Fall 2010

[Alumni News]

Rick Rosenthal

Bringing the Big Blue to the Big Screen

Rick Rosenthal filming a pod of sperm whales near the Azore Islands in Portugal. Rick Rosenthal filming a pod of sperm whales near the Azore Islands in Portugal. The shot will air as part of a new National Geographic television miniseries set for release in October. PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK ROSENTHAL.

HE SWIMS WITH WHALES. He dives to discover sailfish nurseries. He snorkels with man-eating catfish. And he gets paid to do it.

Rosenthal (‘67), a celebrated underwater cinematographer, has always had a connection to “the big blue.” He was even Humboldt State’s first diving officer, in charge of early diving operations on campus.

As a graduate student and marine biologist, Rosenthal published over 45 scientific research works. But it was difficult to get others to share his passion for marine life.

“Nobody was reading our research papers, so I decided to use film,” Rosenthal says. Now millions of people can explore the wonders of the deep through his cinematography.

Early in his film career, the British Broadcasting Corporation took Rosenthal under its wing and helped him develop as a cinematographer. “They gave me a few little assignments, and the rest is history,” he says.

Since then, Rosenthal has gone on to film numerous television episodes and movies for the BBC. His projects include “Life,” “Earth,” “Deep Blue,” “Superfish” and “The Natural World.”

In 2002, Rosenthal won a primetime Emmy for his work on the BBC/Discovery Channel series “The Blue Planet.”

But the perks of his profession also come with problems. Each shot can take a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes effort, and the underwater environment can be punishing. “You’ve got to be in great shape,” he says. Generally, Rosenthal does not use scuba tanks because their bubbles scare the wildlife. Instead he free-dives with nothing but a snorkel and a heavy – and expensive – camera.

Although his work generally focuses on whales, Rosenthal is currently working on a project called “Hot Tuna.” The piece explores the science, behavior and natural history of this commonly known, but increasingly uncommon, fish.

“There are not a lot of them around anymore. They’ve been fished so hard,” Rosenthal says. “It’s really special to record them on film and tape and better appreciate them. That way, the younger generation can see them and decide they want to do something about them.”

Despite his long career in the water, Rosenthal still gets an adrenaline rush every time he goes to work. “We never know what we’re going to see – and that’s the great part.”