Blue Planet II producer explains what happened next with that baby sperm whale: “sometimes you’ve got to step in”

The whale shown on the BBC1 natural history series had part of a plastic bucket caught in its mouth - but when one of the crew intervened he put his own life in danger

Sperm whale in Blue Planet II

Amid the numerous awe-inspiring undersea wonders viewers were treated to in the BBC’s spectacular natural history series Blue Planet II, there were also one or two far more sobering moments.

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A mourning pilot whale mother carrying her stillborn baby that may have been poisoned by pollution left people in tears, while footage of a baby sperm whale with part of a plastic bucket caught in its mouth really drove home the problem.

But what happened next to that whale? Would the team behind the BBC natural history show ever intervene in a situation like this?

Speaking at Tuesday night’s National Television Awards, where Blue Planet II picked up the prestigious Impact Award for raising awareness of the issue, producer James Honeyborne revealed that this was one case in which the crew felt they couldn’t stand idly by.

“As wildlife filmmakers we must let nature take its course, we don’t want to interfere with it,” said Honeyborne. “But just very rarely, sometimes, you feel compelled to do something, and if you see a turtle trapped in a plastic bag or you see a humpback whale wrapped up in fishing gear, you’ve got to step in – that’s human nature isn’t it? And I’m pleased to say that’s what happened with the baby sperm whale. But it wasn’t easy.”

Honeyborn went on to lay out a tale that was inspirational, heartening and not a little bit frightening…

“The sperm whale had the bucket and was playing with it, and looked like he could choke on it, so René the cameraman swam over and put his camera aside and took the bucket. And the sperm whale looked at him and took the bucket back. So he took the bucket off the sperm whale and the baby calf came over and took hold of his leg and at that point René realised he was going on a ride – down…

“The whale dived and René, who was snorkelling, realised all he could do was hold his breath. And the whale dived and took him down and he waited, and he had to wait until the whale wanted to come back and breathe – and luckily that was before he ran out of air.

“They came back up to the top, René was still holding on to the bucket, and it was only then that the whale realised that maybe it wasn’t a game after all and got bored and left him alone.

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“That’s what it took to get just one little bit of plastic out of the ocean.”