The Gray Whale Obstacle Course

The Gray Whale Obstacle Course

Once hunted to the brink of extinction, the gray whale has made an amazing comeback in the last 80 years.

But in 1999 and 2000, these unique creatures, which live along the West Coast of North America, began to mysteriously disappear by the thousands. Their population dropped by one-third.

Gray whales have the longest migration route of any mammal -- 8,500 to 12,000 miles -- and during their journey they pass some of the world's biggest cities, along some of the most polluted coastlines. In The Gray Whale Obstacle Course, Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Ocean Adventures team travel the length of this migration, from the warm waters of Magdalena Bay in Baja California, Mexico, where the gray whales give birth, nurse their calves, rest and play before their long journey north, to the nutrient-rich feeding grounds of the Bering Sea in Alaska. The team searches for clues about this resilient, yet threatened species to gain a better understanding of the increasing challenges, both natural and man-made, that gray whales face along the way.

The journey of Jean-Michel and his team begins with a visit to the gray whales' Arctic feeding grounds. The area is huge -- about the size of Maryland and Delaware combined. In the summer months, the region experiences nearly 24 hours of sunlight, which fuels an explosion of tiny plant and animal growth. When the whales arrive here, they feast. They haven't eaten for seven months, and they are far thinner than when they left these feeding grounds. Here, on a dive in the frigid waters, the Cousteau team collects mud from the ocean floor to find amphipods, the tiny creatures that are the staple of the gray whale's diet.

In tracing the migration route of the gray whales up the California coast, Jean-Michel and his team encountered numerous obstacles that these gentle creatures face. From killer whale attacks to noise pollution to global warming and a reduced food source, the hazards faced by gray whales are increasing. And these magnificent creatures are still not fully understood. Scientists have many ideas, but more research and study is needed to find the best ways to protect them.

"Our goal is to get more people aware about the work being put forward and have decision makers making better decisions and to have public awareness put more pressure to support science," says Jean-Michel, who would like to see more money and effort go into studying and protecting these animals. "That way, we can ultimately pass on to the next generation something that is as good as -- if not better than -- how we found it."

The Gray Whale Obstacle Course is shot in high-definition and is narrated by Pierce Brosnan.