Take a Whale Adventure with Nigel Marven

The nature enthusiast on tickling a whale’s tongue, travelling to Australia, Alaska and California - and his brand new Channel 5 show

This March, wildlife buff Nigel, a former colleague of David Attenborough, gets up close and personal with giant beasts of the sea, and takes us with him on the longest mammal migration on earth, 10,000 miles along the Pacific coast. We find out more…

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How dangerous are grey whales? You get quite close to them in this series, is there anything to consider when invading their space?

They are completely safe. In the past, when the hunting of whales was at its height, fisherman called grey whales the ‘devilfish’ because mothers with young would defend their calves so ferociously if attacked. However, these days we are on far better terms with the whales – a mother in the birthing lagoons in Mexico even allowed me to reach into her baby’s mouth and scratch its tongue. It was a magical experience.

What’s the most fascinating thing about these blubbery beasts? 

The grey whale has one of the longest migrations of any mammal in the world ­– it’s an annual round trip of over 10,000 miles. Imagine a grey whale calf born in a warm shallow lagoon in Mexico, surrounded by pelicans and whale sharks. In the same year it will follow its mother all the way north to the waters of Alaska, surrounded by ice and walrus. It’s incredible what environments it must cope with.

Did you see any whales jumping out of the water during shoots?

Humpback whales are well known for their ‘breaching’ behaviour – when they leap out of the water, making an enormous splash when they re-enter the water. I had no idea that grey whales enjoy doing the same thing. While filming close to Vancouver Island I witnessed a young grey whale breach seven times in a row. To make it even more spectacular, it was jumping amongst a huge flock of scoter ducks, making them scatter with every leap. It had an almost mischievous look, almost as if it was smiling.

Definitely the scenery we passed. Following the whales’ migration north from the coastal roads we were led from Mexican desert, up past the towering cliffs of Big Sur, California, beneath the towering coastal redwoods of the northern forests, all the way up to the bleak and cold landscape surrounding the town of Barrow, Alaska, and the northernmost town in the United States.

What is the most important thing to consider when travelling to Alaska?

Warm clothing. Even in summer. We spent ten hours in an open Eskimo boat searching for the grey whales; even though we all dressed warmly I’ve never been so cold in my life!

What’s the most exciting show you’ve been involved with?

This one. Everything went right for us and it was a trip full of firsts ­– my first contact with a grey whale, an endangered Californian condor perched on a cliff side just a few feet away from me and I met the red tree vole­ – an animal that spends its entire life in the treetops and one that I had never heard of before this trip. These are just a few examples of the many highlights in the series.

You’ve had crocodiles, boa constrictors and magpies as pets, but what animal gets your heart racing like no other?

It depends on what I’m looking for next. Currently I’m in Honduras hoping to catch a glimpse of the Honduran emerald hummingbird, a rare bird in Central America and one that is only found in a tiny area of the country.

What’s your favourite place on the planet, and why?

I’d have to say Lord Howe Island, off the coast of Australia. It is a pristine paradise where there are no cars, you can enjoy golden beaches and some incredible coral reefs or you can scale the heights of Mount Gower, one of the most picturesque hikes I’ve ever done.

Click here to go whale spotting on an Alaskan cruise 

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Watch episode one of Whale Adventure with Nigel Marvin at 8pm on Tuesday, 12 March, on Channel 5