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A polar bear stalks a seal - a scene from the BBC series The Hunt

The Hunt

Narrated by Sir David Attenborough this lavish series explores the relationship between predator and their prey.

About the programme

The Hunt approaches predation as never before, taking an intimate look at the remarkable strategies employed by hunters to catch their prey and the hunted to escape. The series travels the world in search of the top predators: from hunting dogs endless chases over the open plains to polar bears stalking seals out on breaking ice: from killer whales running down humpback whales in tropical waters to the first ever images of blue whales feeding. 

The first episode aired in 2015. Full broadcast details and watch again links can be found on the BBC programme page.

The Hunt won the Panasonic Cinematography Award: large crew award at the Wildscreen Panda Awards ; Matt Meach won the Doghouse award for editing the series and Steven Price the music award. Congratulations to all involved.

Discover the range of qualifications and modules from the OU related to this programme:


Copyright: Huw Cordey / Silverback Films

A photograph of a brown bear

Meet the cast

The Hunt features a cast of incredible characters, each and every one of them adapted to survive in their unique environment. Here are some of the best facts about the animals from the series.

Darwin’s Bark Spider

Darwin's Bark Spider

Copyright: BBC

  • A 3 cm long Darwin bark spider can spray a line of silk a distance of 25 metres.
  • Its silk is the toughest natural fibre on the planet.

Leopard

Leopard in a tree

Photo by Bibake Uppal on Unsplash

  • As ambush hunters, leopards attack by getting close then pouncing on their prey. A Leopard must get to within 4 metres of its prey to have any chance of success.
  • Specially adapted shoulder muscles enable leopards to climb with ease. To avoid scavengers and other predators leopards frequently cache their prey in trees.
  • A leopard can reach speeds of 60kmph in shor t bursts – and can jump several metres horizontally or vertically.

Wild Dogs

African Wild Dog

Photo by Leon Pauleikhoff on Unsplash

  • Wild dogs are small slight canids, weighing up to 30kg, by working as a pack they can take down prey more than 10 x their size.
  • Stamina is one of their key strengths, wild dogs can run at speeds of up to 60km per hour for up to 5 km.

Amur Falcons

Photo by Sagar Paranjape on Unsplash

  • Make the longest oceanic migration of any bird of prey – they fly non-stop for 3 days across the Indian ocean.

Humpback Whales and Orca

Photo by Mike Doherty on Unsplash

  • Every year, nearly thirty thousand humpback whales migrate up the west coast of Australia. Most are females on their way to give birth. It is one of the largest migrations of humpbacks on the planet.
  • Killer whales intercept the migration and target the calves – but they must get past the mother first, who is well armed with long barnacle covered flippers and 5 metre wide tail. Some females are also assisted by male escorts who help defend mother and calf from the orca. Scientists don’t yet know why males try and protect the females and calves – particularly as the calves are unlikely to be related to the males. It might simply be an inherent dislike of the orca.
  • Nearly 50% of recorded attacks on humpback whale females and calves by orca are successful. The success rate goes down when the female is protected by male escorts.

Polar bears

Polar Bear and cub

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

  • In the spring, on the sea ice, it takes a polar bear 3 days of hunting to catch one seal; in the summer, when the ice is broken up, and the bears must hunt in the water, it takes 5.
  • A polar bear can smell the breathing hole of a seal from 1km away.

Arctic Wolves

a hungry arctic wolf pants

Arctic Wolf

  • Arctic wolves can take down 400kg musk oxen, 8 times their weight.
  • Arctic hares and arctic wolves never lose their white fur even when the snow melts – the summer is too short to invest energy making a new brown coat.
  • Arctic wolf and arctic hare hunts take place at 40mph. The only advantage the wolf has over the hare is its immense stamina.

Arctic foxes

Arctic Fox

An Arctic Fox

  • While the summer is a time of plenty for arctic foxes, the winter is desperate. They must survive on scraps left by polar bears. They are known to eat even polar bear faeces to survive. Even so, three quarters of arctic fox pups will die in their first winter. 
  • To mitigate that, arctic foxes can have more young than any other carnivore – the record is 25!
  • To house such families, arctic fox dens can be up to 1000m2 in area, and be handed down the generations over decades.

Abdopus Octopus

An Abdopus Octopus sits on the sea floor

An Abdopus Octopus

This is the only octopus known to regularly leave the water – at low tide it leaves its rock pool and ‘walks’ along the exposed reef hunting crabs and fish in the isolated rock pools.


Macaques

A Macaque eating fruit

A Macaque eating fruit

  • These coastal monkeys use a variety of tools to hunt at the coast, from large rocks to crack hard conch shells to smaller axe shaped ones to get into rock oysters.
  • Long-tailed macaques are the only primates that are known to use stone tools to ‘hunt’ animals.
  • Stone tool use by long-tailed macaques was first reported in Myanmar (Burma) over 120 years ago, making it the first ever scientific record of tool use by non-human primates. However no one believed these reports until tool use was discovered in chimpanzees much later.

Marine otters

A marine Otter on its back in the water

A marine Otter

  • This is the smallest marine mammal in the world, weighing 3.2-5.8kg and measuring 87-110cm total length (the size of a domestic cat).
  • They need to eat at lest 25% of their body weight a day to survive.
  • Because they’re small they’re limited by how long they can remain in cold water of the South American coast – they can only spend around 20% of their day in the water so they have to hunt rapidly.

Bottle Nose Dolphins strand feeding in South Carolina

A Bottle Nosed Dolphin

A Bottle Nosed Dolphin 

  • Of the 100 bottle nose dolphins that live in this area only about a third can hunt in this way.
  • The dolphins always strand on one side – always their right – to prevent their prey escaping between the hunters. But this has devastating long-term consequences. Each time a dolphin grabs a fish it also takes in a mouthful of fine grit, so over the years they wear down their teeth on their right side to such an extent that they eventually have to ‘retire’ from this method of hunting.

Army ants

Army Ants crawl all over a leaf

Army Ants

  • Army ants (Eciton burchellii) can live in colonies of up to half a million adult individuals.
  • A large colony is capable of taking an estimated 30,000 prey items in a single day.
  • The swarm raids of Eciton burchellii can contain 200,000 individual ants.
  • Over 300 species from mites to monkeys depend on Eciton burchellii for their survival, some stealing food from the raids & others scraping a living from the colony’s dung heap.

Harpy eagle

Harpy Eagle

Harpy Eagle

  • The harpy eagle has the largest talons of any living eagle – its killing claw is the same size of an adult male grizzly bear.

Blue whale

A Blue Whale from above

Blue Whale

  • The blue whale is the largest predator (and animal) ever to have lived on planet earth
  • Its tongue alone can weigh as much as an elephant.
  • A single mouthful during lunge feeding can hold up to 100 tonnes of plankton and water.
  • Blue whales feed exclusively on krill and can consume 3600kg of krill in a single day.
  • It’s thought that they don’t actually like fish as they seem to actively avoid eating krill that has fish around it.

Lionfish

A Lionfish swims through a dark sea

Lionfish

  • Lionfish can expand their stomachs 30-fold after a large meal and some repor ts suggest they can survive without food for up to 12 weeks.

Tiger

A Tiger stands on a rock

A Tiger stands on a rock

  • Tiger cubs begin to learn to hunt from around 6 months but don’t become proficient hunters until they are at least 18 months old, and in some cases are dependent on their mothers for up to three years.
  • A mother must increase her killing rate by about 50% when she is caring for cubs. A mother with two 8-month old cubs must make roughly one large kill every 5-6 days.
  • Bengal tigers have the longest canine teeth of any living large cat (up to 10cm in length).
  • Tigers are able to leap 8-10m.
  • Roughly only 1 in 10, to 1 in 20 hunts end with a successful kill.

Frigatebirds

A Frigate Bird with inflated neck pouch

  • Frigatebirds are the only marine predator that never actually touches the ocean’s surface – they cannot take off from water and will drown if they get wet.

Caracal

Caracal

A Caracal

  • Caracals ears are each controlled by about 20 muscles to help these hunters better determine where prey is hiding.
  • The caracal is capable of leaping into the air and knocking down 10-12 birds at one time.

Cheetah

A Cheetah runs after its prey

A Cheetah runs after its prey

  • The cheetah is the fastest land animal on the planet - during a hunt it can reach speeds of up to 58mph/93km/h. 
  • But the success of a hunt depends more on their ability to decelerate rapidly to match the twists and turns of their prey, so that they can get close enough to trip it.
  • Cheetahs have the longest and most flexible spines of all the big cats – they are able to cover 7m in a single stride.
  • They lose more than one in ten of every kill.
  • Because they lose so many of their kills to other predators, they eat fast – polishing a carcass off in 1-2 hours.

Top tips for budding biologists

In this video discover top tips from experts in biology and get a feel for whether studying biology (and an eventual career in the field) is for you.

A Polar Bear looking at Marmite

Marmite: Do polar bears love it or hate it?

Sophie Lanfear, Assistant Producer of The Hunt series recalls when a polar bear broke into the film crew's cabin in search of snacks.

A Polar Bear sleeping

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

In the Arctic we stayed in hunters’ cabins about four metres by four metres. There are four of you in there so it’s cramped. In the summer months the chances of you seeing a polar bear are very, very slim. Then one day we came back from filming and something had broken in to our cabin. It had pulled the door off its hinges, eaten all the chocolate, oil and butter and then gone through all the trash out back. He’d also worked his way through 20 kilos of new food stock we’d just got in, which meant no fresh food for us. Suddenly we were all a bit more nervous about that 500m walk to the toilet hut.


A Polar Bear stands with its hands in a begging position

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

We cleaned everything up and fixed the door as best we could. Then, a few days later, we met our intruder, a polar bear, on the way back to the cabin. He didn’t scare that easily, which was not a good sign. Sure enough, the next night the bear was pounding at the front door. We scared him off again, but the next time we went off to film we saw the bear heading straight towards the cabin and we filmed him breaking in again. This time he just destroyed the place. The only thing he didn’t eat was the Marmite. And then every five hours basically he’d come back. We couldn’t leave the hut: armed with a couple of flare guns and a guide with a loud voice and nerves of steel, it was time to re-stake it as our territory. The bear didn’t come back after that. Hunting strategies? Well, we do know that bears don’t like Marmite. At least this one didn’t.


Meet the OU expert

Dr Miranda DysonSenior Lecturer in Biology - School of Environment, Earth & Ecosystem SciencesVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr Miranda DysonSenior Lecturer in Biology - School of Environment, Earth & Ecosystem Sciences

I am a Behavioural Ecologist and my primary interest lies with animal communication and sexual selection. Much of my research has focused on vocal communication with an emphasis on behavioural investigations of intraspecific female mate choice in anuran amphibians.

 I also have an interest in  fiddler crab reproductive behaviour and mate choice, the mating behaviour and male parental care in giant water bugs and duetting in birds. My current research interests include the relationship between bumblebees and snakeshead fritillaries on floodplain meadows. 

A photograph of Dr Vicky Taylor
Dr Vicky TaylorSenior Lecturer in Biology - School of Life, Health & Chemical SciencesVIEW FULL PROFILE
A photograph of Dr Vicky Taylor
Dr Vicky TaylorSenior Lecturer in Biology - School of Life, Health & Chemical Sciences

I have a zoology degree (that included marine biology) and gained my PhD in interactions between reproduction and nutrition of ruminant ungulates whilst based at the veterinary field school of the University of London.

My research interests are very broadly in the areas of, endocrinology of pregnancy and lactation and the regulation of appetite - and metabolic adjustments to the increased appetite of pregnancy and lactation

My current research concerns hormonal changes and interactions during mammalian pregnancy and lactation, focusing on appetite regulation by gastrointestinal hormones such as peptide YY and ghrelin.

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