Having developed a fascination with marine biology as a young diver, Doug Allan found himself in the Antarctic working as a research diver helping scientists gather data. It was during this time, in the mid 80's, that he met David Attenborough and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ryan Tubridy asked Doug if it takes a lot of time filming to get each minute of content. Doug explained that a good rule of thumb is that it will take approximately 8 days of filming to get 1 minute of film, therefore for enough content for one episode of Frozen Planet, you could be looking at 400 days filming. He describes the process similar to trying to nail jelly to the wall:
"You get some things but miss others."
Ryan asks about Doug’s connection to whales and Doug says that it’s an enormous privilege to get to swim with these giant mammals and talks fondly about one whale and her calf who appeared to recognise their boat and were clearly very comfortable in his company:
"Just like there’s an awful lot that passes between you and a dog when you get to know the dog, so it was between me and this whale."
Ryan talks about a recent programme he watched of whales working together to knock a seal off his icy perch which he described as ‘synchronised swimming on a murder hunt.' Doug takes the credit for the first iteration of this piece of film, enhanced by the second piece where drone footage was used in the sky – this gives fuller perspective on the intelligence of these mammals – how they coordinate their efforts to create the lethal wave to knock the seal into the sea.
Doug explains that sometimes it’s very difficult to stand by and watch the brutality of nature and regularly has to remind himself that:
"Our job is to be there and to observe something that may be being seen for the first time... separate our emotions to some extent to make sure that through our teary eyes we’re at least keeping the thing in focus!"
And from mammals below the ice to those on the ice, Ryan and Doug move on to polar bears who apparently can smell a human from over a mile away (nice!). If they find you appealing, they will use every trick in the book to get close enough for a bite. Doug has a colleague who sits with him when he is filming polar bears whose job is to look everywhere except at the bear Doug is filming because, "it’s not the polar bear you can see that’ll get you". However, there are tricks if you do find yourself a little too close for comfort: a splash of bear spray (same effect as pepper spray) and failing that, hop on your snow machine and get out of there fast. Doug recalls asking his Innuit friend how fast would he need to go to get away from a polar bear to which he responded:
"Just a little bit faster than the person who’s with you."
Even though it would seem Doug has seen it all, he tells Ryan that there is one creature still left on his list: the Narwhal whale, often dubbed the unicorn of the sea due to its ivory tusks. Doug says:
"20 minutes in his company and I’d be a very happy man."
To celebrate 100 years since Ernerst Shackleton’s death, Doug will be speaking at the Shackleton Museum in Athy between 28/30th October. For a full programme of events go here.
Doug Allan’s show, It’s a Wrap, is touring theatres in Ireland during the month of November. For dates and tickets go here.
To hear Ryan's full interview with Doug, go here.