What impacted me most about watching a sneak peek of today’s debut of a Discovery+-streamed documentary, The Last Unknown, is this: Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain is difficult enough for humans to traverse the archipelago. But consider how the wildlife that lives there faces difficult challenges.
As photographer Ian Shive (below) describes it in the film (you can sign up for a free trial of Discovery’s streaming service here), the Steller sea lions are struggling to find food (the film suggests overfishing has depleted opportunities for quick meals), seabirds are dodging bigger flying predators, and the endangered fur seal colonies – when not fleeing hungry orcas – are finding mating partners as difficult as some humans do in the dating world.
But what strikes you most in Shive’s journey around multiple islands among the Aleutians – plus the interactions with the biologists who spend their time researching the fauna of the chain – is just how rugged, treacherous and gorgeous these volcanic formations and difficult-to-reach shorelines can be.
The content of Last Unknown is part animal kingdom, part geology study and even a smidgen of history lessons (the latter a tour of caves Japanese troops occupied on the islands of Attu and Kiska during the World War II invasion of the Aleutians, a somewhat forgotten but what could have been pivotal chapter of the Pacific Theater).
As you can see in the photo above and in the sneak peek of the show below, the cinematography of The Last Unknown is brilliant. From Shive slipping out of a tiny opening after exploring the World War II cave system, his recording temperature readings around the very active Bogoslof volcano, and, of course, to the breathtaking footage of seabirds and seals in their habitat few of us are lucky enough to see up close, it’s an hour’s worth of content that ends wanting you to see more.
What’s incredible about Alaska is you can go almost anywhere in the state and your jaws will drop from what you can see: bears and salmon; caribou herds; mountain goats and tall peaks; fjords and frozen tundra. And as Aleutians jutting off the mainland that bring you closer and closer to Russia, you realize how special and awesome this state can be.
“Through the fog and rain, land emerges. Somehow this fluid world finds something solid,” Shive narrates in his film. “Life emerges from the relationship between water and rock. Between the always moving sea. Between change and stability. It’s a relationship we barely understand, but we can see it here.”
Check out the preview video:
And here’s the Discovery press release:
Alaska’s Aleutian Islands remain one of the most inaccessible, remote and wild places on the planet – located in the freezing sea between Siberia and Alaska. It’s a place few people have ever seen with most of the islands remaining completely uninhabited with no docks, trails or resources. In this all-new nature special, award-winning photographer Ian Shive will take viewers along an awe-inspiring journey to the Aleutian Islands to document its incredible natural wonders and wildlife in THE LAST UNKNOWN streaming Thursday, March 18 on discovery+.
“This isn’t your typical wildlife documentary, but a groundbreaking, wild adventure that intertwines the human experience of going where few people have ever been before, and the emotionally charged, life-changing moments that can only happen when you stand amidst some of the most spectacular wildlife spectacles on Earth. I am so excited to bring audiences along for the ride!” Shive said.
“Ian’s journey takes viewers to a part of the world that few people will ever get to see in real life. Showcasing the vital work being done to protect our diverse wildlife and ecosystem is an important part of Discovery’s heritage and we are thrilled to share this latest addition to the vast collection of natural history documentaries available on discovery+,” said Scott Lewers, Executive Vice President of Multiplatform Programming, Factual & Head of Content, Science.
The Aleutian Islands are a rugged, wild network of 2,500+ islands which swing out into the middle of the Bering Sea. They are not only protected by remote isolation, but by their designation as an Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
“Watching swirling clouds of tiny seabirds at Kiska Island is one of the most awe-inspiring wildlife spectacles I have ever seen. The thousands of islands that are home to millions of birds and marine mammals make the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge an iconic example of our National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Cynthia Martinez, Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I’m excited that viewers will get to experience the beauty of the Aleutian Chain, the traditional homelands of the Unangax? people.”
There is only one way to reach this remote corner of the world – a daring, high-seas adventure with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on a one-of a kind research mission. Ian joins along with a team of leading scientists to document their findings, share their stories and learn first-hand why these islands are so vital to the health of the planet.
The Aleutians are comprised of 80 large volcanoes, one of the most volcanic places in the world. It’s the secret to the success of the wildlife that live here. The special will give viewers an up-close look at the millions of seabirds that swirl the Aleutians’ jagged cliffs. It also traces some of the largest congregations of marine mammals anywhere on the planet including pods of orca, humpback whales and northern fur seals that face off to protect their territory. This is truly a place where it’s survival of the fittest – with cameras capturing it all.
Ian and his crew were also the very first to film at the volatile active volcano (Bogoslof), home to one of the largest Northern Fur Seal colonies in the world. But there are more than just animals to the islands’ story. Ian also explores and captures the first high-definition footage of World War II relics left behind by the Japanese troops that invaded and occupied the Aleutians.
As a photographer, author, film and television producer, conservationist, and educator, Ian has captured some of the world’s most pristine environments and the vital message of conservation. In 2020, he launched the Discovery digital series “Nature in Focus,” where Ian explored the planet as host and executive producer. In 2019, Ian led several expeditions to some of the world’s most remote coral atolls for the giant-screen film, Hidden Pacific, which he directed and produced. Hidden Pacific brings to life in IMAX 3D the vibrant marine national monuments at the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean — thriving ecosystems filled with colorful coral reefs, large colonies of birds, and threatened species that depend on these habitats for survival. He is the author of several, best-selling books including the award-winning The National Parks: An American Legacy, and his latest best-selling book released in October 2020, Refuge: America’s Wildest Places, which celebrates the National Wildlife Refuge System.
THE LAST UNKNOWN is produced by Tandem Stills + Motion, Inc. for discovery+. Ian Shive and Marc Summers are Executive Producers for Tandem. Christina Bavetta, Kristen Variola and Scott Lewers are Executive Producers for discovery+.
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