My top 5 documentaries that will captivate and inspire

Picture of By Matthew Essex

By Matthew Essex

Salty Swims Co Founder

Salty Swims was born from our experience as wildlife swim-guides. Every day on the water was filled with  anticipation, excitement and intrigue. Our customers would ask a barrage of questions, from the second that we left the pontoon until we returned, and we were only too happy to help. It occurred to me that the majority of my knowledge about the natural world has come from a lifelong love of nature documentaries. They’ve inspired me from a young age and to no-end; Now I find myself in isolation seeking comfort from my favourites; So I’ve put together my top 5, with my best bits and where you might be able to watch them. Enjoy.

Blue Planet II 

Released: 2017
Narrated by: Sir David Attenborough

My all-time favourite! Breath-taking, heart-melting & awe-inspiring! This series took more than 4 years to make with over 6,000 hours of underwater dive footage, whilst using the most up-to-date technology, but it’s the stories being told that captured me. I’m a BIG wildlife fan and I thought I’d heard it all but I was wrong – A Tusk fish using tools, Trevally that can calculate the speed and trajectory of birds, a Wrasse that changes sex, Orcas hunting by backflip, translucent-jelly-head fish and cabbage-finger-feeding cucumbers – honestly, it’s incredible and a clear No#1!

Best bits:          
Episode 4 – Open Ocean (32:44 – 37:50) Incredible footage of a pregnant Whale sharks visiting the Galapagos and her welcome party of silky sharks.

Episode 6 – Coasts (3:33 – 11:07) Also captured in the Galapagos and for the first time – Sea Lions hunting as a team to catch yellow-tale Tuna in the rocky shallows.

Currently available: On Stan (Australia) by clicking on the following link –

Ocean Giants

Released: 2011
Narrated by: Stephen Fry

 Of the 5, this one has me bursting with admiration for the whales and dolphins of our oceans – Each episode takes on a different theme, exploring size, intelligence and song to provide an educational piece with an underlying environmental message while the familiar tones of Stephen Fry help to soften and create a cheery demeanor. For me personally, Ocean Giants was the first to inspire me to make my own amateur films, looking up to cameramen Doug Allen and Didier Noirot for having the most incredible jobs in the world!

Best bits:         
Episode 2 – Deep Thinkers (18:47 – 31:17) A collection of footage featuring Bottlenose dolphins and their innovation while hunting; from Hydroplaning in the most shallow waters, to shadowing Sting rays and making fishing nets from silt, all in order to capture their prey.

Episode 3 – Voices of the Sea (51:15 – 58:00) A heart-melter, Humpback whales singing – say no more!

Currently available: On Amazon Prime by clicking on the following link –             

The Great Barrier Reef

Released: 2015
Narrated by: Sir David Attenborough

An absolute MUST SEE – In this 3 part series, David returns to his most magical place on Earth with a team of scientists and the latest technology to explores the GBR in way that’s never be done. It’s the perfect balance – educating about climate change while captivating us with extraordinary creatures! We learn about the origins of the GBR, it’s cultural significance to local people and what changes have come about over the course of 60 years. In true “Attenborough style”, some footage captured was for the first time ever.

Best bits:       
Episode 2 – Visitors
(10:05 – 20:31) Turtles return to nest on Raine Island, the biggest Green Turtle rookery in the world and it’s protection by the efforts of the GBR Marine Authority.

Episode 2 – Visitors (28:46 – 36:02) Manta Rays return to Lady Elliot Island to visit cleaning stations, which has become a focal point for researchers such as Dr Cathy Townsend.

Currently available: On Stan (Australia) by clicking on the following link –

Our Planet

Released: 2019
Narrated by: Sir David Attenborough

This series brings you diversity – from the vast African landscapes to the cryptic depths of the oceans; with the most up-to-date technology producing the highest possible resolution! Different from traditional documentaries, “Our Planet” focusses on humans’ impact on the environment and the effects of climate change. I bring it with a WARNING; Although packed with some of the most breath-taking cinematography, it’s coupled with sobering images of animals at the point of desperation and with a strong call-to-action message directed to it’s audience. 

Best bits:        
Episode 4 – Coastal Seas (28:57 – 35:56) A dramatic feeding frenzy: Steller’s Sea Lions, Bald Eagles and Humpback whales feast on an immense shoal of Herring gathering to mate in the shallows of Alaska.

Currently available: On Netflix (Australia) by clicking on the following link –

The Blue Planet

Released: 2001
Narrated by: Sir David Attenborough

Responsible for shaping my life, as I’m sure it has for many. The Blue Planet set the bar for videography forever with the most beautiful sequences of films ever captured – some creatures and their stories hadn’t been caught on camera or even seen before. Granted, technology has come a long way since (1996-2001) and sound-effects have become a lot more realistic in the sequel The Blue Planet II but it is still a historic master piece and all as relevant and captivating as the day it was released!

Best bits:       
Episode 3 – Open Ocean
(12:36 – 46:56) The dolphins steal the show with Pacific Spotted dolphin, Spinner dolphin, Common dolphin, and Pilot whale show casing their social behaviour, ability to solve problems and hunting with innovation. For me, the moment when the common dolphins and pilot whales came together for a social meet, stuck in mind forever! I later witnessed this for myself during #swimwithwhales season 2018, when I saw a false-killer-whale leading a pod of bottlenose dolphins.

Currently available: On Stan (Australia) by clicking on the following link

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