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STEM Scientific Reviews & Recommendations

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  • (BBC) The Green Planet ~ Episode 1 Review

    Published 08/11/22

    5/5 Stars  

    The Green Planet is a documentary series presented by David Attenborough. There are 5 episodes which each focus on a different ecosystem and the plants within it. I chose to start from the beginning and watch episode 1, which is about tropical rainforests.

    As can be inferred from the name, Green Planet mainly focused on the plants within ecosystems. While it also mentions the animals which depend on said plants, the documentary aims to show the rainforest “from the plants’ perspective”. The introduction claims that this is one of the first documentaries to do this.

    While several other documentaries on plants have been made, including some by Attenborough, this one is different in that it used new filming techniques. Breathtaking time-lapse shots show the rainforest plants growing at speeds which are clearly visible to the viewer. The groundbreaking technique here is the use of filming setups called ‘triffids’ which slowly move as the time-lapse is being taken. This adds motion to the time lapses similar to shots from a drone, but at a far more manageable speed for footage which is sped up to the point that you can see the plants growing. The triffids, how they work and how they were used, are clearly explained in the last 10 minutes of the documentary.

    As claimed, the filming techniques offer an entirely new perspective on the seemingly benign plants to which we owe our lives and. We often see plants as stationary or very slow-moving objects, which do very little of visible interest. However, the time lapses reveal that this is far from the case, particularly in the ‘battlefield’ that a tropical rainforest really is for a plant. In these rainforests plants fight for sunlight, which is difficult to access until you reach the canopy which is around 10 metres above ground. Being able to see the plants move and grow over time, fighting for their place in the canopy, really brings them to life (no pun intended) and showed me just how competitive of an environment the rainforest really is.

    The first episode of green planet covers several different plants, such as the balsa tree and the world’s largest flower, as well as the animals and fungi which depend on them. Attenborough manages to make every second of the hour-long documentary entertaining and finishes with a powerful message about the importance of protecting our rainforests, the impacts of deforestation and the efforts being made to conserve and recover lost rainforest.

    All five episodes of Green Planet are on BBC iPlayer and if the subsequent four are anything like the first one then they are all very much worth a watch.

    Sam Bowering, Year 10




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  • Blackfish Review

    Published 08/11/22


    A name originally adopted by Indigenous Tribes, referring to what we know as “Killer Whales” or “Orcas”.


    Blackfish is a moving documentary about Killer Whales and how they should not be kept in captivity. It revolves around SeaWorld, and more specifically an Orca named Tilikum, who was captured near Iceland and weighed over one and a half tonnes aged two years old. By early adulthood, the Whale weighed 12000 pounds, much more than the average 7000 pounds Killer Whales weigh. The whales in SeaWorld were dreadfully mistreated. An example is Tilikum’s treatment. He was driven to insanity after his trainers made him do tricks with much older whales and deprived all of them of food if he failed. The killer whales then attacked Tilikum out of anger. Also, an orcas' child was sold, causing the mother to swim to the corner of her cage and stay still for days. She just made noises, which were tested and found to be long distance communication; she was trying to find her child. In 2012 (after many accidents), a law was made which stated SeaWorld could not have trainers in the water with Orcas, there had to be physical barriers. 


    At SeaWorld there were over 80 accidents involving trainers. These include:

    • A national swimmer fell into a pool where Tilikum and two other Orcas were playing in. She was dragged down and drowned. Some witnesses blamed Tilikum, but others were unclear on which killer whale was to blame.
    • 20 years later, Tilikum dragged a trainer into the water he was being trained in by the arm and ripped her to shreds underwater. SeaWorld said it was the fault of the trainer, originally saying she slipped in. When some witnesses disputed that, SeaWorld said she was wearing a long ponytail (which she wasn’t meant to be wearing), and the fish dragged her in by that.

    The Message

    The main message of this film was that animals should not be kept in captivity their whole lives, as it causes them to develop traits which would not be seen in the wild. For example, killer whales have never killed somebody in the wild, but have caused over 80 fatalities when in captivity.

    My Opinion

    In conclusion, I found this film to be very powerful. It was an insight to the life of poor, captured animals and the mistreatment of them, and it was executed in a very intriguing but emotive manner.

    Marcel Matthew, Year 10

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  • Our Nature: Call of the Wild Documentary (2019) ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

    Published 08/11/22

    This documentary takes a look at well-known species and studies their peculiarities, revealing interesting but little-known facts about them. It explores the ecosystems located around the equator to help us understand the great diversity amongst species.

    This film also alerts us of the fact that several of the animals shown are endangered due to poaching and could soon become extinct. It then highlights the importance of the survival of these creatures for us. 

    I enjoyed watching the section about the parrots in the documentary as it included wholesome facts about them. For example, did you know that parrots commit themselves to a life-long relationship with their partner and when one dies, the other dies of lovesickness shortly after?

    Overall, I found this documentary really captivating as I learnt a lot of new facts about animals that I thought I already knew quite well.

    Aimy Durand, Year 11


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  • Journey Through the Universe (HD Documentary)

    Published 08/11/22

    The journey through the universe is a banging documentary about the universe, the parts we know about and what is yet to be discovered. The animated documentary started by talking about the Solar System before going on beyond into the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy onto the universe. You (the weather) travelled with the narrator (name probably Gary) as you go on a journey of a lifetime, and he gives an account of the amazing things that space has to offer going back in time. 

    It was very interesting for me due to the fact that I have a great love for space, and it was very tantalising to find out about quasars, hypernovas and other universal wonders that cannot be seen by naked eye.

    The highlights for me was description of the black hole in which he described the bending of space and time and the way that the phenomenon defies physics.

    I also enjoyed the part where we went all the way back in time to the part where the theoretical big bang would have happened and the whole hypernova would blow up.

    This documentary was amazing, and I would definitely recommend it.

    Ifunanya Ayodele, Year 10


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  • Night on Earth - Moonlit Plains (Netflix Documentary)

    Published 08/11/22


    Discovery of ultra sensor cameras allow animal and plant activity to be filmed at night, as though it looks day. In this episode, we see how cheetahs and lions catch their prey, such as wildebeest or deer in the African savanna. It then goes onto a desert in Mexico, and how plants such as cacti and other flowers survive. Bats with long tongues suck the pollen out of the flowers due to no birds. Animals in this desert include some rats who eat the hairy lobsters, due to its fur protecting them from venom. It then moves on to seals in the hot Peruvian desert, who are hunted by sea lions and vampire bats at night. It then moves on to the Namibian desert, where white lady huntsman spiders use their incredible skills to map their path in the dark night. Male geckos create a call to impress a female, which goes to the one that beckons her. It also talks about how moles in the desert go into the sand to camouflage themselves and capture small foods, and hide themselves from foods. Finally, animals such as elephants, lions and rhinos all dwell at the lake to drink from the lake, where they don’t want to be distracted.

    Impact on me

    It made me realise how gifted some animals are at night, and how they use different senses to hunt or to get away from prey. It also amazed me how advanced our technology has become and that we can see things that we have never seen before, stuff that actually happens in the dead of the night in some remote areas of the earth. Overall, I recommend it as there is a whole series of different terrains and weathers etc.

    Main message

    Overall, the main message was to show that our technology is so advanced that we can see the things we have never seen before, in so much detail and great light, and how much we can infer from each different terrain.

    Harry Adby, Year 10

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  • Time perception, immersion and music in video games​

    Published 08/11/22

    Link to article:

    In this article, the aim is to explore how time perception is affected by video games and more specifically how music affects time perception. The article concludes that time perception is affected by video games and that music also has an effect on time perception as music is likely to increase immersion in the video game. However, the article acknowledges that this is a very complex topic and so more research would be needed to confirm their findings and expand on their theory.

    The main evidence presented was the experimental data gathered by the researchers, where a simple maze video game was used with or without music and participants were asked how long they felt they had been playing for. They also filled out a survey on how engaging and immersive they found the game. I think that these results are a good indication of how our time perception is altered when we play video games, however there are too many factors to be able to say for sure.

    This article is relevant to me personally because I play a lot of video games, and I think that it is interesting to see how much music affects your immersion in a game. The evidence shown by this article has made me start to use my own music for games that I want to be immersed in instead of listening to their music. This is because the article shows that you are more likely to be immersed if you are listening to music that you enjoy rather than music that you don’t like, which can actually increase the amount of time you feel like you are spending.

    George Kirby, Year 12


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  • Review of Humpback whales interfering when mammal-eating killer whales attack other species: Mobbing behaviour and interspecific altruism?

    Published 08/11/22

    Links to article:

    This article discusses the phenomenon of Humpback whales interfering with and possibly attempting to prevent the predation of killer whales on other marine species, some of which were also humpbacks but the majority of which were other cetaceans, pinnipeds and a few species of fish.

    One of the first distinctions the paper seeks to make is separating killer whales into 2 ecotypes: mammal-eating killer whales (MEKWs) and fish-eating killer whales (FEKWs). I think that this is very important as the vast majority of interactions between the 2 species the paper is centred around involve MEKWs and there are very few instances of aggression between the 2 species when there are FEKWs involved instead of their mammal-eating counterparts with 1 observer even stating that the humpbacks and FEKWs travelled together for a short distance.

    The main conclusion the paper aims to draw is that humpback whales will respond to MEKW vocalisations during a hunt and quite often will go to investigate what is happening. The paper hastily brushes away the idea that the humpbacks were participating in the kill as in spite of several eyewitnesses saying they observed the humpbacks hitting the prey (in most cases pinnipeds) with their flippers or flukes, the paper proposes that either they didn't actually make contact with the prey (which was on at least 1 occasion already dead), did make contact, but it was unintentional or were actually attempting to hit the MEKWs as one observer (who saw MEKWs chasing a Steller sea lion) saw the humpback appear to try to slice at the sea lion with its pectoral fins, but it was seemingly too late with each swipe. The paper suggests that this was not in fact the humpback being unable to hit the sea lion but actually slashing at the chasing MEKWs.

    I believe that the evidence collected by the paper is reliable as it was made over 62 years by over 50 different observers. However, as the paper concedes early on, it is impossible for us to know how interactions between MEKWs and humpbacks would play out naturally as due to mass whaling, very few living people ever saw a world where the numbers of whales in the oceans weren't depleted, and it is possible that more MEKWs preyed on whales in the past but due to a lack of prey were forced to move to a new food source.

    Overall, the paper fails to convincingly portray interspecific altruism as it suggests in the title due to the fact that the evidence presents the idea that humpbacks investigating MEKW vocalisations is due to a fight or flight response (humpbacks are widely considered to be too big and slow to flee so are considered to be a fight species) and not altruism. I believe this as while, when the species being attacked was a humpback (or another cetacean) the humpbacks would vigorously attempt to prevent the kill but when it was a pinniped or other species then the humpbacks were less enthusiastic, often being perceived as more curious than aggressive and hung back on the edge of the action, only occasionally getting involved. Observers also saw male humpbacks escorting females with calves on their migrations being just as protective of calves as the mothers when MEKWs threatened the safety of the calf, but it is theorised that the escorting whales are waiting for the female to enter the breeding season again. However, it is indisputable that humpbacks do seek out and interfere with MEKW hunts so while it may not be complete interspecific altruism, to some extent, they can be seen as helping other organisms with no gain for themselves.

    In conclusion, I enjoyed reading this paper and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in zoology, marine biology, animal behaviour, or who just likes whales. This has broadened my understanding of both humpback and killer whales and serves to further our knowledge about cetaceans in order to reduce the belief that they are merely large, unfeeling creatures and cement in the public mentality that these organisms are capable of reasonably complex thought and feeling, and they should be treated as such.

    Jonathan Welfare, Year 12

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