The Most Extreme - Divers   View more episodes

Aired at 04:00 PM on Thursday, May 27, 2010 (5/27/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:19Diving can be difficult for birds, including these torrent ducks.
00:00:25Their oily feathers repel moisture, which is why we say " their feathers lock together, keeping water out, warmth in, and helping them float, no matter how much the river rages.
00:00:44But our next contender is a most unusual bird.
00:00:51The galapagos cormorant can't fly, but it can dive as it hunts for fish for eels.
00:00:59It's number 9 in the countdown because it can hold its breath for up to 4 1/2 minutes.
00:01:06Compare that to the average human, who can only last for about a minute underwater.
00:01:14Unlike a duck, the cormorant's feathers are not tightly locked together, so water can seep through.
00:01:21Being a little waterlogged makes it easier to dive below the surface.
00:01:28But wet feathers lose heat quickly.
00:01:30That's why it has to spend time drying out in the sun before it can return to the sea.
00:01:39Those tiny wings are useless for flying.
00:01:42But who needs to fly when underwater you're propelled by two powerful webbed feet?
00:01:51The galapagos cormorant relies on its eyes when hunting for fish.
00:01:57It can see much better underwater than any human.
00:02:01That's because the cormorant has special muscles in its eye to change the curve of the lens so that it can focus both above and below water.
00:02:14Since we can't change the shape of the lens in our eye, things look very different underwater.
00:02:23When we go diving, everything looks blurry and out of focus.
00:02:27That's because light travels through water at about 3/4 of its usual speed, and our eyes can't adjust to the change.
00:02:36That's why we wear a mask.
00:02:39It provides a pocket of air so our eyes can focus.
00:02:44But asdive deeper, the pressure squeezes the mask onto our face, which is why you don't go diving in swimming goggles.
00:02:53If you can't breathe out into the mask, you can't equalize the pressure around your eyes, and eventually your eyeballs would get sucked out.
00:03:08The cormorant's sight, speed, and agility make them more than a match for most fish.
00:03:13They're only limited by the length of time they can stay underwater.
00:03:22While the cormorant can hold its breath for more than four minutes, coming up in the countdown we'll meet another galapagos diver that can stay down 15 times longer.
00:03:46>> Announcer: Our first two contenders made diving look easy.
00:03:50But as our countdown continues, we'll meet some underwater dancers that take men's breath away.
00:04:00And what furry mammal has to wrap itself in kelp so it doesn't float away in its sleep?
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00:07:58>> Narrator: As any diver knows, water conducts heat away from our bodies 25% faster than air.
00:08:07That's why divers wear suits of neoprene rubber.
00:08:13The rubber contains millions of tiny gas bubbles, and it's this layer of trapped air that provides insulation.
00:08:24The next contender in our countdown of extreme divers also traps air around its body.
00:08:31Although instead of rubber, it wears fur.
00:08:38The sea otter is number eight in the countdown because it can spend up to six minutes under the cold waters of the north pacific ocean.
00:08:50Unlike other animals we'll meet later in the countdown, the otter has little fatty blubber to keep it warm.
00:08:58Instead, its furry coat acts as a dry suit.
00:09:02The otter blows air into its fur, where it stays trapped as an insulating blanket during a dive.
00:09:16The otter spends half its day grooming, because if its fur gets dirty or matted, it would quickly lose its insulating properties.
00:09:28With a coat of up to a million hairs per square inch, the sea otter has the thickest fur of any mammal.
00:09:37It needs all the insulation it can get, because a sea otter spends hours underwater collecting shellfish from the seafloor.
00:09:46It can stay down for long periods because the otter's lungs are twice as large as other similar-sized mammals.
00:09:56Large lungs also help to keep the otter buoyant on the surface.
00:10:00It has to wrap itself in kelp so it doesn't float away in its sleep.
00:10:06While the sea otter's perfectly at home above the waves, our next diver spends its whole life underwater.
00:10:16>> Announcer: So far we've seen divers dressed in fur and in feathers.
00:10:22But coming up, we'll visit a strange hotel where you could wear a wet suit on your dinner date.
00:10:30And we'll discover why some people think that sitting in ice water is good for their health.
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00:15:01>> Narrator: Our countdown of the most extreme divers continues with legendary creatures half human, half fish.
00:15:16Today mermaids are usually only seen in "b" movies.
00:15:22But there was a time when sailors thought they saw them in the wild.
00:15:28Not long after discovering the new world, christopher columbus recorded seeing three mermaids rise out of the water.
00:15:36He said they were not as beautiful as expected, looking more like men in the face.
00:15:43Well, columbus must have known some strange looking men, because chances are, he saw something like this.
00:15:54Sailors must have been really lonely to think that dugongs, or manatees, were beautiful women from the sea.
00:16:01They get their looks not from mermaids, but their closest ancestor, the elephant.
00:16:11But just like mermaids, dugongs are great divers.
00:16:17They're number seven in the countdown because dugongs can stay submerged for up to eight minutes on a single breath of air.
00:16:29Along with its close cousin, the manatee, dugongs are the only fully aquatic mammalian herbivores.
00:16:37In beds of sea grass, they're the lawn mowers of the ocean.
00:16:48It may be an ugly mermaid, but its face is built for diving.
00:16:53It has whiskers for feeling in the mud, and its large nostrils can be sealed shut to keep out water.
00:17:07The dugong's long body and powerful tail are the stuff that legends are made of.
00:17:18No wonder real-life mermaids have difficulty learning how to use their tail.
00:17:30These mermaids live at n since opening in 1947, over 1,000 mermaids have graced this unique underwater stage.
00:17:45With two 30-minute shows a day, these mermaids are experts at holding their breath, sometimes for over four minutes.
00:18:01By exhaling slowly, they can control their depth within the underwater theater.
00:18:08And when they run out of breath, they just have to puff on an air tube.
00:18:20Christopher columbus and his men were probably hoping to meet mermaids like this on their long voyage of discovery.
00:18:29So meeting big, blubbery relatives of the elephant would have been something of a disappointment.
00:18:41However, people today treasure an encounter with dugongs, even if sometimes they get a little too close for comfort.
00:19:25For centuries, people have been looking for ways to explore beneath the waves, and one of the earliest inventions was the diving bell.
00:19:33Initially, this meant little more than wandering around in a pocket of air trapped in a barrel.
00:19:41, it's said that alexander the great was loweredd beneath the sea in a huge diving bell that even had glassr, thitechnogy is nothing new for our next contender.
00:19:58For millions of years, it's been making a diving bell woven out of silk.
00:20:05Swimming into number six in the countdown is the aptly named diving bell spider.
00:20:14It spends its life underwater.
00:20:16Yet like all its terrestrial cousins, it still air.
00:20:25That's why it spins a fine woven net to trap a bubble that becomes the spider's oxygen supply and its home.
00:20:35To replenish the air, the spider takes a trip topside andther bubble by trapping it in the fine hairs on its posterior.
00:20:51The diving bell spider is number six in the countdown because it can spend its entire life underwater, where it becomes the terror of tadpoles, small fish, and invertebrates.
00:21:10The diving bell spider feeds by pouring digestive juices on its prey.
00:21:16If it did this in the water, the juices would become so diluted, they'd be useless.
00:21:21But in the diving bell, the spider is surrounded by air, so it can feed just like it would on land.
00:21:34And now we can live like the diving bell spider, thanks to a house that was designed to be sunk.
00:21:51The jules undersea lodge in key largo, florida, is 30 feet below the surface.
00:21:58So guests must dive down to the wet-room entrance.
00:22:02The lodge filled with compressed air, which prevents the water from flooding the bedrooms and living area.
00:22:14Guests remain in contact with the surface thanks to an umbilical cable which delivers fresh air, water, power, and communications.
00:22:31This means that, unlike the diving bell spider, guests don't have to regularly return to the surface to trap air on the hairs of their bottom.
00:22:47>> Announcer: So far we've seen a bubble-bottom spider and a mermaid mimic.
00:22:53But still to come is a baby that goes for a swim and gets the shock of its life.
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00:26:01>> Narrator: If you take a trip down the zambezi river, it's a good idea not to bump into the next contender in our countdown of the most extreme divers.
00:26:12It's one of the most dangerous mammals in africa.
00:26:22Charging in to number five i the countdown is the hippopotamus.
00:26:27It may not look like an extreme diver, but in the searing heat of africa, the hippo's sensitive skin is in danger of dehydration and sunburn, so it heads underwater for protection.
00:26:43The hippo can stay submerged for 20 minutes on a single breath.
00:26:48It's so at home underwater, it sleeps, eats, and even suckles young between breaths.
00:26:58The hippo sinks to the bottom because its body is heavier than water.
00:27:03And without fins, it doesn't swim, but gallops.
00:27:08No wonder the name "hippopotamus" is derived from the greek words for " at the university of california in san diego, these engineering students are trying to make humans move as fast as hippos underwater.
00:27:28They're working on a pedal-powered submarine, as PILOT john McCague explains.
00:27:34>> One of the key systems to the submarine is really getting the human power into the water.
00:27:39We call it a drivetrain, but it's really just our pedals and our propeller.
00:27:43If you can't get your power into the water, your submarine is not going to go anywhere, so you might as well just be swimming.
00:27:49>> Narrator: And swimming is just too slow when you're preparing for the international human powered submarine race.
00:27:57The capsule is small and streamlined to reduce drag and steered by levers that move the fins left and right or up and down.
00:28:08Even a simple adjustment to the propeller angle can significantly increase the sub's speed.
00:28:34This is called a wet sell comptely fills with water, so the pilot must breathe from an internal scuba tank.
00:29:00It may not look as though the sub's movi, but some of these vessels can hit nine miles an hour.
00:29:07That's at least twice as fast as an olympic swimmer.
00:29:22All it requires is a very fit pilot.
00:29:26To maintain top speed, john has to keep his legs pumping, just like a hippo.
00:29:33Its sturdy legs work underwater and on land as it grazes along the riverbank as night.
00:29:40Things are very different for our next contender, which has to dive to find food, even if it means entering the coldest seas on the planet.
00:30:07If you're looking for a little pick-me-up, why not take a swim in the middle of winter?
00:30:14In russia, ice bathing is a traditional fitness activity.
00:30:26And perhaps there is some method to their madness.
00:30:33Sometimes it can be warmer in the water than out of it, especially when you live in antarctica, the coldest place on the planet.
00:30:45With air temperatures dropping to around 50 below zero, seawater is a comparatively balmy 33 degrees fahrenheit.
00:30:56This is home to the emperor penguin.
00:31:00No other bird dives deeper or for longer.
00:31:07Emperor penguins can descend over 1,700 feet and spend 22 minutes underwater on a single breath.
00:31:15While most penguins feed in the shallows, emperors dive deep to catch fish and squid.
00:31:23Emperor penguins have more oxygen in their respiratory system than most diving animals because in addition to their lungs, these birds have several large air sacs to store air.
00:31:40And keeping warm is no problem.
00:31:44With about 100 feathers per square inch, the emperor penguin has the highest feather density of any bird.
00:31:53The outer feathers are waterproof, trapping a layer of air close to the penguin's skin.
00:31:59Heat from the penguin's body keeps this insulating layer at a cozy 90 degrees fahrenheit.
00:32:08That's 60 degrees warmer than its underwater hunting ground.
00:32:15Thanks to all that insulation, swimming in the freezing ocean is no problem for a penguin.
00:32:21But there's one russiawho could survive here without any protection at all.
00:32:30This is karim diab.
00:32:34He became the first person to sit motionless in icy water for an hour.
00:32:45That's an incredibly long time to stand in a hole cut in a frozen river in moscow, even if he trained for two years for the event.
00:32:55Most people would get extreme hypothermia after being submerged for only a few minutes.
00:33:05That's why he's being monitored by scientists.
00:33:08They're trying to find out how he can survive for so long in the hope of developing new ways of saving lives.
00:33:23The emperor penguin has no trouble staying alive in the coldest water imaginable.
00:33:29But it's not the only extreme diver living in antarctica.
00:33:34Later in the countdown, we'll meet an animal that can hold its breath for an amazing 80 minutes.
00:33:45>> Announcer: You'd think that nothing could compete with our last two contenders, but one man's keen to drive in a contraption built in his own backyard.
00:33:59And what extraordinary diver emerged from the unknown depths to confound science?
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00:37:35>> Narrator: Our countdown of the most extreme divers continues with a group of animals that's perfectly at home underwater.
00:37:44Many reptiles can dive, but there's only one lizard that spends time under the sea, and it lives on the islands of the galapagos.
00:37:56Swimming into number three in the countdown is the marine iguana.
00:38:05It can hold its breath for up to an hour as it feeds on algae growing on the rocks.
00:38:15The marine iguana is dependent on the sea for its food.
00:38:19But these waters have hidden dangers.
00:38:23The islands of the galapagos are bathed by cool currents flowing up from antarctica.
00:38:30Cold water can be a killer for an iguana.
00:38:37Being cold-blooded, the lizard can't create warmth within its body.
00:38:42So to reduce heat loss, it slows its heart rate and restricts blood flow to the surface of the skin.
00:38:54But after an hour underwater, an iguana's body temperature can still drop by 50 degrees fahrenheit.
00:39:02That's why the lizard heads topside to warm up and to clear the sinuses.
00:39:10Iguanas swallow a lot of seawater while they're feeding, so they've come up with an unusual way of excreting excess salt.
00:39:22They sneeze.
00:39:31If only the marine iguana had a handkerchief and a bit more blubber.
00:39:36With a layer of fat, it could happily dive in the coldest waters in the world, just like our next contender.
00:40:01After nine months in a watery womb, perhaps it's no surprise that human babies are good divers.
00:40:10In this class of water babies in england, parents learn that their infants instinctively hold their breath when they enter the water.
00:40:24So it's bizarre that our next contender is a marine mammal that has to be taught how to dive.
00:40:32But then, what babywouldwant to go swimming when you live in antarctica?
00:40:39This is home to the weddell seal.
00:40:41Her baby is about to get the shock of itsife.
00:40:51The difference between being in the womb and on the ice is an extraordinary 140 degrees.
00:41:00No wonder the young pup spends its first week doing nothing but eat.
00:41:06It has to pile on as much insulating blubber as possible to survive both on and under the ice.
00:41:14Eventually, its body will be 50% blubber,ing it the world's fattest baby.
00:41:27But swimming doesn't come naturally.
00:41:30Mom has to teach her baby that it pays to hold your breath when you enter the water.
00:41:37Luckily, the pup is a fast learner.
00:41:44Soon it will be able to join its parents, who can dive for 80 minutes, to an astounding 2,300 feet in search of fish and other small vertebrates.
00:41:57That's four times further than the most extreme human free divers.
00:42:15That's because we can only hold our breath for a few minutes before our oxygen reserves are quickly exhausted.
00:42:24A weddell seal stores oxygen not just in the lungs, but in body tissues and the blood.
00:42:32And relative to body size, the weddell seal has twice as much blood as a human, which means double amount of oxygenated blood available to use on a deep dive.
00:42:58Scientists still have a lot to learn about the weddell seal's incredible physiology.
00:43:05Yet it's still not the most extreme diver in the countdown.
00:43:13>> Announcer: We've seen the nine contenders.
00:43:16They're the best of the best.
00:43:18Only one animal is a more extreme diving machine.
00:43:23It's number one, and it's coming up next on animal planet's " it, your home is their home.
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00:47:40>> Narrator: It's hard to believe that 50 million years ago, the ancestors of the most extreme diver in the countdown ran around on four legs.
00:47:52Today whales are supremely adapted for life under the waves.
00:47:58Their legs have become fins, and they no longer breathe through their mouth, but rather a nostril, or blowhole, on top of their head.
00:48:07And their physiology has changed so that they can hold their breath for a very long time.
00:48:22And the champion diver of them all is the sperm whale.
00:48:31It can spend up to two hours underwater.
00:48:46So by the time it reaches the surface, it needs to reoxygenate its body as quickly as possible.
00:48:54With each spout, the whale exchanges 85% of the air in its lungs.
00:49:00That's five times more efficient than human lungs.
00:49:05It can take up to 70 breaths before the whale is ready to dive again.
00:49:26It can descend 10,000 feet into the dark ocean.
00:49:33of eight empire state buildings.
00:49:47The weight of all that water above causes extreme pressure.
00:49:53Even most submarines can't dive as deep as the sperm whale.
00:50:12>> We're down 2,500 feet.
00:50:14If we go any deeper, the submarine will crush like the shell of an egg!
00:50:20>> Narrator: But not all submarines dive so deep or cost millions of dollars.
00:50:25Just ask canadian pierre poulin.
00:50:28He built a submarine in his own backyard.
00:50:42He called itbig,which is ironic given that it's one of the smallest submersibles in the world.
00:50:57By day, pierre is a mechanic in a snowmobile factory.
00:51:01But now he's attempting to set a new world record for the longest dive in a submarine of this size.
00:51:11At a nearby lake, crowds gather to watch the submarine launch.
00:51:39Even though it's a one-man submarine, it takes a whole team of people to get this vessel underwater.
00:51:47Pierre needs a support crew close by if he has to exit the sub in an emergency.
00:52:04Just like a whale, the length of pierre's dive is determined by the amount of oxygen on board.
00:52:12He's breathing compressed air from the tanks mounted on the submarine.
00:52:22It's driven by two 12-volt propellers, which can be a bit of a problem if they get caught in pondweed.
00:52:41Pierre and his team became the first to dive for more than 30 minutes in a submarine of such small proportions.
00:52:51>> Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.
00:53:04[ Cheers and applause ] >> Narrator: Creating a submarine in your own backyard is a significant achievement.
00:53:18But it'll take a lot more work before pierre's construction can compete with a whale.
00:53:26No other air-breathing animals can dive as deep or for as long as these living submarines.
00:53:38Whales spend so much time submerged that very little is known about their life in the depths of the ocean.
00:53:50However, one thing is for sure.
00:53:53When it comes to holding your breath underwater, whales really are the most extreme.
00:54:14>> Narrator: Horror, head-on.
00:54:16Two racehorses collide at full speed, and a jockey is crushed in the middle.
00:54:22>> For animals running into each other, that's about as loud a crash as I've ever heard.
00:54:26[ Crash ] >> Narrator: A massive anaconda ..
00:54:30>> Wait! wait! wait! wait! wait!
00:54:31>> Narrator:..And takes down a cop.
00:54:34And a little dog is caught in a tree 100 feet up, trapped, trembling, and slipping away.
00:54:42>> The scariest moment was when emma slipped out of her harness up in the tree.
00:54:49[ Elephant trumpets ] >> aaah!
00:54:51>> Narrator:..Uncensored...
00:54:53>> Oh, my gosh!
00:54:54>> Narrator:..Raw...
00:54:56[ Bull moos ] ...heart-stopping animal encounters caught on tape by everyday people from all over the world.
00:55:06Groundbreaking computer graphics will show you exactly ..
00:55:10[ Horse whinnies ] ...and meet the survivors.
00:55:14>> If you are on the receiving end of that tail, it absolutely could kill you.
00:55:19>> Narrator:..All on " --Captions by VITA -& Captions paid for bydiscovery communications torrential rains have turned a horse-racing track into a terrifying mess in arizona.
00:55:34A runaway horse named pacific wind is going the wrong way and headed for horror and heartbreak.
00:55:42>> Everyone out there is at risk at every turn.
00:55:45>> Narrator: As the jockeys race into the far turn, the wrong-way ..
00:55:52Slams into the pack, hitting jockey stacy burton head-on.
00:55:58>> The crash was the most devastating thing I've seen in horse racing.
00:56:02>> Narrator: For jockey stacy burton, taking the reins of a high strung, nearly half ton thoroughbred and racing 40 miles an hour down a track was her lifelong dream.
00:56:15>> She knew she was starting it at a very old age, and she needed to put everything she had into it.
00:56:21>> Narrator: Stacy poured her heart and soul into racing.
00:56:25In just two years, she became a rising star in the sport she loved.
00:56:31>> It was the happiest I had ever seen her.
00:56:34>> Jan hortek, stacy's partner, says at age 33, stacy didn't think twice about giving up her high-school teaching career to follow her heart.
00:56:43>> She was living her dream, and every day that she was a jockey, she was happy.
00:56:50>> One thing you noticed about stacy right away was that she was pretty fearless.
00:56:55>> Narrator: Horse trainer and gene prendergast gives stacy her big break when he hires her to race for him.
00:57:03>> I could see that she had talent.
00:57:05She was doing well.
00:57:07>> Narrator: But nobody saw this dark day on the horizon.
00:57:12Monsoon rains in prescott, arizona, turned the racetrack it was sloppy.
00:57:19It was an intense situation that day of racing.
00:57:22>> Narrator: Jockey steve gomez is just two stalls down from stacy.
00:57:26Even before the gate opens, the horrible track conditions terrify him.
00:57:31>> Cautious things going through your mind -- is my horse gonna handle it?
00:57:35Is his footing gonna uphold in the slop?
00:57:38>> Narrator: Moments after the horses break out of the gate, steve fights t fear and heads for the front.
00:57:45The riders are all wearing goggles, bhe horses have to run blindly through the flying mud at 40 miles an hour.
00:57:54>> My horse isn't liking the mud in his face, so I'm keeping himout in the center of the track.
00:57:59>> Narrator: The slippery track takes its toll on the very first turn.
00:58:03The number 4 horse, pacific wind, takes a tumble.
00:58:07[ Horse whinnying ] >> down on the track.
00:58:10>> No one saw the horse go down.
00:58:11>> Warning, riders, loose horse on the track.
00:58:14>> The majority of us were in front of the number 4 horse.
00:58:17>> And his feet just go out from >> Narrator: When pacific wind hits the wet track, he spins 180 degrees.
00:58:29is brewing.
00:58:31>> When the horse got up, he turned around to go the wrong way on the track.
00:58:35>> Loose horse on the track.
00:58:37>> Narrator: The jockey is okay, but the horse is dazed.
00:58:41Troy is in a panic to turn the horse around.
00:58:45>> I sprang to my feet.
00:58:47I got to the fence, got over the fence, and started to step out.
00:58:50Sometimes, the horse can see you.
00:58:52You can divert him back around and make him go the right way and avoid a major catastrophe.
00:58:57>> Narrator: But there's nothing troy can do to stop him.
00:59:01Now, the spooked horse is racing down the track the wrong way.
00:59:05>> The horse was really accelerating pretty fast.
00:59:09>> Warning! warning, riders!
00:59:11>> Now the guys were coming off the back stretch as fast as they can.
00:59:14>> Narrator: In a desperate attempt to catch pacific wind, a track rider risks her life and races after him.
00:59:21>> And she made one grab at the horse and just missed it.
00:59:24>> Narrator: Jockey steve gomez is riding on the outside.
00:59:28His heart sinks when he sees