QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2022
  • 279 episodes (19 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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Series O, Episode 3 - Oceans

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Joe Lycett, Sandi Toksvig, Aisling Bea, David Mitchell. Copyright: TalkbackThames
Tune in to hear one publisher's suggestion for a radical improvement to Moby Dick. With Aisling Bea, Joe Lycett and David Mitchell.

Preview clips

Further details


- The number of oceans there are on Earth is one. According to America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration there is only one ocean, the World Ocean, that covers 71% of the world's service. To make things more convenient they divide into four smaller oceans: the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian and the Arctic. The US Board of Geographic Names also recognises a fifth, the Southern or Antarctic Ocean, but the International Hydrographic Organisation has not yet approved it. (Forfeit: 6; 5)

- XL Tangent: The International Hydrographic Organisation creates tables of tonnage. Sandi once canoed across Africa, canoeing the whole of the Zambezi, and when she got to the Indian Ocean, she met a harbour master in Mozambique who said to her: "How many tonnes? Because I need to write it down in the table of tonnage." Although it was just her and the canoe, the minimum tonnage was half a tonne, so she had to be listed as weighing half a tonne. The reason for the trip was that when she was living in New York, where she had a very small swimming pool, her father came home and claimed that he purchased the very canoe David Livingstone charted the Zambezi with. It was a wooden canoe that came in two halves that can lock together, so they took a photo of Sandi's father in the canoe, in the pool drinking whisky. Years later the BBC asked Sandi if she would like to do a journey, and she asked to make the same trip as Livingstone using the canoe. It turned out however the canoe was built in 1954.

- Tangent: The largest ocean in the solar system is on Jupiter's icy moon Europa. Hubble has found a water plume that is 20 times higher than Mount Everest, so there could be three times as much water on it as there are in Earth's ocean, although we don't know yet if it is a water ocean.

- Tangent: The word "ocean" comes from Oceanus, a Greek deity believed to be the embodiment of the sea considered by the Greeks to be a single river encircling all of the known land. Oceanus was the son of Uranus and Gaia, was married to his sister and had 6,000 children, consisting of 3,000 male river gods and 3,000 female sea nymphs.

- The panel are shown film footage of a shark, played to the theme from Jaws and are asked what is the most scary thing about it. The scary thing is the ominous music. A study at the University of California showed people the same footage three times, first with ominous music, then with no music, and lastly with uplifting music. Sharks however are not as dangerous as people think, and there is a belief that the music used in documentaries results in sharks being given less conservation money due to their undeserved reputation. Worldwide sharks kill only six people a year, which is the same number of people killed by livestock in Britain alone. In comparison to shark deaths, you are 1,000 times more likely to drown in the sea. (Forfeit: The teeth!)

- Tangent: David claims that the scary thing about the film is the fact that sharks can't go backwards. He is surprised that the klaxon hasn't rung, claiming that it takes a bit long to type. (Forfeit: Wrong)

- Tangent: Ants kill 30 people a year. Hippos kill 2,900 people a year.

- XL Tangent: Alan once went to see shark diving. The sharks are fed by a man who puts chainmail on his arm, then everyone in the shark cage sits in a circle. Alan says the sharks appear in a group, as if out of the fog. The sharks are all above the people in the cage, which confuses Aisling who at first thinks that the sharks are above water.

- XL Tangent: Humans kill a million sharks a year, so we are more dangerous to them than they are of us.

- Tangent: The Jaws theme by John Williams was described by Williams as: "Gnawing away at you, just as a shark would do. Instinctual, relentless, unstoppable." Peter Benchley, author of the original novel, has a shark named after him, Etmopterus benchley, aka the ninja lantern shark, which is 30cm long and lives of the coast of Central America. The smallest shark in the world is the dwarf lantern shark, measuring in at 15cm. Their stomach organs emit light to camouflage themselves from creatures below.

- XL Tangent: "Jaws" is 130 minutes long, but the shark doesn't appear until 81 minutes in. The reason is because it refused to turn up at the right time. The mechanical shark kept breaking down, so they had to keep finding creative ways to shoot round it. Working titles for the original book include "The Stillness In The Water", "The Jaws of Death" and "What's That Noshing on my Leg?"

- Tangent: Aisling claims the best shark she had ever seen was Joe in a Canadian swimming pool doing an impression of a shark. He had his hands out of the water in the shape of a fin, singing the Jaws theme before breaking into song. Joe also claims to do a gay Jaws where he starts with theme and then gives out a camp cry.

- Tangent: Female sharks can reproduce without male contact. It's also almost impossible to sneak up on a shark as they can see behind themselves. As the eyes of sharks are on the sides of their heads, they can see as well from both front and rear. Their only blind spots are directly in front and directly behind them.

- Tangent: Christopher Bird from Southampton University and Ali Hood of the Shark Trust talk about some shark-related items they have brought with them. These include a cookie-cutter shark preserved in a jar, which is capable of biting holes into submarines. They normally eat whales and big fish, but will sometimes attack a submarine by mistake. Only one person had been killed by a cookie-cutter shark, and they were swimming at night. Other items include the egg case from a flapper skate, which are normally found in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and is one of the largest skates in the world. These cases are what some people call a "mermaid's purse".

- XL Tangent: One of the other egg cases Sandi shows is a cone-like one with a spiral pattern on it. This comes from a Port Jackson shark from Australia. The mother screws the eggs into the crevice in a rock where it can safely develop.

- The biggest thing in the ocean that you have never heard of is the ocean sunfish, which is essentially a giant head covered in mucus. They spend most of their time sunbathing on the surface of the ocean. Adult ocean sunfish can weigh a tonne, are 6 feet by 8 feet, and can grow to be 60 million times heavier than larvae. That is like a human baby growing up to the size of six Titanics. These fish are not aggressive in any way, and only recorded human death as when one ocean sunfish leaped out of the water and accidentally flattened a person. These fish can dive down to 2,600 meters. The females can produce 300 million eggs at a time, but only two survive. (Forfeit: Blue whale)

- XL Tangent: Alan once went scuba diving in Australia, and when he got back on the boat the pilot said: "Got a little bit of, er... in your mask there, mate." He took of his mask and found the whole thing was full of snot.

- XL Tangent: Germans call ocean sunfish, "Schwimmender Kopf", meaning "swimming head."

- XL: Tangent: As ocean sunfish have a mouth that never really closes, the world's leading expert on them, Tierney Thys, calls them "goofy". When she tries to tag one, they stick their fin out of the water and wave at her.

- As an editor, the suggestion you would make to improve Moby Dick is to get rid of the whale. Publisher Peter J. Bentley rejected the book because he disliked the whale, and wrote to Herman Melville: "First we must ask, 'Does it have to be a whale?' While this is a rather delightful, if not somewhat esoteric plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the captain be struggling with a depravity toward young, perhaps voluptuous maidens?" Moby Dick was partly inspired by a real whale called Mocha Dick, an albino sperm whale that would attack whaling boats if they attacked him. When he was killed in 1839 he was found to have 19 harpoons in his sides. Melville sold only 3,750 copies of the book in his lifetime, earning $556.37, and he died virtually unknown. In 2014, The Guardian named the book the 17th greatest novel of all time.

- Tangent: One of the characters in the book is Starbuck, from where the coffee chain gets its name from.

- XL Tangent: Melville wrote that the sperm whale, which Moby Dick is, is the largest creature on Earth. However, at the time the blue whale had never been measured. Sperm whales are around 67 feet long in comparison to blue whales which are 98 feet, but the sperm whale is the largest toothed whale. Aisling once visited the Natural History Museum where one exhibit is the penis of a sperm whale, which she says is around two cars long.

- Tangent: The opening lines to Moby Dick: "Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - with little or no money in my purse and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little in the see the watery part of the world", were named by the American Book Review as the No. 1 best sentence in the world. Coming in at No. 2 is: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife", from Pride and Prejudice.

- XL Tangent: The following are rejection letters for works that became huge hits.

- "An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell." - Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.

- "An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull." - William Golding's "Lord of the Flies".

- "I haven't the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently, the author intends to be funny." - Joseph Heller's "Catch-22".

- "I'm afraid I thought this one as dire as its title. It's a kind of 'Prince of Denmark' of the hotel world, a collection of clichés and stock characters which I can't see being anything but a disaster." - BBC comedy script editor Ian Main's rejection letter to Fawlty Towers.

- "The pigs were far more intelligent than the other animals, and the farm needed more public spirited pigs." - TS Eliot, while working for Faber and Faber, rejecting George Orwell's "Animal Farm" because he was concerned it was excessively Trotskyist.

- The kind of bag that all British lifeboats were required to carry until 1998 was a bag containing oil. These wave-quelling bags used oil to stop waves from forming. These bags were made of canvas and attached to the anchor. A tablespoon of oil dropped into a lake can calm half an acre of water. The oil spreads out into a layer that is only one molecule thick, but that prevents the wind from forming the wave. Oil being used to calm waves was known about by Pliny the Elder. Benjamin Franklin once observed two ships in a flotilla had smooth waters in their wake while the other ships had not. When he asked why, Franklin was told that the two ships had jettisoned their kitchen grease. He then experimented on Mount Pond in Clapham Common to show how oil can calm waves. (Forfeit: A handbaaag?!?; Sick bag)

- XL Tangent: Swordfish have a gland next to their noses that secretes oil, which is thought to coat the fish's head in order to repel water and make it easier for them to swim. Swordfish can swim at 62mph.

- XL: The world's oiliest Valentine's card was sent by Shell. Between 1938 and 1975, Shell sent anonymous Valentine's cards to their female customers. To make them anonymous they bought stamps rather than putting it through the franking machine. However, the verses give them away. Examples include:

"At last you know, my valentine
The news I've longed to bring
Now let the petrol flow like wine
Let joyful engines sing."

"My Valentine - my Basic need -
Of fly away with me!
My heart is full, if not my tank,
To journey far with thee."

- XL Tangent: Shell Oil got their name from the father of the owner, who collected shells. Marcus Samuel had an antiques business in Whitechapel, and in 1833 he started importing ornamental shells because they became popular in interior design. In order to get shells from all over the world Samuel developed trade routes, and his sons began trading in oil, using their father's routes to bring the oil in.

- XL Tangent: One of the reasons oil became globally important politically is due to Winston Churchill, who made the Royal Navy shift from coal to oil. There wasn't enough coal in Britain to meet the demand, hence the shift.

General Ignorance

- The correct end for this sentence is; "There are plenty more fish in the river." Only 20% of the world's fish species live in the sea. Most fish live in rivers and lakes. One site in the Amazon has more freshwater fish than the whole of Europe. (Forfeit: Sea)

- Tangent: In Utah, remote lakes were once stocked with fish carried in milk cans, but fish are now air-dropped by planes into the lakes. This is known as "aerial restocking".

- XL Tangent: Utah has a lake called Fish Lake, which is in Fish Lake Plateau, in the Fish Lake National Forest.

- XL Tangent: In 2004, the people in Knighton, Powys, found dozens of minnows flying around in the air. The main risen give was that after a thunderstorm, a tornado sucked some fish up from the water, but others believe it was an overflow from a pond.

- XL Tangent: David asks why they are no fish living on land. Sandi tells them, via the Elves, that the mangrove killfish lives on land.

- Spring tides occur in the Southern Hemisphere all year around, and it is the same in the Northern Hemisphere. A spring tide occurs after a full or new moon, marking the greatest difference between high and low tides. Thus spring tides occur twice every month. The term has nothing to do with the season, but with the definition of "spring" as in "to rise up suddenly". (Forfeit: Autumn; Spring)

- Tangent: The word "tide" is Norse in origin. In Denmark the word for "time" is "tid", which is where we get our word "tide". The "tide" in the words "Eastertide" or "Yuletide" references the Danish "time" meaning.

- XL Tangent: The world's highest tide is in the Bay of Fundy, which separates New Brunswick from Nova Scotia. The difference between high and low tide can be as much as 53 feet, which is the same level as a three-storey building.

- Without leaving their seats, the panel are told to impersonate an Olympic diver. The mistake is putting your hands together as if you were praying. Divers land in the water palm first to minimise splashing, by making a cavity of water wide enough for the body to go through. (Forfeit: Not that)

- Tangent: Alan once went to see Olympic diving. He says that: "Once you"ve seen one, you really have seen them all."

- XL Tangent: In the 2016 Rio Olympics the water in the diving pool turned green because someone poured 160 litres of hydrogen peroxide into it, which when mixed with chlorine are both neutralised, and thus algae is free to grow. Although the Rio Olympics has some of the world's greatest swimmers, they also had 75 lifeguards. These lifeguards are around mainly for synchronised swimmers, if they should collide with each other, and sometimes swimmers faint. Sandi claims her favourite sport of all time is solo synchronised swimming, which was in the Olympics between 1984 and 1992.

- Billy Ocean has three lungs. He has an extra pulmonary node between his two normal lungs. Some believe that this third lung has allowed him to extend his career. (Forfeit: 1)


- Joe Lycett: -15 points
- Aisling Bea: -17 points
- David Mitchell: -37 points
- Alan Davies: -51 points

Objectionable Object Prize

- Joe wins a sausage dog-shaped drinks dispenser.

Broadcast details

Friday 3rd November 2017
30 minutes
  • Wednesday 19th April 2017, 19:15 at The London Studios


  1. Thursday 20th January 2022 at 9:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  2. Friday 21st January 2022 at 12:40am on Dave (60 minute version)

Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 28th October 2017 10:00pm
45 minute version
Saturday 4th November 2017 10:00pm
45 minute version
Monday 19th March 2018 10:00pm BBC2
Wednesday 10th October 2018 8:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 26th February 2019 9:00pm Dave
Sunday 9th June 2019 8:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 15th June 2019 1:00am
70 minute version
Saturday 15th June 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 8th October 2019 11:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 9th October 2019 7:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 7th January 2020 6:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 13th March 2020 9:30pm BBC2
Saturday 16th January 2021 11:20pm
60 minute version
Friday 20th August 2021 8:20pm Dave
Saturday 21st August 2021 2:25am Dave
Thursday 18th November 2021 9:20pm Dave
Friday 19th November 2021 2:00am Dave
Tuesday 28th December 2021 10:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 16th January 2022 9:30pm BBC2

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
David Mitchell Guest
Aisling Bea Guest
Joe Lycett Guest
Ali Hood Self
Christopher Bird Self
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anne Miller Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Kalpna Patel-Knight Executive Producer
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Mike Sutcliffe Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Mat Coward Researcher
James Harkin Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Anna Ptaszynski Researcher
Alex Bell Researcher
Stevyn Colgan Researcher
Ben Dupré Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Alice Campbell Davis Researcher


Scary Shark?

What is the scariest thing about this shark clip?

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig & Alan Davies.


Preview - QI: Oceans

This week the intellectual comedy plumbs the depths of the ocean to find some interesting facts.

Ian Wolf, On The Box, 3rd November 2017

The O-centric 15th series of the wilfully esoteric panel perennial continues, this week rolling in the deep with an instalment devoted entirely to oceans. Quizmaster and commander Sandi Toksvig is joined by salty first mate Alan Davies and the rather lubberly crew of Aisling Bea, Joe Lycett and David Mitchell, all hoping to reveal some unexpected depths to their maritime knowledge. But do they know their oars from their ice floes?

Graeme Virtue, The Guardian, 3rd November 2017

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