Jeremy Wade exclusive interview: From Mighty Rivers to new series Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters

Jeremy Wade is an intrepid TV star and academic who explores the species of rivers and lakes, back on Animal Planet in Dark Waters. Pic credit: Animal Planet
Jeremy Wade is an intrepid TV star and academic who explores the species of rivers and lakes, and is now back on Animal Planet in Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters. Pic credit: Animal Planet

Biologist and explorer Jeremy Wade has spent most of his life in pursuit of mysteries and legends that lay in various bodies of water around the world.

He has spent the last 35 years investigating the mysteries inhabiting our rivers, lakes and, to a lesser extent, the oceans and seas. Fans of River Monsters know that in 2017, he closed the door after nine seasons on the top-rated Animal Planet series.

But he couldn’t stay idle for long and as a follow up to River Monsters and Mighty Rivers comes the new series, Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters.

There is subtle connectivity and a twist with Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters that borrows slightly from River Monsters and Mighty Rivers.

Like those series, this show takes Wade all over the world as he investigates new and real reports of the “unimaginable and unexplained” in a series that will launch globally to Animal Planet’s 360 million homes in 205 countries and territories.

We spoke to Jeremy from London ahead of this exciting show premiere:

Monsters and Critics: The first two episodes of Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters are terrific. There’s a subtle difference between Mighty Rivers, which we discussed previously, and of course, River Monsters. How would you describe the difference for fans who are already bought into your expertise in the franchise? 

Jeremy Wade: Yeah, I would say we are widening out a little bit. We’re just giving a bit more scope. There are other interesting creatures out there, which we can’t really reach by means of the traditional River Monsters show — which was where it was an investigation, a “whodunit”. It starts with a crime scene.  Normally somebody’s been bitten or they’ve been pulled under the water…”what was that?”

This [Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters] is a different starting point, as you see. One was a lake monster. There’s lots of lake monster stories all over the world.

We’ve obviously got to select something where there is a realistic chance of showing something at the end of the program. So yes, lake monsters, later on we’ve got freshwater mermaids in South Africa, a species that appears to have come back from near extinction in Australia.

Also, down under in Tasmania [there] are rumors of a crayfish the size of a dog that will break people’s fingers. So that’s worth looking at. We didn’t find anybody who’d died, but it sounds worth investigating.

M&C: As mentioned, I watched the two episodes and noticed that the Wels catfish turns up like a bad penny everywhere you turned in the premiere.

Jeremy: [Laughs] Yes, absolutely. Well, I think that that touches on the whole issue of invasive species. They’ve been put in these other rivers. The thing is they’ve been put in rivers where the water is warmer than the home range and in those conditions, they just grow quickly.

They eat everything. They are just very good at colonizing new places. I think in the context of the program, it’s a bit of a surprise, but yeah, many people will recognize it as a villain from the past.

M&C: Now I’m familiar with a lot of the Lochs in Scotland and I’ve been to Ness. I did not know that Lake Garda in Italy was deeper than Loch Ness. I thought Loch Ness was the one that was deepest…

Jeremy: Yes, I mean Loch Ness is exceptionally deep. A lot of people who don’t fish, there is this assumption that all water is deep, but actually most lakes are not very deep. But Loch Ness is an exception that is very deep.

I’m just trying to think exactly what it is. You’ve been there. I mean it’s interesting because it’s very narrow. It’s just this fissure. It’s a cleft.

What’s interesting about Loch Ness is if you look at it, although it is a very spooky, very atmospheric place, from a biologist’s point of view it is all deep water.

If you are looking for a monster, you want some food for that monster, something that it can feed on. We’re talking small fish, where’s the small fish?

If you don’t have shallow water, you won’t have weed beds, you won’t have small fish, or very few.

Loch Ness…there’s not much in that. There’s not a lot of food there. So it doesn’t rule something out entirely because you’ve got the river that links it to the sea.

But Lake Garda, just immediately just looking at it on the map, it’s different. There’s two distinct halves to the lake. The top half is very much like Loch Ness. It’s narrow, very steep rock walls. Almost vertical in places just plunging down.

But then where the mountains end the lake spreads out on the plain, you’ve got quite a lot of shallow water. You can just walk alongside it and you will see the weed beds. If you put on your polarizing sunglasses and you just watch for a while, you’ll see the fish. Lots of small fish.

Instantly you’re thinking, that piece of the Jigsaw [puzzle] exists. It looks plausible. There’s certainly food if something is in there. Then the other thing, when you saw the people I spoke to, they were very convincing.

The details of what they saw wasn’t that clear. But they both saw something fairly close. In terms of size, they were fairly clear. The guy who was fishing, we didn’t include it in the episode, because there’s obviously limited space, but in the same area he picked something up on his sonar, just very large and alive and moving down in the depths.

There’s definitely something in there. But it’s such a vast expanse of water.

I think with all these programs, it’s never a definitive conclusion that I reach, because proving beyond all doubt would mean draining the lake, which would be fascinating but slightly beyond our resources and I think, ethically, I quite like the idea that you will never get to the bottom of it. It will remain a mystery.

But I think there’s a pretty high probability that we got something right there at the end.

M&C: One of the things about Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters that I appreciate, and you bring it home in the second episode when you were in Alaska, is the imbalances in nature. At the end of it, we sort of surmise that the orcas are quite healthy. The salmon shark seemed to be booming. All of this was like a perfect storm for the poor King Salmon, which everybody and every thing seems to love to eat, from bears, orcas, to humans…

Jeremy: Yes.

M&C: That was an interesting point because there’s so much imbalance from invasive species all over. I was wondering, is that a problem in Scotland? Because I know they also have wild salmon fisheries and farms. Is this mirrored in Europe or is it specifically an issue with the King Salmon species in Alaska?

Jeremy: Well, I think you’ve always got a very complex, dynamic system and things are changing. I think the level of management in Alaska is much greater because there are so many different interest groups.

There’s so much else feeding on the salmon. I think in Scotland, you don’t have the subsistence fishing. You have anglers fishing, but there’s not so much water.

In Alaska, it’s more democratic. In Scotland it’s quite a sort of elitist thing to fish for salmon. There is some commercial fishing, I think off the river mouth netting, but I think a lot of them have been bought out so that they don’t impact the salmon numbers.

I think commercial fish farms — [and] that’s one thing we didn’t mention — that can be a problem because you get all those fish together. Salmon will naturally carry parasites. But when you’ve got a lot of them in a close space, it’s a parasite paradise.

They will then hitch a ride on the wild fish. There’s all sorts of things which we tend to get wiser after the event. Farming salmon sounds a great idea, but there is a downside to it.

I thought [about] what the scientist at the counting station in Alaska said, “The salmon, they go out to the ocean,” and he said, “It’s just a black box there. We don’t know what happens. We just trust that they will come back. But for some reason they’re not coming back in such numbers now.”

It’s great to see the orcas doing well, because they’re not doing well in other places. But I think my personal opinion, which I stopped short of saying there, was I think when you’ve got something like that, I think the salmon need to be given a little bit of a break by the humans.

There’s nothing we can do about the orcas. I think…take the fishing pressure off, and give them a chance to build their numbers up a little bit.

The trouble is, so many people just depend on them. It’s a very hard balancing act by they’re doing there.

What’s interesting is I think Alaska is unique. Lots of other places in the world that used to have amazing rich waters….Alaska is like the last one standing.

They realized what they’ve got there needed protecting, and need [to be] actively managed as well. But I think there’s still possibly some people almost taking it for granted. Things are cranking up now. Maybe it [guarding salmon stock] needs a bit more management.

M&C: I noticed you were observing it when you were observing the pod of orcas. Could you see their intelligence? I know that you said in the Alaska episode that your level of expertise fell short for the oceans. But when you were observing them, what did you make out of what you saw?

Jeremy: They [orcas] were definitely aware of us. Because there’s rules governing interacting with them. You’re not supposed to approach them. What we would do is, if we saw them, I mean it actually took us a long, long time to find them. The conditions were really bad. We had a few days out with not seeing anything at all. Then everything came good towards the end.

What we tried to do is, if we saw them, is almost work out what direction they’re traveling in, get ahead of them, and then just sit there. They would approach the boat. They went under the boat. One actually hit the boat. It went underneath. They disappear. Where have they gone?

Suddenly I heard it exhale. I thought “Where was that?” It’s right next to the boat.

Our skipper was saying that there are certain behaviors that they do. One was tail slapping, spy hopping, where they just poke their head out, then there’s the jump. They did all of that. He said, “I’ve never seen them do all three behaviors at the same time.”

They’re very interesting. They’re familiar with boats there. They see people, but there was a sense that they were just interested to check us out.

The size of the big ones, oh my goodness. Dorsal fins that are six feet out of the water. Yeah. I mean, it’s an overused word really, but it’s just totally awe-inspiring to see them that close.

M&C: Knowing what you know about the rivers and the challenges and the plastics in the ocean and the plastics in the river and all the problems that all of the large bodies of water are facing and the ecological pressure that the earth is under…do you eat fish? Are you a vegetarian or have you stopped eating fish or do you continue?

Jeremy: I do eat fish, but I try to be selective about it. It is hard to eat fish with a clear conscience, so it’s about information. I will eat fish that are sustainably caught.

Sometimes you can’t…it’s interesting, we live in the information age where in theory everybody knows anything. You ask somebody where your fish comes from, they don’t know.

You go, “Is that because you can’t tell me or because the system is designed to obscure that fact?” Which unfortunately is the case a lot of the time.

But I do eat fish. I eat sardines, I eat Atlantic cod. There are places that you go off Norway, for example, where they catch those sustainably. I’m not vegetarian, but I’m sort of nearly a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat most of the time.

Interestingly, what a lot of people are realizing now is, one of the big things that we can all do is…I think becoming vegan or whatever, that’s great if you can do that, but that’s a huge step for someone to take. It’s a huge step for a child to decide they want to do that.

But if we cut down on meat and dairy products, that reduces the amount of the earth’s surface that is used to grow food to feed that livestock.

That just takes the pressure off the environment and off wildlife. I think that that’s a very important thing to get across. But try and do it, obviously, in a gentle way rather than a preachy way.

M&C: You’ve been all over the world. What rivers or places have you not explored to your liking enough? Or been to at all?

Jeremy: Ooh, I’d have to say most of them, because the trouble is, when I go filming, it is quite a short trip. It’s normally about just catching one fish, one fish that’s big enough to make a dramatic program. Then once we’ve got that fish, we’ve finished. There’s other things we have to film.

I’ve got this long list of places I would like to go without the film crew and do it more at my pace.

I would like to go back to Alaska on my own, spend more time there, there’s just so much water there. I think having seen a bit of the Yukon this year, some more of the Yukon. That’s really wild country.

It’s a different kind of terrain. I’ve done lots of jungle stuff. That is very different. That would be a good one, too. That’s on my list for sure.

Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters trailer

Episodes to come

Italy’s Lake Monster takes Jeremy to Lake Garda in the premiere

First reported in the 16th century, the Lake Garda Monster lives in a lake that is 32 miles long and deeper than Loch Ness.
It’s described as a long, humped beast — “half snake, half dinosaur.” With legends about this monster fueled by reports from Friars who live by the lake, Jeremy takes us to Northern Italy to investigate but learns that the lakes and rivers, despite being in one of Italy’s most populous regions, could be hiding more than one “monstrous” beast.

The second episode details Alaska’s Lost River Kings

We leave Europe and head to America’s wild Alaska to investigate reports of the mysterious disappearance of the majestic King Salmon. Jeremy travels from heavily fished rivers to the Yukon River — where the King Salmon is the lifeblood of the native communities — and out into the ocean, but who is killing the Kings? Jeremy crosses paths with Alaska’s fiercest predators.

Jetting down under, Jeremy’s third episode is the Outback Beast

A tale of a diver witnessing a “colossal fish” captures Wade’s attention as there shouldn’t be any fish of significant size in the area. Chasing a lead, Jeremy travels to eastern Australia to find the fish responsible and investigate.

Official quotes

“These are detective stories with a difference — fishy tales from remote waters, and from right under our noses. If anybody thought that by now I’d seen it all, you’re in for a surprise — as I was.” — Jeremy Wade

“Jeremy is adventurous, passionate and one of our best storytellers. We look forward to sharing new stories and mysteries with our audiences across all screens around the globe.” — Global President of Animal Planet Susanna Dinnage

“Once again Jeremy invites us to wade back in to the water and takes us with him across the globe, connecting with people and stories, in his entirely original and immersive style.” — Laura Marshall, CEO of Icon Films.

Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters airs Sundays (premiere is April 21) at 9 pm ET/PT on Animal Planet.

An original four-episode digital series on Animal Planet GO, titled Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters: How to Catch a River Monster, will complement the main show. In this series, which will drop on May 14, 2019, Jeremy goes into deep detail regarding the techniques, strategy and equipment used to find some of the fish featured in the series.

Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters: How to Catch a River Monster will also be released weekly on Facebook and on YouTube. Additional social content this season will include new installments of a short-form series Monster Moments which will highlight the physical attributes of fish, sharks, and other marine animals featured in the main series, as well as weekly episodic sneak peeks and Instagram stories.

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