My Secret Life as Plankton

Check out “My secret life as plankton” for a fish-eye look at the unseen life teeming within each drop of the ocean’s water. We spoke with producer and marine biologist Tierney Thys to get an inside perspective on creating the film.

What inspired you to make this video?

I’ve been in natural history filmmaking for many years and have a deep love and respect for the ocean. I also believe strongly in the power of film to raise awareness and educate. The idea for an ocean series for TED Ed was originally suggested to me by Chris Anderson, curator of TED. We brainstormed on possible topics and it grew out from there.

Where did you get the idea to cast a fish as the narrator?

As a group, our little production team all brainstormed on how best to tell the story of plankton. We knew we wanted to start topside and then dive in to the strange world of plankton. We brainstormed up all sorts of places, and with Noé Sardet and Sharif Mirshak we agreed that we should start in a fish market and see where that took us. When I went to write the script, it was the fish that started speaking—I listened and wrote down what that lovely snapper said.

What message do you hope to convey to viewers with this video?

As we all know many of our food fishes are suffering greatly due to global overfishing, perverse subsidies and piracy on the high seas. We’ve lost 90 percent of our big fishes since the 1950s and the majority of our fisheries are over-exploited. I hope dearly to highlight in a fun and engaging way that every fish is much more than a simple slab of protein. Marine fishes lead amazing life in that wildest of places, our beautiful, fragile ocean. Food fishes have a huge diversity of life histories—I show only one—but there are literally thousands of amazing fish tales that could and hopefully will be told. I hope to put a face on the fishes so we are more conscious and respectful of what it is we are consuming and overexploiting at such breakneck speed.

Do you recall the first time you saw plankton under a microscope?

I first saw plankton under a scope when I was very little—perhaps age 4 or 5 or so. My parents had a lovely microscope when I was growing up. (Incidentally that is a great item to have in any house!) Swimming at the other end of that microscope’s ocular I saw a whole spectacular world that was so unlike anything I’d ever seen on land. And when I could get that darn focus knob to work, I was hooked!

What’s your favorite species of plankton and why?

Oh, that is a tough one. I just adore all of them. The ctenophores are gorgeous. The pteropods and heteropods are supremely graceful. The phytoplankton are luminous and so vital to our survival.  I must say I am utterly enchanted by diatoms—they never cease to amaze me. All the mind-blowing larvae that populate the seas are spectacular—in particular the urchin pluteus—what a rocket ship! The jellies—their diversity, size and beauty astound me. Phronima and its crazy maternal antics rivet me… In truth I can’t choose a favorite! I love them all.

What are the Plankton Chronicles? 

The Plankton Chronicles project combines art and science, revealing the beauty and diversity of planktonic organisms. Plankton samples are collected and filmed at the Villefranche-sur-Mer Marine Station and on board the schooner, Tara, using dark field optics and macro lenses or microscopes equipped with HD SLR cameras. Christian Sardet from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Noe Sardet and Sharif Mirshak from Parafilms in Montreal initiated the project in the context of the Tara Oceans expedition. The Plankton Chronicles are sponsored by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, the Pierre et Marie Curie University in Paris and the Groupement d’Interet Scientifique IBISA.

Thumbnail Image Credit: idua_japan, Flickr 


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