Who knew that Canada has the largest concentration of snakes in the world?
Jeff Turner, for one. He and his wife Sue are behind the new CBC nature show "Wild Canada," which weaves a plethora of fun facts about our fair country throughout the four-part series, along with visually stunning footage of wildlife ranging from humpback whales to flying squirrels.
The Turners are seasoned Canadian filmmakers who have worked on world-renowned nature docs like "Planet Earth" and "Frozen Planet" for the BBC. Their team shot almost 500 hours of footage across every corner of the country for "Wild Canada."
We caught up with Turner to discover more fascinating tidbits about Canada. (Hint: we may have more lakes than people.) We also chatted about his encounters with friendly Canucks, and his very, very close encounter with a Grizzly in the northern Yukon.
HuffPost Canada TV: Why did you decide to do a show focused on Canada?
Jeff Turner: We know a lot about Canada, we know there are some pretty amazing parts that people haven't seen before. And nobody had ever really done Canada as a whole, as one unit, before.
Why do you think that is? That seems strange, doesn't it?
It does, in a way. I think there are two parts to it. The first part is, internally, in Canada, we tend to take it for granted a lot of the time. We accept what we have and we don't often think about all of the amazing diversity and wildlife. I think that's one reason. Another reason is, within the world community, and I've encountered a bit of this working in the UK for the BBC and places like that, there tends to be a preconception about what Canada is, that it's just trees and tundra. I think there isn't a tendency to think there's a lot here that they don't know about.
What do you think viewers would be most surprised to see when they tune in to the show?
I hope they'll be surprised by the range of the habitats and wildlife that we have in Canada. I think they'll surprised to learn things like we have the largest concentration of snakes in the world, we have the largest gathering of humpback whales in the world, we have more coastline than any other country on the planet, we have most of the fresh water, more lakes than we have people. There are a lot of really unique aspects to Canada.
How long did you spend filming this?
The filming took the better part of two years. The whole project took us three years, from start to finish.
What were some of the most challenging shots to get?
One of the sequences I'm most proud of for the series is the opening sequence in Episode 1, which features the humpbacks and capelin. That was really a lot to try to cover. We had an underwater crew, we had a crew on the top-side with high-speed cameras, we even had another crew in helicopters. There was a lot that went into capturing that behaviour. That's something that hasn't really been done before, that underwater shot of humpbacks feeding. I'm really pleased with what we managed to accomplish there.
How do you know how to be at the right place at the right time to get these shots?
There's a lot of research that goes into these programs. We spend six months researching before we even pick up a camera. All of that planning goes into picking a window of time when the behaviour is happening, and then you just get out there and hope you're there when it happens.
Do you have any interesting anecdotes about waiting in the field waiting to capture these moments?
I had a spectacular moment when I had a grizzly bear come up about two metres away when we were filming in the north Yukon. That was a really amazing time. It was a beautiful place that I don't think too many people even know about -- right on the Arctic Circle, there's a place where grizzly bears are chasing salmon down just like they do on the coast of B.C. It's a protected place, the bears aren't hunted. The bears are quite tolerant of people. If you're careful and go about everything very gently, they kind of just accept you and carry on with what they're doing. On this one particular day we had this one bear came right up to us, right on this ledge above where we were sitting. He was no more than six feet away -- it's not an exaggeration. He just stood there and looked at us, and the snow was falling. It was just a beautiful moment. It was very calm. I got the most amazing shot of him, because I had the camera. It's in the program in the second episode. It's one of my favourite images.
Did you ever feel threatened or in danger at any point during filming?
No. Not from any of the wildlife. We work at not creating any stressful situations or getting too close to them. We have big photo lenses. We can work a long ways from wildlife. Our job is to be there to see what they're doing and not get in the way. We're trying to find natural behaviours, and we don't want to be influencing what's happening.
Who do you think the show will appeal to?
Well hopefully it will appeal to everybody! Mothers, fathers, families. Some of the people who have seen it have said that it's wonderful family entertainment, and have told us how much their kids love it.
Is there anything else you think viewers would be interested in hearing about the show?
I think one of the great things we found working in Canada was how welcoming and wonderful all of the people were wherever we went. It doesn't matter what corner of the country we were in, we were always welcomed with open arms. That says a lot about the wonderful country we live in here.
"Wild Canada" premieres on CBC on Thursday, March 13 at 8 p.m. ET.