On-Air Highlights

When Whales Walked: Journeys in Deep Time

Written by Fred Vigeant, Director of Programming and Promotions for TV and Radio | May 30, 2019 2:09 PM
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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 surprisingly challenging question: Where did these amazing creatures come from?

The answers can be found in a new groundbreaking special, When Whales Walked: Journeys in Deep Time. Filmed on five continents, with access to top scientists and exciting fossil finds, it takes us on a global adventure that reveals new insights into the history of life on earth.

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.

With major grants from the National Science Foundation and Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, When Whales Walked takes viewers to the frontiers of science, to see how paleontology, genetics and new technologies all come together to paint a new picture of deep time history. The discoveries come to life in the voices of diverse and passionate scientists who share their most amazing discoveries.

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 in 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.

Catch When Whales Walked June 19 at 9:00pm on WITF

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