Ian Schiff has had some adventures, including Diving Pacific Islands for IMAX movie The Hidden Pacific Ocean And portraying the nation reserves for his coffee table book, National Parks: Our American Heritage. But none of his traveling trips, Shark Week Filming and National park The visit prepared him for what he would experience exploring the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
“It was the journey of a lifetime,” says the Los Angeles-based photographer and filmmaker. “I have never felt so isolated.”
Over the course of the two summers, he spent six weeks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Research team while roaming the rugged island chain. Shive captured the adventure, wildlife, and history of expeditions in the documentary Another unknownPremieres today (March 18) on Discovery +.
“It’s a compelling story,” says Schiff. “The documentary isn’t just about wildlife. It’s about people who go out and do research. Scientists are some of the most accomplished adventurers I know.”
The Aleutians are a chain of more than 2,500 islands stretching from mainland Alaska in a 1,200-mile arc across the North Pacific Ocean. The 3.2-million-acre Aleutian Marine Wildlife Sanctuary protects most of the area, including more than 50 volcanoes, and is the nesting habitat of 40 million seabirds and groups of marine mammals, including whales, walruses, and northern fur seals.
The only way to reach most of the islands is by boat. On both voyages, Shive and the camera crew joined the annual USWF expedition on board the ship. R / V Teglax. The research ship stops to monitor important wildlife sites and replenishes the scientists conducting long-term studies.
One project Shive joined was to analyze bird poop from millions of nesting seabirds to learn about conditions in the North Pacific and Bering Sea. On one island, scientists can collect millions of data points about a vast area of the ocean.
“The birds come out and collect data for scientists,” says Schiff. “There is no other way to collect this information. It’s a great process.”
The highlight of Shive’s journey was also her most anticipated stop.
With the area’s inclement weather, rough seas and limited infrastructure – almost no docks or harbors – landings on any island were never guaranteed. On Bogoslov Island, there is an additional risk of a volcanic eruption. The island’s volcano has released lava 17 times in the past 20 years.
“We had to check with volcanologists to make sure it was safe before we could land,” says Schiff.
After negotiating the waves to get to the shore, Shive found another landscape of black sand, bubble mud pools, steam vents and not a blade of vegetation. There were no signs of human presence, not even the plastic that was washed ashore. But there were 140,000 Northern Fur Seals, which is the largest colony in the world.
“I felt [Charles] Darwin, ”Schiff says.
The most surprising aspect of the Aleuts was human history. The islands were part of the land bridge traveled by the first humans who arrived in North America from Asia. In the documentary, Schiff visits the archaeological sites of their ancestors, the Onangan or Aleut people, who have lived on the islands for at least 8,000 years.
The region also played an important, but unknown, role during World War II. In 1942, the Japanese invaded two islands and occupied them for a year. For the first time ever, Shive took cameras inside fox holes dug by Japanese soldiers. “Nobody has been in it for 75 years,” he says. On another island he examined the remains of the wrecked B-24 bomber.
“The Aleuts are like a time capsule,” Schiff says. “They are so isolated and protected, as if time stands still.”
That’s why he wanted to make the documentary.
“Most people will never go to the Aleuts to see how special they are,” he says. “I wanted to connect people to the place, to show its value. Because of its honesty.”
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