ATTENBOROUGH’S LIFE IN THE FREEZER 5
Life in the Freezer – The Big Freeze
-70 degrees, 120mph winds, continuous darkness, a very lonely place. (Does this describe your life? Why not light up your life with a Bud Light!) Opening shots of these conditions. In conditions like this you need a special animal with special abilities… like the Wettle Seal. The only mammal that leave throughout the year this far south. Winter and summer they are just 800 miles from the pole. These seals make holes in the ice to get to the sea so they have to hang around there mostly. Under water the water does not drop below -1.8 degrees. Beautiful shot of ice ceilings and ice floors. The seals escape the storms and keep warm through these gateways. Amazing shot of the ceiling and the hole from the bottom of the ocean. Imagine a frozen white windscreen with a glowing blue bullet hole. It’s all lit by dim blue light filtering from the ice. What a world… like ice caves and … wow this place is cool. More great shots of the peaceful civilization, eerie and beautiful. Shots of camera guy going in cracks. Some dark tunnel.
Life here has different adaptations. Most fish would explode if they touched that ice wall. These survive coz they’re body is full of antifreeze. Up-skirt shot of Giant Jellyfish and all its intestine like tentacles. Shot of jelly thing with fibre optic hairs and glowing organs. The frozen sea ice provides shelter from waves and storms but food is scare turning most of the animals in the scavengers. Shot of tiny, pink, soft, spiky starfish making a meal of seal faeces. Wettle Seals can dive plus 750 meters in search of food. These depths can crush a human body. In that darkness we find stork sponges. Even though they grow very slowly, they become giants.
It’s October and female Wettle Seals are lying around the ice waiting to give birth. Okay… we didn’t need to see that! Imagine being born from nice warm mummy’s tummy to -20 degree ice. Pups gotta hurry and layer up… they usually double up in 10 days from the 60% Fat Wettle milk. (Yum, bring on the Crunchy Nut) After a week they babies are ready to swim. Better to get your body accustomed to the weather before it deteriorates. This is when the breeding holes are jealously guarded. When they ice threatens to close their holes they use their wide gape and excellent incisors to carve it back. But it takes its toll gradually wearing the teeth away till they can’t eat. Whettles die after 20 years. Half the age of the other Antarctic seals. A male protects his underwater territory and mates with all the females there. Cute shots of mother and baby sleeping around, baby yawning without teeth. If the babies are fattened in 6 weeks before they are weaned, 95% of the pups will survive.
Over to the largest active volcano in Antarctica, Mount Erebus. In the centre molten lava bubbles at 600 degrees while at the summit temperatures hardly go above -45 degrees. The mix of heat and ice and steam and rock, etc is perfect for other life like Alga and shlack. Behind the mountain the TransAntarctic mountain ranges stretch out long and broad. So extensive they run about 2000 mile and separates the great east and west ice caps. Peaks are 4000 meters high and vast blankets of glaciers fill the valleys. Hidden behind the mountains is one of the continents greatest surprises. Dry valleys, the largest area of bare rock to be found in the Antarctic. So dry, falling snow evaporates. The valley below is the driest place on Earth. No rain or snow for centuries. Hein? The temperature falls to -52 degrees and ice forms for about half a mile? I thought you said it was dry?
Anyway, so scientists use this place to test out vehicles for Mars. The funny shaped granite boulders are carved like that by the screaming winds. The winds are so dry they instantly absorb any moisture in the air and by that they desiccate and preserve tissues… like that mummified seal. 70 miles away from the sea, it’s probably been lying there for 3000 years or more. Shot of David walking down some really carved rocks. Like Oreos, not the colour but the spacing. He sits down and hammers one of the rocks, pulls the piece away and shows us moss living about a millimetre beneath the layer of the rock. They colonise in the spaces between the porous rock.
Over to the Antarctic Plateau, 3000 meters high. The most hostile places to be. Human life here is insignificant and totally irrelevant. In summer some lichen and Snow Petrels might come this far, but not in winter. Oh no! In summer this place has temperatures averaging -30 degrees. 1.5 times the size of Australia, the largest area of lifeless wilderness in the world. (Doesn’t that cancel out? Lifeless + wilderness = Wildlifelessness) Shot of Emperor Penguins shooting out of water. They are the ones that must cross this ice dessert. Gorgeous shot of white snow/ice being crossed by penguins, dull blue sky and one gangsta moon in a shade of stained teeth. So the inmates walk to one of their traditional nesting sites. In one there may be 25,000 birds. Emperors are the only bird that lay their egg directly on ice. (I lay mine directly on the frying pan). Soon as mother lays the egg, father gotta take over, the transfer has to be quick or you have frozen egg. The male puts in a brood pouch between his legs, lined with blood vessels this pouch will keep the egg 80 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. Sealed away for the winter under a flap of skin.
Speed shot of females making their way back across the sea ice. While partners are left to face the coldest conditions on Earth. Its -70 below, lots of storms. The penguins huddle together for warmth. Other penguins would not be so tolerant. Pretty organised as the ones on the edge move along to the sheltered side. Everyone takes their shift. Mid-winter approaches, the sun disappears for the last time this season, a month of total darkness. Lovely speed shots of the Southern Lights in the sky, Aurora Australis. They occur through subatomic particles entering from space into the Earths magnetic field. As winter recedes, the huddle breaks up. You can see the heat, that was trapped between them, escaping. WHAT? The males didn’t eat for 115 days?! Poor guys are close to death from starvation. (Eat the egg man!) (Maybe not your own.)
Shot of the sun kinda rising… more like shooting off sideways and diving back in the horizon. The fat ass females return. They may have to walk a 100 miles coz remember, like the continent expanded. By now the eggs have hatched and the lil ones are waiting for their first feed. The female times it just right. While the male can give the chick only one meal. A milky secretion from his gut wall. If the mother does not return in 10 days… pops gotta abandon baby to feed. Partners can recognise each others call even after 3 months. (C’est l’amour) They meet, do their greeting ritual for security purposes, then feed the lil one half digested fish. Look gross. Now the mother wants to take over but pops is reluctant. She has to push him back to get the baby. Then the transfer which looks like having a pooper scooper between your feet. Voila! She’s grabbed the little turd. More fun for the males… they have to walk a 100 miles while starved. While mothers chill with babies getting used to each others calls, etc.
Early spring now. Weather still very variable. The chicks look so cute! As in bar-be-cute. (Now that’s funny). That one was abandoned and was trying to get into the wrong mothers pooper scooper so she just walked off, kinda trampling the baby. Then another adult comes to scoop it coz this adult didn’t get a change to breed but the baby wants to wait for real moms. Shot of 3 un-partnered penguins fighting over the baby… these fights sometimes crush the chick to death. Line of dead chicks on the route. Mortality is high, many eggs don’t hatch and the ones that do… 25% die in the first few months. Survivors gotta grow fast, before the ice beneath them starts breaking up. They take 5 months to rear.
David holds an egg, stating that was the reason why man decided to travel so far… to collect the egg. Collect egg? Bill Wilson was convinced that the embryo would give conclusive evidence of the link between feathers of birds and scales of reptiles. So on June 12, 1911… He and 2 companions left Captain Scott’s hut and set out for the Emperor colony on the other side of Mount Erebus. It was the trip that became known as The Worst Journey in the World. Weather sucked, clothes and harnesses froze, crew suffered heavy frostbite hauling their sledges through that terrain. On their way back they lost their tent, then miraculously found it again and made it back to the hut alive. Returning with 3 eggs and 3 Emperor Penguin skins. One of the birds is on the table near David as he tells us how the evidence didn’t do what it was supposed to but the journey will remain one of the great stories in bla bla bla! Ok so the next episode will be explorers journeys and how people survive life around these area codes. Who cares about people!? (Opps, did I type that out loud).