They are the most iconic animals on Planet Earth—voracious crocodiles, acrobatic birds, majestic elephants, stupendous whales. To see them is to marvel—and to ask a challenging question: Where did these amazing creatures come from?
Twin Cities PBS was able to bring the answers to life thanks to major grants from the National Science Foundation and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to support the production of this ground-breaking special. “When Whales Walked: Journeys in Deep Time takes us to the frontiers of science,” says Michael Rosenfeld, TPT’s Vice President of National Productions. “It shows how researchers are using not just paleontology, but genetics, climate science and ecology to fill in the gaps in the story of life. And it’s not just a story of the past—these discoveries carry important lessons for today and even the future.” Filmed on five continents, with access to top scientists and exciting fossil finds, the film takes us on a global adventure that reveals new insights into the history of life on earth.
NEW TPT 2 Wednesday, June 19, 8pm
on the PBS Video App
Starting today, with animals we can see and film, we travel millions of years into the past to unravel their ancient stories. Each of these iconic creatures has an extraordinary lineage—a story full of twists and turns, punctuated by dramatic events in earth history. Along the way we meet an extraordinary cast of ancient characters, from a croc that ran like a greyhound to a primitive whale that walked on land. These lost creatures from the past come to life in dazzling 3-D animations based on the latest scientific research.
We travel to China, where dozens of dinosaur fossils vividly show how nature experimented with wings, beaks and feathers, giving rise to the ten thousand species of birds that live on earth today. We head to Pakistan, where an expedition found a strange four-legged beast that looked like a dog but turned out to be an ancient whale. Scientists tell us that animals like this went back into the oceans and, over 15 million years, evolved into the giant whales we know today.
And in the deserts of Abu Dhabi, we discover mysterious fossilized footprints. They were made by ancient four-tusked elephants about 7 million years ago. They were part of a wave of great migrations, as elephants left Africa and spread across the world. Today there are only three species of elephant left, but back then there were dozens, living side by side in a kind of elephant Jurassic park.
When Whales Walked is an exciting journey into the past, but it also tells us a lot about our modern world. That’s because the deep time history of the earth has important lessons that scientists are teasing out. They can tell from the fossil record that habitat loss, climate change, and warming oceans can wipe out thousands of species, causing mass extinctions. Those same dangers face the elephants, whales, birds, and crocs we meet in this film. Will they thrive or disappear?
The answer is up to us.
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