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Thursday, 6 September 2018

Ofcom Upholds Prehistoric Animal Cruelty Complaints In Bizarre Case

Record Complaints


The BBC has confirmed that naturalist and wildlife presenter, Nigel Marven, was investigated after wrestling a Tanystropheus during the filming of the Walking With Dinosaurs spin-off, Sea Monsters.

The regulator, Ofcom, said that it had received a record number of complaints after the episode was first aired in 2003, which showed the presenter grabbing hold of the reptile's tail as part of an underwater sequence. When the animal failed to shake him off, it performed caudal autotomy, severing its tail at the base and swimming away in a cloud of blood.


Nigel Marven grabs Tanystropheus's tail. (©BBC)


In the original narration, the presenter who was 42 at the time, told viewers that the animal would recover and regenerate its tail, and that he was familiar with lizards losing their tails when he had handled them as a boy. However, in unaired footage, the unit comes across the mauled body of the same animal whilst filming filler footage during their final few hours on temporal location. Director Jasper James can be heard off-camera, speculating that bite wounds might match the Cymbospondylus with which Marven previously had a tense encounter.


Cymbospondylus considers the nutritional value of Nigel Marven. (©BBC)


A Question of Timing


Ofcom has itself come under criticism for taking fifteen years to come to a decision, but said in a statement that the lack of precedent had made things difficult:
"There are no rules governing 'Temporal Location Filming', with Sea Monsters being the first documentary series ever to use it. Mr Marven's actions would ordinarily have fallen under contemporary animal cruelty laws, namely the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but since the filming took place in the Triassic period, it predated that law by approximately 230 million years."

Devolved Responsibility


When viewers brought up Marven's previous experience of lizards dropping their tails and pressed him on why he had repeated his actions on camera, Marven responded:
"Well, technically, although those actions were in my past, my past was still in the future, therefore none of those lizards had even been born, nor had they evolved. I hadn't even evolved, so none of those lizards had dropped their tails yet. How was I to know that Tany–... Tannis–... thing would drop its tail in my hands? I'm not a flippin' expert!"

Happier times: Nigel Marven tripping on spider venom.


Marine conservation group, ConSEAvation, which is monitoring the case, said that whilst Ofcom's statement raised some important points about when a crime is committed versus when the law is written, these are minor technicalities, and that Marven, and indeed the production companies BBC Natural History Unit and Impossible Pictures, were in breach of the spirit of the law, if not the law itself.

In an email to Beware!, ConSEAvation's press officer Andy Kentish said, "I honestly thought those things were digital."


(For those who can't tell the difference between satire and the other thing, this isn't the other thing.)

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