Darwin’s 200th Birthday feted by Nat Geo, brilliant series of specials begin Feb. 8

It took naturalist Charles Darwin twenty years after crossing the globe in a journey on the ship dubbed the HMS Beagle to publish his radically new theory of natural selection, “The Origin of the Species.”

National Geographic Channel has a most incredible series of tributes to Darwin’s brilliance and hard work in a series of specials that begin tonight, Sunday, February 8.

Explorer Producers follow the evolutionary journey of Dinosaurs, whales and bears; and uncover forgotten discoveries from Darwin’s pan-global odyssey; you will witness evolution in action in Congo’s river basin in the Nat Geo show “Morphed” on Sunday, February 8, 2009 starting at 8 PM ET/PT

The highly recommended “Darwin’s Secret Notebooks” will premiere this Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 9 PM ET/PT. 

Then Explorer: Monster Fish of the Congo premieres Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 10 PM ET/PT 

Darwin risked his life and his reputation to explore the planet and change the status quo theological understanding of life itself through his groundbreaking theory of evolution.

courtesy of Nat Geo

courtesy of Nat Geo

National Geographic Channel celebrates his achievements with two nights of back-to-back premieres to celebrate his 200th birthday, and 150 years after “Origins” was published.

courtesy of Nat Geo

courtesy of Nat Geo

Nat Geo producers take us all across the planet and through time to chart the evolutionary success of three creatures — dinosaurs, whales and bears — in a three-part series: “Morphed”, premiering back-to-back Sunday, February 8, 2009 beginning at 8 PM ET/PT.

courtesy of Nat Geo

courtesy of Nat Geo

Using advanced CGI, forensic examination of the latest fossil evidence and 3-D, biomechanic animation, “Morphed” brings ancient creatures back to life and recreates the most dramatic forces impacting their evolution — from natural disasters to competitors and brushes with extinction.  

courtesy of Nat Geo

courtesy of Nat Geo

Two nights later, using Darwin’s personal notebook, Nat Geo producers do a most amazing job as they recreate Darwin’s transcontinental odyssey aboard the HMS Beagle in Darwin’s Secret Notebooks, premiering Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 9 PM ET/PT.

courtesy of Nat Geo

courtesy of Nat Geo

While Darwin is best known for his studies of life on the Galapagos Islands, his stop there was just a brief excursion on his multiyear expedition. 

Then in Explorer: Monster Fish of the Congo premiering Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 10 PM ET/PT, Nat Geo producers travel with a team of intrepid explorers and scientists deep into the Congo River Basin of Africa to witness the ongoing process of evolution in a phenomenal natural underwater laboratory. 

Five Premieres Include: 

courtesy of Nat Geo

courtesy of Nat Geo

MORPHED: FROM DINOSAUR TO TURKEY

Sunday, February 8, 2009 at 8 PM ET/PT

Recent fossil discoveries in the Gobi Desert and China’s northeastern Liaoning Province are challenging scientists as they reassess the idea that the dinosaurs are gone for good. Morphed: From Dinosaur to Turkey digs 230 million years back into the fossil record to witness the emergence of the first dinosaur and follows different dinosaur species as they respond to changes in the earth’s environment. 

courtesy of Nat Geo

courtesy of Nat Geo

Nat Geo producers show how catastrophic climate change, deadly predators and evolutionary dead ends couldn’t stop one splinter group of dinosaurs from taking flight and evolving into a great American icon, the modern turkey.  Nat Geo also reveals the holy grail of palaeontology — an amazing, transitional fossil of a creature that was both bird and dinosaur.   

MORPHED: WHEN WHALES HAD LEGS

Sunday, February 8, 2009 at 9 PM ET/PT

Less than 100 miles southwest of Cairo, the parched desert sands have yielded almost 400 giant whale skeletons measuring almost 60 feet each. But what are these whales doing in the desert? Morphed: When Whales Had Legs examines the environmental pressures that turned a wolflike creature that hunted in shallow waters into a leviathan of the seas.

From the gradual development of a smaller inner ear that would allow the animal to swim, dive and roll underwater without experiencing vertigo to the evolution of sophisticated underwater communication and sonar, we see the key species in the whale’s evolutionary lineage come back to life. 

We witness the ancient turning points in the whale’s evolutionary journey, including battles with vicious predators, its entry into the sea full-time and how the ice age became its unlikely savior.  

courtesy of Nat Geo

courtesy of Nat Geo

MORPHED: BEFORE THEY WERE BEARS

Sunday, February 8, 2009 at 10 PM ET/PT

In the story of evolution, bears are one of the ultimate survivors. No other family of large animals has adapted to such diverse habitats and climates. Morphed: Before They Were Bears travels back 30 million years to watch the bear’s doglike ancestor climb down from the trees of central Europe and set out on a journey that spanned the planet.

As bears moved into different territories, they developed various strategies for making the most of their resources. In India, the sloth bear evolved a mobile snout to vacuum up termites and ants.

In China, the panda discovered bamboo and evolved a thumb, a muscular jaw and wide, flat teeth to eat it. And in the frozen Arctic, the polar bear’s fur eventually lightened enough to match the icy landscape. We go back in time and see how each unique adaptation was essential to the creation of an evolutionary superstar. 

DARWIN’S SECRET NOTEBOOKS

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 9 PM ET/PT

National Geographic takes a revealing look at the very origins of evolution in Darwin’s Secret Notebooks. Though Darwin circled the world on the HMS Beagle for nearly five years, he spent just five weeks in the famed Galapagos Islands.

Darwin had no epiphany there. So what was it?

What “certain facts” from the voyage led this young creationist to propose a theory so radical that it would remain controversial (though largely proven) 150 years later?

Using Darwin’s own diary and field notes as a travel guide, retrace Darwin’s expedition beyond the Galapagos to uncover the forgotten evidence that inspired his revolutionary work. We see how fossils in Argentina, seashells in the Andes and fish in the South Pacific helped him cultivate his radical theory of evolution.  

EXPLORER: MONSTER FISH OF THE CONGO

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 10 PM ET/PT 

“If Darwin would have come here [to the Congo River Basin], we would have had the theory of evolution a lot earlier. There’s just so much more happening. The difference is … it’s underwater.”  – Ichthyologist Melanie Stiassney 

If you have a fear of really big fish, the Congo is not the place for you. Join a team of adventurers and scientists in Explorer: Monster Fish of the Congo and travel deep into the heart of Africa’s Congo River Basin in search of an elusive man-sized predator known as the tiger fish. 

The Lower Congo is described as a “species pump”, a Mesopotamia of sorts for marine life.

While locals believe this ravenous relative of the piranha is cursed, scientists believe the fearsome fish may hold the key to understanding the evolution of an extraordinary array of bizarre creatures found throughout the Congo. 

Nat Geo prodicers accompany a daring team of researchers as they embark on a treacherous river journey to find out what powerful environmental forces created the tiger fish and see the array of fantastic creatures that also inhabit this underwater Eden.  Nat Geo examines the river in detail to reveal an ongoing evolutionary explosion.

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