Antarctica - the coldest, windiest, most hostile continent. Only the toughest can survive here. From Weddell seals that grind back the ice with their teeth, to colourful starfish carpeting the seabed beneath the ice. Huge colonies of king penguins crowd any ice-free land, and four tonne elephant seals fight for territory on the beach. Life comes here because the ocean that surrounds the continent is incredibly rich. Thousands of penguins, seals, albatross, and over a hundred great whales feast on krill baitballs. However, the ocean here is warming and with that comes an uncertain future. (Number of days filming: 236)
Life and Death explores the impact of Darwin’s ideas on our understanding of the meaning of extinction and the interconnections between all life on earth and the environment. Darwin learned many lessons from the giant fossils of extinct animals he found in Argentina and Chile. He eventually revealed to us the unpalatable truth that the logical conclusion to evolution is not perfection but extinction. The extinction of one species creates an environmental niche for new species to fill. Darwin’s theory also gives us vital knowledge we can use to help prolong the existence of our species by respecting the interconnections between all elements of the natural world and the environment. It’s a story in which Darwin’s ideas are taken up with great enthusiasm by his followers throughout the 20th century. But humanity misses one opportunity after another to acknowledge and reduce its destructive impact on the planet. As a result we have set in motion the sixth mass extinction of life on earth. And we are running out of time to do something about it by preserving ecological "hotspots" like certain rainforests which are some of the most productive cradles of evolution. This programme is a warning, but also a celebration, of the knowledge Charles Darwin gave us in his theory of evolution. It confirms that Darwin’s theory continues to inform our understanding of ourselves, our planet and the intricate interconnections between all life on earth.
In nature, living long enough to breed is a monumental struggle. Many animals and plants go to extremes to give themselves a chance. Uniquely, three brother cheetahs band together to bring down a huge ostrich. Aerial photography reveals how bottle-nosed dolphins trap fish in a ring of mud, and time-lapse cameras show how the Venus flytrap ensnares insect victims. The strawberry frog carries a tadpole high into a tree and drops it in a water-filled bromeliad. The frog must climb back from the ground every day to feed it. Fledgling chinstrap penguins undertake a heroic and tragic journey through the broken ice to get out to sea. Many can barely swim and the formidable leopard seal lies in wait.
There is no greater test for life than winter, as temperatures plummet to 70 below and winds reach 200kph. Darkness and ice extend across the polar regions and only a few remarkable survivors gamble on remaining. We join a female polar bear trekking into the Arctic mountains to give birth as the first blizzards arrive. Out on the frozen ocean, the entire world's population of spectacled eider ducks brave the winter in a giant ice hole kept open by ferocious currents. Arctic forests transform into a wonderland of frost and snow - the scene of a desperate and bloody battle between wolf and bison, but also where a remarkable alliance between raven and wolverine is made. Beneath the snow lies a magical world of winter survivors. Here tiny voles dodge the clutches of the great grey owl, but cannot escape the ultimate under-show predator - the least weasel. Midwinter and a male polar bear wanders alone across the dark, empty icescape. Below the snow, polar bear cubs begin life in an icy den while fantastical auroras light the night skies above. In Antarctica, we join male emperor penguins in their darkest hour, battling to protect precious eggs from fierce polar storms. Weddell seals escape to a hidden world of jewel-coloured corals and alien-looking creatures but frozen devastation follows as sinister ice stalactites reach down with deadly effect.
Part 2: Visitors David discovers the creatures that visit the reef every year, from birds to whales, some travelling thousands of kilometres to get there. Using the latest technology, David dives into the shark-infested waters of Osprey Reef in the Triton submersible. Sixty years after his first visit to Raine Island, he returns to the nesting grounds of the green sea turtle and at Lady Elliot Island marvels at manta ray cleaning stations. New tracking technology allows David to follow the story of visitors like the dwarf minke whales. Stunning satellite imagery and computer animation reveal their journey and David discovers their surprising reasons for returning and why the reef is vital for their survival.