The very first episode of Ray’s brand new Wild Australia series was broadcast at 8:00 PM on Monday 25th April on ITV1. If you missed it, you can now watch it online via the ITV Player for a limited period of time by clicking on the image above. In this episode, Ray embarks on a marine adventure that promises humpback whales, giant turtles and an abundance of exotic fish and birds, as he explores the Great Barrier Reef.
Starting on the Queensland mainland, Ray takes a boat out to Hervey Bay with whale expert Wally Franklin. Renowned as one of the best places in the world to find humpback whales, Hervey Bay is visited by these majestic creatures every year as they make an extraordinary 5,000 km migration from their tropical breeding area north of where Ray is, to the feeding grounds in Antarctica. It’s the longest migration made by any animal, and on the arduous journey the whales make just one stop, at Hervey Bay.
With Wally’s expert knowledge of the waters, it isn’t long before Ray makes his first sighting, as he witnesses a mother humpback whale teaching her three-month-old calf the moves needed to survive the long migration to Antarctica.
“Watching such a young calf master her whale moves has been a unique experience for me. It’s like seeing a toddler take its first steps and that’s a very special moment to witness.”
Ray then flies out to Lady Elliot Island, first appearing above sea-level some 3,500 years ago and located at the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef; it is one of the most complex and diverse eco-systems on the planet, with over 12,000 species of marine life.
It’s here that Ray goes scuba diving on the coral reef and discovers giant turtles and shoals of big-eyed trevally fish, but there’s one fish that Ray really wants to see – the manta ray, the gentle giant of the reef – and he does not leave disappointed.
It’s not just the marine life that depends on the reef; the island really belongs to the birds, with over 200 species of birds being found here. Ray discovers that in the 19th century the island’s vegetation was virtually destroyed by miners digging for bird droppings (or guano), which were prized as a fertiliser and used in gunpowder. Over the last 10 years a team of passionate conservationists have been restoring the island’s trees.
Helping marine biologist Maggie O’Neal plant a pisonia tree, Ray finds out how that particular species of tree can actually kill the black noddy birds that nest in them in order to use their corpses as a fertile compost, given the unforgiving ground of a coral island.
As Ray says: “Nature does have a dark side sometimes.”