Of all the major disasters that befall man, the loss of a great ship is probably the most fascinating. Even the largest airplane is relatively small, light, and can only hold a few hundred people. Massive ocean liners, cargo vessels, and military ships are several football fields long, will carry people by the thousands — and, all too often, are no match for the oceans that cover two-thirds of our planet. There's something poignant about some of the amazing things we can build, and how easily they can be swept aside by Mother Nature.
Author Clive Cussler has made a good living with his own fascination with shipwrecks, and his name adorns The Sea Hunters, a television series produced by Canada's History Television. (The program airs on the National Geographic Channel in the United States.) But the real star is maritime archaeologist James Delgado, who leads a team of divers, cameramen, and researchers around the world to locate, investigate, and film legendary shipwrecks.
Scratch that: the real stars are the lost ships themselves, many of them remarkably well preserved despite decades or even centuries at the bottom of the ocean. As you might expect, the underwater footage is the highlight of The Sea Hunters, and it is fascinating to see how the fish and other marine life have made the shipwrecks their home. Unlike most of the junk we've left lying around, sunken ships often become part of the ecosystem once they come to rest.
The second DVD set of The Sea Hunters contains six episodes selected from the series' five seasons. In addition to the terrific underwater scenes, Delgado and his crew also look at the history of these lost ships, including the Carpathia (which picked up many of the Titanic survivors), Czar Nicholas II's ironclad Rusalka, and even two U.S. Naval airships, the Akron and Macon. (The Akron, which went down off the cost of New Jersey in 1933, disintegrated too much to be found, even by Delgado and the Sea Hunters.) The episodes also show, in considerable detail, the preparation and technical challenges presented by each mission.
It is this part of the show that, perhaps, could have been cut down somewhat. Much of The Sea Hunters is absolutely absorbing, but the episodes I watched also contained quite a bit of filler, including apparently staged scenes showing the hunters talking about the wrecks and their respective jobs. (This isn't even counting the bonus, unused scenes featured on the DVDs.) Deep sea diving looks like fun, and I'd love to try it myself some day, but we didn't need to see several minutes of footage showing the air tanks being filled up, as in the Rusalka episode.
On the other hand, there is too much good stuff in each one-hour Sea Hunters episode to cut down to thirty minutes. At times like this, I wish North American television was more like that of Great Britain, where it isn't uncommon for shows to run for odd periods of time. Hour-long episodes of The Sea Hunters are pretty good, but 45-minute episodes would be even better.