Title: Pandas Release Date: April 6, 2018 Director: David Douglas and Drew Fellman Production Company: IMAX Summary/Review:
The world’s cutest animals get the IMAX 3D treatment so audiences can enjoy seeing the big balls of fluff from China larger than life and right there in front of you. The documentary is narrated by Kristen Bell, herself and icon of cuteness, and has cheerful soundtrack composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. That is when there aren’t pop songs playing, such as the musical cue when a trio of panda cubs toddle around to ZZ Top’s “Sharped Dressed Man” (I guess because their black & white patterns resemble a tuxedo?).
But beneath all of this cuteness there is a more serious story here. The habitat of the giant panda is shrinking and the species is endangered. At the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding we meet the scientist Rong Hou, known as the Panda Mother, who has lead efforts to successfully breed giant pandas with over 200 cubs born. The next step is reintroducing pandas to the wild so Rong Hou visits New Hampshire where Ben Kilham takes in orphaned black bears and cares for them until they can survive in the wild on their own.
Adapting Kilham’s methods to the panda cubs at Chengdu involves bringing in another American, Jacob Owens, and Chinese scientist Wen Lei Bi to work with the cubs. One cub named Qian Qian is determined to be a good candidate for introduction the wild, and Owens forms a close bond with her over a year spend in a 50-acre, protected reserve. Finally, Qian Qian is ready, and a small gate is opened to allow her into the true wilderness.
A dramatic moment occurs when Owens is visiting family in America and the signal from Qian Qian’s collar shows that she hasn’t moved in 24 hours. Wen Lei Bi leads a team that hikes deep into the forest where they find Qian Qian trapped in a tree, and they have to spend several days giving her food and water until she’s healthy enough to return to the reserve for care. The film ends on a moment of uncertainty as a lot of effort went into introducing Qian Qian into the wild but it’s unclear if she will ever be able to survive there or if this approach will work with other great panda cubs. But it’s good to know that there are people trying.
My daughter and I took advantage of the chilly holiday Friday to visit the New England Aquarium. The Giant Ocean Tank is always awe-inspiring and we got to see divers film the animals up close and listen to them answer questions. We also spent considerable time at the shark & ray touch pool, the tidepool touch tank, and with the penguins. As a novice photographer, I found that adjusting for white balance and shutter speed in the Aquarium was challenging, so there’s not so many great photographs, but still a record of our fun visit.
This last week of summer in which there is no school and no camp, I’m taking my children to be tourists in their own home town. When I asked them what they wanted to do, they both agreed that they wanted to go on a whale watch. This made me cringe because I’ve been on whale watches twice in my life and found the experience underwhelming.
Well, third times a charm, because in addition to enjoying a cruise with two enthusiastic children, we saw a lot of whales! We saw a mother humpback whale and her calf, and even witnessed them nursing. We saw a whale practicing “kick feeding” a practice unique to the humpbacks of the Gulf of Maine, and it turned out to be the whale who invented this type of feeding. We saw her calf imitating her, and it was very cute. We also saw minke whales and a blue shark.
I think what made it extra special is that on the long journey back to port, the naturalist came through the ship to talk about the whales we witnessed, showed us pictures, and had the kids flip through binders to see if they could help identify the whales by the patterns on their flukes. We took the New England Aquarium Whale Watch through Boston Harbor Cruises. I highly recommend it.