29 Dec 8 documentaries every biology lover should see

A David Attenborough documentary, a drink and some snacks: what more do you need?Photographer: Fanny Koentjes

Are you interested in the wonderful field of biology? Then sit back, relax and (binge) watch these beautiful and intriguing nature documentaries. They might even inspire you to study biology in the future – or, if you’re already a biology student (like me), remind you just why you chose this amazing discipline.

Blackfish (2013)

Blackfish is as much a thriller as it is a documentary. It shows you the sad lives of Orcas in captivity: their bad living conditions (way too small pools) and ill-treatment (taking babies from their mothers as soon as they are born). You will be shocked to hear about the many accidents with Orcas in sea parks, leading to injury or even death of their trainers.  Blackfish shows you how sea parks twist stories about these accidents just to appear in a good light, misleading the public as well as their own staff. The scene wherein a very experienced trainer is repeatedly pulled underwater and is held there for over a minute by an Orca is really terrifying.

Earthflight (2012)

Earthflight shows you the world from a bird’s-eye view. It’s a series of six 60-minute episodes, each covering a different part of the world, from North-America to Asia. Earthflight is available in Dutch as well, but the English version is narrated by David Tennant, which I think is a legitimate argument to stick to English. Earthflight’s  filming process was very creative. The filmmakers used tiny cameras strapped to real birds, ultralight planes and helicopter drones.

Kingdom of Plants 3D (2012)

Yes, you read that right: this documentary series is in 3D. And another thing: it’s narrated by the great David Attenborough. What more could you want? If you’re a fan of sir Attenborough’s documentaries, you will not be let down by this one. All of the footage for Kingdom of Plants was shot at the gorgeous Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK. The series consists of 3 films of 50 minutes each, and includes beautiful time-lapse scenes and  extreme close-up details of plants and their interaction with insects and fungi. In episode 2 they use UV-sensitive 3D cameras that show us the hidden colours and patterns of plants.

Frozen Planet (2011)

Frozen Planet is an engrossing 7-episode series about life in the Arctic and Antarctic. This documentary shows the natural beauty of these harsh environments during every season, and addresses the dire effects of global warming. Frozen Planet won 4 Emmy Awards in the US, and rightfully so.

South Pacific (2009)

A documentary about the South Pacific: from coral gardening and bull sharks to volcanoes and flightless parrots. The absolutely stunning images and the narrating voice of one of my favourite actors, Benedict Cumberbatch, make it very relaxing to watch. Nice to know is that this documentary became famous because of Benedict’s mispronunciation of the word Penguin.. I mean Pengwings.

Planet Earth (2006)

Planet Earth, the most expensive nature documentary series the BBC ever made – and it shows. Every episode covers a different habitat on Earth, from the poles to the desert. You’ll see fascinating animal behaviour, like hydroplaning dolphins and the mating dance of birds- of-paradise. And yes, it’s all narrated by (who else?) David Attenborough. My favourite episode is ‘Ocean Deep’, it contains beautiful and mysterious scenes of the least discovered part of our planet.

Human Planet (2011)

Whereas the other documentaries on this list show animals and plants, Human Planet shows human beings in their natural habitat. You’ll see the different hunting, gathering and farming techniques that exist around the globe. My personal favourite is the Bajau spearfisherman who walks on the bottom of the sea for 2.5 minutes on just one breath.

The Blue Planet (2001)

Deep seas, open seas, frozen seas, seasonal seas, coral seas, tidal seas… Blue Planet is described as ‘the first ever comprehensive series on the natural history of the world’s oceans’. It has won several Emmy and BAFTA TV Awards for its cinematography and music (composed by George Fenton). Needless to say it is narrated by our good old friend David Attenborough. If you are into marine biology (like me) this is the perfect documentary for you! Whatever you do, do not miss the part about floating crabs pinching the toes of resting Booby birds.


What’s your favourite documentary from this list? Or did I miss your favourite one? Please share your tips in the comments!



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WTF fanny

WTF fanny

Biologist (no tree hugging involved), enthusiastic, researcher, studious, creative, witty, the new Jacques Cousteau.
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