bird sequence in episode one

The first episode sees giant trevally fish leaping out of the water to snatch sooty terns out of the sky. Producer Miles Barton reveals how it was done

Giant Trevally fish leaps out of the water to catch sooty tern birds as they fly overhead (BBC NHU, JG)

It’s one of the most dramatic moments in Blue Planet II episode one: a giant trevally fish leaps out of the water as it tries catch a flying bird.


BBC Natural History Unit producer Miles Barton reveals how the Blue Planet II team captured this unique behaviour on camera.

It started as a fisherman’s tale – this 40kg pugnacious bulldog of a fish that would leap out of the water and grab sooty terns in mid air. There was no hard evidence – no stills photography or video. But it sounded plausible so four of us mounted an expedition to a remote atoll in the Seychelles in September 2015. We landed two plane loads of kit – we had an underwater team and a topside team to try to capture everything.

We went out on the sea but we realised quite early on that the events were very unpredictable. You’d see splashes and you thought it was fish catching a bird but you weren’t sure. The good news was that we knew it was happening – but we weren’t sure how we were ever going to capture it.

Giant Trevally tries to catch a flying bird in Blue Planet II (BBC NHU, JG)
Giant Trevally tries to catch a flying bird in Blue Planet II (BBC NHU)

Then we found out that some of these fish came into a channel close to the beach, so that’s where we set up our tripod and camera. You could see the fish under the water, you could see the birds flying over the water and you start to see the fish track the bird like a little missile. The fish manages to project itself a metre out of the water and then expands its mouth to the size of a small football to totally encompass the bird. It happens so fast you don’t really see it until you play it back.

The best shots for me were when the bird gets away because you have this amazing battle between a fish and a bird just above the surface of the water – the acrobatics of the leaping fish and the aerobatics of the bird. It’s truly spectacular.

Once we brought it back to the UK, we thought it was likely to be a really significant sequence in the series. First, because it hadn’t seen before and also because it’s extraordinary behaviour.”


Interview by Terry Payne