Tag Archives: The Nature of Things

Preview: TNoT’s “Nature’s Big Year” explores what happens when a pandemic sends humans inside

Do you recall those first few weeks into the pandemic, when humans were told to stay home and animals were seen more frequently outside? I remember the cellphone videos posted on social media of coyotes trotting down residential streets and sheep galloping around neighbourhoods overseas amid jokes of nature taking the land back.

Were these just a handful of coincidental instances, or something that was really happening while we sat inside, looking out the window? And, was nature better off?

“Nature’s Big Year,” airing Friday as part of The Nature of Things, aims to find out.

Writer, director and producer Christine Nielsen and producer Diana Warmé tell an incredible story spanning 11 locations around the globe—during the pandemic—of nature doing a reboot.

In Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, wildlife ecologist Jason Fisher and his colleagues were delayed by COVID-19 from accessing trail cameras they’d set up before the world shut down. What they saw in the footage was surprising.

Meanwhile, in Juno Beach, Florida, research manager Sarah Hirsch relates how the lockdown helped loggerhead turtles nest more successfully in an area humans usually trampled around in. And, in Nottinghamshire, UK, wildlife biologist Lauren Moore investigates whether or not a drop in traffic during the pandemic would cause the endangered hedgehog to rebound.

And, not surprisingly (I know this first-hand from observing my feeder), birds were more plentiful during the lockdown. What was a surprise for researchers was that birdsong became louder, more varied, and birds were attracted to areas where there were stricter lockdowns.

Beautifully filmed, “Nature’s Big Year” is the well-told tale of what happens to nature when we interact with it less.

“Nature’s Big Year” airs as part of The Nature of Things, Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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Preview: The Nature of Things goes “Inside the Great Vaccine Race” for Season 61 return

Happy Season 61, The Nature of Things! The series, hosted by David Suzuki has always been timely in its nature, covering top-of-mind topics in an interesting, down-to-earth way that even I can understand.

Returning Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC, The Nature of Things is never more relevant, tackling COVID-19 with “Inside the Great Vaccine Race.” As the title suggests, this is an exhaustive peek at the people who worked tirelessly to help develop a vaccine for COVID-19 and continue to do so.

The episode begins with Dr. Alyson Kelvin (above), a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon, who left her family in Halifax for five months to work on a vaccine. While most people, in the early days of the vaccine, expressed curiosity at what was going on in Wuhan, China, Dr. Kelvin knew that—within months—the disease could be worldwide.

“Despite the sacrifices that I made to come here, I would have felt useless being at home,” she says.

Meanwhile, in China, it takes less than two days for the virus to be mapped and identified as related to SARS. And, able to spread without obvious symptoms by the carrier, it can move undetected around the world.

The Nature of Things also visits Cambridge University, Germany’s BioNTech lab and China’s CanSino Biologics as part of its storytelling, outlining what was being done in each location as the sprint to creating vaccines increased.

Made by Infield Fly Productions (who had their own challenges filming a documentary during a pandemic) in association with the CBC, “Inside the Great Vaccine Race” is tough to watch simply because it’s showing a worldwide event we’re still in the midst of. Those that have lost family members or friends to COVID-19 are going to have a particularly difficult experience. And it’s an excellent education into how science can provide a relatively quick solution to a worldwide catastrophe.

“Inside the Great Vaccine Race” kicks off Season 61 of The Nature of Things, Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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Preview: The Nature of Things goes “Searching for Cleopatra”

Shocking but true: Cleopatra was nothing like the person Liz Taylor played in the big-budget 1963 film. That’s one of the first facts I gleaned from The Nature of Things‘ newest episode.

“Searching for Cleopatra,” broadcast as part of The Nature of Things, debuts Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC, pulls back the curtain on the most famous of the Pharaohs. Did she really fall in love with two men—Julius Caesar and Marc Antony—and die with a little help from a poisonous snake?

Viewers follow archaeologist Kathleen Martinez (pictured above)—who has been sifting through the ruins of the huge temple complex of Taposiris Magna, or City of the Dead, outside of Alexandria—in search of Cleopatra’s final resting place. Martinez has found tantalizing clues that she is in the right area, but nothing concrete. As cameras capture the digging, we are given the history of Cleopatra. What is true is that, over 2,000 years ago, Cleopatra ruled over 7 million people, wasn’t Egyptian and led an army against her brother. Also true: the Romans are credited with the depiction of Cleopatra that led to Hollywood’s version of the ancient ruler.

In addition to Martinez, Canadian Classical Studies professors Kelly Olson, from the University of Western Ontario, and Sheila Ager of the University of Waterloo, share their knowledge of the Egyptian queen and her times and emphasize she was a ruler whose exceptional skill was her ability to grab and hold onto power.

“Searching for Cleopatra” airs as part of The Nature of Things on Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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Dan Riskin explores the dangers of devices on The Nature of Things’ “Kids vs. Screens”

The last time I spoke to Dan Riskin, it was for Daily Planet‘s “Shark Week” coverage in 2017. I’ve always been impressed with his (and then co-host Ziya Tong’s) broadcasting abilities. They are immensely smart folks who make science approachable and entertaining.

Riskin brings that vibe to his latest project, airing on CBC.

“Kids vs. Screens,” airing as part of The Nature of Things on Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC, was timely even before the pandemic, and reveals some sobering statistics. Babies can scroll before they can crawl. Children can’t read a map, but they can use an iPad. And teenagers pretty much live on their cell phones. But as stark as those facts are—and there are many more revealed in “Kids vs. Screens”—this episode of The Nature of Things isn’t supposed to scare you.

“There are a lot of really good things about screens,” Riskin says. “They make us work better and they are effective. But it’s good to question our relationship with them and keep it in check. Kids’ brains are developing, and you want to make sure you’re not handicapping them later in life by using these devices.” Riskin, a father of three, admits sometimes it’s easy to hand over a tablet or phone so he can prepare dinner in peace. And that’s OK, in moderation.

Produced and directed by Leora Eisen, Riskin hits the road to speak with experts like Dr. Michael Cheng, a child psychiatrist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario; University of Calgary Professor Sheri Madigan; and Jess Haines, co-director of the Guelph Family Health Study. He also sits down with families and kids, like 18-year-old Myah, who teaches him the ins and outs of social media; Abby, whose phone addiction damaged the relationship between she and her mother; and Kaeden, a sixth grader who was obsessed with video games.

“The number of kids who are online now, especially during the pandemic, are huge,” Riskin says. “We put this together with the hope that it will make you feel better. The more you learn about screens and kids, the better you are going to feel about navigating that whole situation and the more empowered you are going to feel.”

“Kids vs. Screens” airs as part of The Nature of Things on Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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Preview: Sable Island’s other inhabitants celebrated in Seals of Sable

Sable Island is a truly unique place. Situated off the coast of Nova Scotia, the small spit of land is home to feral horses that have grabbed headlines around the world. Not gathering as much attention? The grey seals that frequent the island too. That all changes on Friday night.

Airing at 9 p.m. under The Nature of Things banner, “Seals of Sable,” follows filmmakers Teresa MacInnes and Kent Nason of Sea to Sea Productions Inc., as they track the largest breeding colony of grey seals in the world. Every winter, tens of thousands of female seals arrive to give birth, and the duo is there with scientists and experts for it. Led by biologist Nell den Heyer, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the group seeks answers to the many questions they have about grey seals. The only time the cigar-shaped animals come to shore is to rest, moult and give birth, so the three weeks they spend on Sable will be invaluable.

Cameras capture the moment of birth—labour can be a days-long affair—through the bonding and feeding of pups (each pup’s hungry call is unique). Along the way, scientists continue to mark and track individual seals, tracing populations and survival rates. Does a female seal’s personality give her pup and better-than-average chance at survival? It would seem so. The grey seal has seen a boom in its numbers in the last few decades despite commercial fishing; what are they eating? A little of that will hopefully be answered by attaching video cameras to seals named Emma, Kate and Fiona.

Through amazing camera work and the down-to-earth, accessible language The Nature of Things is known for, “Seals of Sable” is a fascinating peek into the lives of that island’s other residents.

“Seals of Sable” airs as part of The Nature of Things, Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail