‘A Journey South’ – Norwich science festival review

Two-time BAFTA Award winner Chris Watson presented ‘A Journey South’ at the Forum on Monday 21st of October. Watson has previously worked as a sound recordist on David Attenborough series’ ‘Life of Birds’ and ‘Frozen Planet’, both of which won BAFTA Awards for ‘Best Factual Sound’. More recently, he has worked on ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’ – the newest of Attenborough’s TV series.

The presentation started with the first recording of the wind outside the camp on Ross Island near Mount Erebus followed by an excerpt from Watson’s audio diary setting the atmosphere of the location. The roar of the wind contradicted my previous thoughts of Antarctica being quiet. Recordings were also played of glaciers carving from above and below the glacier itself. What sounded like loud, echoing creaks was in fact the incredibly slow progression of the glacier towards the ocean and the dripping of the melting glaciers from below.

Watson played recordings of Adélie penguins, Weddell seals, orcas and blue whales. As penguins are not naturally predated by humans and having a curious nature, photos showed the penguins coming up to Watson and the rest of the film crew to investigate the visitors. Watson’s recording of the penguins sounded almost like they were chattering amongst themselves about the strange visitors they were receiving.

By far the most striking animal recording was the blue whale song. Whales communicate to one another in pitches below the human range of hearing known as infrasound. The recording was in three parts: the original recording and the same recording two more times but increased in pitch by an octave each time. This brought the sound recording to a pitch that could be heard. The original recording while not heard, could be felt as a vibration through the room; the feeling not dissimilar to the loud bass at a concert. It was amazing to find out was learning that whales have names for each other given by their mothers. Upon a whale’s birth, their mother refers to them by a specific song which is then used by the other whales in the pod.

Watson also talked about two landmarks in Antarctica: Robert F. Scott’s hut and the Amundsen-Scott Station (where the ceremonial location of the South Pole can be found). Watson played a recording of David Attenborough not usually shown to people where he described the ‘oppressive’ nature of the cabin as if there a presence of ghosts in the place. Attenborough had described an oppressive feeling which was so intense that it made him leave the building with a feeling of not being welcome.

Little would be known about the wildlife that lives on Antarctica by the general public if not for the recordings and documentaries made by people like Watson and Attenborough. This talk has shown me that there is a vast difference between the impressions of Antarctica and the truth. Speaking to Watson after the talk he was quite steadfast in his belief that there is no place quite as rich in sound as the ocean surrounding Antarctica, saying that scientist have yet to find a sea creature with no ability to hear.

After watching A Journey South, I’d highly recommend researching the ecosystem of Antarctica and how the human presence is affecting the lives of the animals living there. One of the major

problems is supplying the research stations and the icebreaker ships that are needed to get to the stations and understanding whether these are affecting the lives of the Antarctic animals that depend on the sea ice and oceans.


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Olivia Johnson

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September 2021
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