Whether you’re inside because of the chilly weather or hunkering down for a smaller, cozier holiday season, there’s no need to feel trapped in your home. There are plenty of nature documentaries on Plex that can get your inner biologist going.
Check out these seven films to get started!
Vanishing of the Bees
Honeybees are absolutely critical for human agriculture. They pollinate crops and increase harvest yields for plants we depend on for food, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries. Without bees, humans would only have half the current amount of fruits and vegetables to feed everyone.
So when entire hives suddenly die out, a syndrome called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), it’s extremely alarming. Not only is it a loss of billions in revenue, it’s also a loss of plentiful bee products (like honey) and food security.
In Vanishing of the Bees, the filmmakers explore mankind’s long history with bees and the possible causes of CCD. They look at a variety of factors like poor bee nutrition, questionable industry practices, and widespread pesticide use. The directors offer the audience thoughtful insight into all the little things humans do that harm the little bees.
Although the documentary was released in 2009, CCD continues to be a problem. The information in this film is still relevant to this day.
There’s a species of aquatic predator that has lurked in the oceans for hundreds of millions of years. They’re called sharks, and they’ve got a bad rep thanks to horror stories like Jaws. In reality, fatal shark attacks are rare; they just get a lot of buzz whenever one hits the news.
Ocean Ramsey, a marine conservationist and free diver, is the focus of this documentary. Saving Jaws is about her quest to research and share the beauty and importance of sharks. These creatures are at the top of the food chain in the ocean, and they play a precious part in keeping the ecosystem balanced. We need sharks to keep fish in check so other ocean creatures, like corals, can flourish.
Unfortunately, humans kill over 100 million sharks per year just for their fins, according to Oceana, and numerous more as bycatch from harmful fishing practices. Saving Jaws captures how environmentalists like Ramsey try to keep sharks alive through science and increased awareness. Images of her dives with these giant, ancient creatures are sure to enthrall viewers.
Africa’s Super Seven
Healthy ecosystems have a variety of species — plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, etc. — that work together to create resilient habitats that can support life. These species make up an ecosystem’s biodiversity.
Some regions are more diverse than others. Brazil, Madagascar, and South Africa are a few examples of places that not only have an abundance of species, but also species that are unique to the area. You won’t find ring-tailed lemurs anywhere else other than Madagascar, for example.
Africa’s Super Seven takes a look at seven of the region’s key species: the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino, cheetah, and hyena. The filmmakers tracked these creatures for 24 hours to witness how they interacted with and affected their environment. At times, the documentary shows their fight for the same prey or territory. This film is packed with both action and education.
Love Thy Nature
If you’d like to experience Liam Neeson’s alluring voice discussing the relationship between humans and nature, then look no further than Love Thy Nature. This documentary is a mixture of both science and spirituality. It peers into how human health is connected to the health of our natural environment, and how working with nature is better than working against it.
The film poo-poos our dependency on technology a bit, including people who play video games. As a lover of video games, I would still recommend giving this documentary a chance to inspire you with beautiful imagery and peaceful scenes. As fun as games can be, studies have shown that spending time in nature can be good for your health. So it’s sound advice to go outside every now and then with an activity of your choice. Both nature and games can hit the brain differently in very positive ways.
Penguins Under Siege
Penguins have a really hard life. They have to survive the cold, predatory birds, and predators in the ocean. It’s not an easy task, especially as some penguin species struggle with losing their icy habitats due to warming temperatures.
Penguins Under Siege takes a look at a different species: the South African black-footed penguin. These guys don’t live in Antarctica like other penguins, but they live just as harrowing lives. The film follows two penguin siblings and their struggle to survive, but be forewarned — there’s a lot of penguin deaths and brutality.
Wonders of the Sea
The oceans aren’t doing so well right now. There’s a lot of chemical and plastic pollution that’s harming marine life. Warming temperatures are bleaching coral reefs and sending ocean inhabitants elsewhere, altering food supplies for coastal communities like Rhode Island. About half of the world’s oxygen supply comes from the plankton in the ocean.
Water supports life. It makes our planet incredibly unique. And it’s important for us to take care of it.
This is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s message at the beginning of the documentary Wonders of the Sea. He’s the narrator, lending his familiar voice to add a parent-like warmth to this film. Parents, family, and legacies also play a surprisingly significant theme as French ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau dives to the ocean’s depths as his father once did. With him are his adult children, who follow their father’s passion.
As they capture captivating and colorful images of marine life in all its forms, the family remarks on the ways human activity can help or hurt the ocean. The overall impression of the film is hopeful as Schwarzenegger and Cousteau note that it’s not too late to make adjustments to our lifestyles, create better environmental regulations, and add more marine protected areas.
“[L]ife returns when the conditions are right,” Cousteau says in the film. “The ocean forgives.”
And that’s a good thing because we need the ocean to live. “The ocean survives without us,” he reminds the audience. “We don’t survive without the ocean.”
A Life Among Whales
Whales are incredible. They’re air-breathing mammals that have mastered the art of living underwater. They can communicate with each other as they swim in groups, migrating long distances during certain seasons. They’re the world’s largest animal, yet the biggest of whale species tend to eat the smallest prey (called krill).
A 2019 study has added one more cool fact about whales: they could help us reduce the amount of carbon in the air.
Phytoplankton in the ocean provide about half the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis. Just like any other plants and trees, they absorb carbon and release oxygen as they generate energy for themselves. Researchers in the study discovered that whale waste provides the perfect types of nutrients that can significantly multiply the number of phytoplankton in the ocean. If whale populations were allowed to return to pre-commercial whaling numbers, the scientists conclude, then we’d have more phytoplankton in the ocean to help manage our carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, that’s no easy task. As seen in the documentary, A Life Among Whales, whales have been slaughtered to as few as one-fourth of their pre-whaling population. For other species — like blue whales, as noted by the 2019 study — some numbers have dropped to three percent of what their population used to be.
A Life Among Whales doesn’t shy away from showing the brutal hunting of these intelligent creatures. The bloody images contrast sharply against scenes depicting the tranquility of a whale in its natural habitat. Biologist and environmentalist Dr. Roger Payne discusses his lifelong studies on whales and their songs throughout the film, giving the audience a good primer on the human-driven problems plaguing these fascinating marine creatures.