Seven Worlds, One Planet (2019–…): Season 1, Episode 1 - Antarctica - full transcript

The snowy shores and icy waters of Antarctica are home to some of the most amazing and unusual wildlife in the world. However, even here, many species face extinction due to rapid climate change and overhunting.

200 million years ago,

our planet looked very different

from what it does today.

It was entirely covered by sea,

which surrounded one single
supercontinent we call Pangea.

And then Pangea began to break up.

Life was cast adrift

on fragments of land.

And these fragments eventually
became our seven continents.

We will see how life developed
on each continent,

giving rise to the extraordinary
and wonderful diversity

that we see today.

We'll venture through the frozen
wilderness of Antarctica,

where life thrives against the odds.

And to the riches of South America,

full of the unexpected.

From the wilds of Africa.

To the vast expanses of North

and the searing heat of Australia.

We'll explore
the remote reaches of Asia,

home to rarely seen creatures.

And Europe, a world transformed
by humanity.

And we'll discover how this may be

the most critical moment
for life on Earth

since the continents formed.

We are changing the world
so rapidly,

that wildlife is now facing some of
its greatest challenges yet.

Never has it been
a more important time

to reveal the precious diversity
of life

on our seven continents.

This is Seven Worlds, One Planet.

Of all the continents,

one was first sighted by humans
just 200 years ago.

And only now

are we beginning to understand

what it takes to survive here.

It's the most hostile of them all.

98% of mainland Antarctica,

an area one-and-a-half times the
size of the United States,

is covered in ice

on which virtually
nothing can live.

So life is dependent on the ocean
that surrounds it.

But even the ocean freezes.

Only one mammal can live
this far south.

The Weddell seal.


She has to keep her breathing hole

by grinding back the ice
with her teeth.

Out here on the sea ice,

all these seals are far from the
predators of the open ocean.

So, this is the safest place
for her to give birth.

Leaving the warmth of the womb
and landing on ice

is the sharpest drop in temperature
any animal ever faces.

But her pup can't swim for the first
ten days of its life.

It's trapped here

out on the ice.


She shields her pup from the wind.

Although in spring,
temperatures can drop

to minus 40 degrees Celsius,

and blizzards can rage for days.

Three days on, and the storm
is still raging.

She now faces the hardest
of decisions.

Does she stay with her pup?



Or shelter in the water?

Now, her pup's best chance
of survival

is for the storm to pass quickly.

Some pups didn't make it.



An answer.


If this pup now joins its mother
in the water,

it will be safe

from any future storm.

It's minus two degrees Celsius,

but being in water is warmer

than lying on the ice

in the howling wind.

Its chances of surviving
here are now extremely good.

Only a few hardy animals can live
all year round as far south as this.

Further from the pole,

on the fringes of the continent,

lie islands
that are free of sea ice.

Here, there are other challenges.

St Andrews Bay on South

is packed with half
a million king penguins.

In spring, the chicks are left
for days,

while their parents are away

collecting food for them.

There is a simple arrangement.

The chicks must stay exactly
where their parents left them

to be sure of being found again.


But this chick has
decided to look around.

There is a lot to be investigated.


But it must not stray too far

from its meeting place.

This parent has returned

with food in its crop.

But its chick isn't where
it left it.

It's hard to stay put

when there's so much to play with.

Elephant seals are here, too.

Very mysterious.




Finding it
in the crowd of youngsters

is not going to be easy.

They must recognise each other
by their calls.


But to hear these in such
a noisy colony,

then they must be within
15 metres of each other.



St Andrews Beach is one
of the most crowded on the planet,

and so holding a territory
here is a constant battle.

This bull elephant seal holds

the mating rights to 60 females.

For two months, he's guarded
this stretch of beach.

Unable to feed,

he's losing ten kilos a day,

and he's exhausted.

But other bulls are lying around,

waiting their chance.


Blubber, 15 centimetres thick,

is protection against the cold,

but not from the impact

of a four-tonne opponent.

He holds his ground

and forces the intruder

back out to sea.

Life in the Antarctic is harsh

But all these creatures come here

because the Southern Ocean

is one of the richest on Earth.

When, 30 million years ago,

the continent broke away

from South America and drifted

currents began to swirl
right around it.

They are now the strongest

of any currents on the planet.

They sweep up nutrients
from the depths,

and so create one of
the richest feeding grounds

in all the world's oceans.

And some of the creatures

that come here to feast

do so in a most sophisticated way.

Humpback whales.

It's summer, and they've come here

for a banquet.

The cold waters contain

great shoals of krill.

It's estimated that there are 400
trillion of them

and that their combined weight is
greater than that of any other

animal species on the planet.

To collect them, the humpbacks blow
curtains of bubbles,

which the krill won't cross.

The whales then rise, spiralling
inwards, to concentrate the swarm.

Summer in Antarctica is a time of

when most humpbacks are able to put
on the reserves they need

for the whole year.

But the wildlife in these waters
faces an uncertain future.

The Southern Ocean is warming.

90% of the world's ice lies in

and, in some parts, the rate at
which it's melting

is doubling every decade.

Sea levels are rising.

But there is a more immediate

The warming of the coldest region on
Earth is having a profound effect

on global weather patterns.

And this change in the climate is
already being felt right here.

This grey-headed albatross chick is
four weeks old.

So far, it has been sheltered from
the gales by its parents,

who take turns to collect food for
it out at sea.

It is the only chick that they
will have in two years.


The delicate touching of beaks
strengthens their bond.


But these tender moments cannot last

As a chick grows, so does its

So one parent has to leave to find
food before the other returns.

Parting is a big step
and they take time over it.


For the first time in its life,
this chick is alone.

The Antarctic is the windiest

and in recent years, climate change
has brought storms

that are more frequent and even more

Winds now regularly reach 70mph.

But the albatross chicks must try to
stay on their nests.

Surviving the storm is one thing...

..but now, off the nest in these
freezing temperatures,

this chick has just hours to live.

The brutal conditions have taken
their toll.

Some chicks have already succumbed
to exposure.

The bond is so strong, it can be
hard for a father to let go.

The albatross population here has
more than halved

in the last 15 years.

These albatross are facing

They simply cannot keep pace with
the changes

affecting their world.

More parents are returning to the

Something is not right.

The nest should not be empty.

The chick is actually right below
its parent,

but because it's not on the nest,
the parent doesn't recognise it.


And doesn't help it.

Strangely, perhaps, these albatross
do not recognise their chicks

by sight, sound or smell.

They identify them by finding them
on the nest.

So, these violent storms have
created a problem

that the albatross are not equipped
to solve.


If it is to survive, the chick will
have to get back on the nest

by itself.

The chick has made it.

The bond is re-established

and its parent, once again, provides
the warmth that the chick

so desperately needs.


It's safe... for now.

Nowhere in Antarctica is
survival easy.

Gentoo penguins travel up to 50
miles every day

to find food.

And they're now returning to their

They are the fastest penguin
in the sea

and can swim at 22mph.

But other animals can swim much


This penguin must
rely on its agility.





With four orcas chasing it, the
penguin stood little chance.


Most gentoo parents do make it back
to the colony.

Today, it's been a good hunt for

Perhaps too good.

The chicks grow and it seems that
the Mohawk style

is back in fashion.

It's just a phase.

He'll grow out of it.

He'll soon lose these remaining down
feathers and be ready to leave

the colony and collect food for

But doing so is becoming harder
because of climate change.

Glaciers in the region are now
calving faster

than they have done since records

And this brash ice now fills the

It's autumn.

The chicks have lost their down
feathers and they're hungry.

They must go to
sea for the first time.


But now there's a risk of being
crushed between blocks of ice.

They have to get to the distant

..and so reach the open ocean that
lies beyond.

And that is easier said than done.

A leopard seal...

..their main predator.

It's a giant, three metres long.

These icy conditions help
it to hunt.


The penguins can neither
walk nor swim.

They have no way of telling
where the seal will strike.



These are easy pickings.


For some, it's time to retreat.

But now, it's back to square one.

There's no alternative
but to run the gauntlet once again.



The seal seems to be toying with
this penguin.

But safety is in sight.

The ice floe is near the open ocean.

But this penguin is exhausted.





Perhaps it's not worth it, after

Winter is coming.

Antarctica now undergoes a major

Every day, 40,000 more square miles
of sea freeze over.

By the end of winter, the continent
has doubled in size.

This is by far the largest
desert in the world.


But the frozen surface of the sea
hides a great secret.

It may be hostile above the ice,
but below it,

conditions are so stable that life
over millennia

has had time to diversify.

Creatures here grow to a great size.

Predatory nemertean worms are three
metres long.

These dramas only become visible
when speeded up.

We're only just beginning to
discover the details of the lives

of such strange creatures.

Nudibranchs are hermaphrodites.

Each individual possesses both male
and female reproductive organs.

So, to mate, one nudibranch
just needs to find

another nudibranch.

And any one will do.

But nonetheless, this is a challenge
when their tiny eyes can barely see.

Some do get lucky.

They're fertilising each other and
both will produce young.

When it's hard to find a partner,
it pays not to have to worry

about your gender.

Sea anemones may look like plants,
but, actually, are animals

and feed by catching edible
particles that drift within reach

of their tentacles.

But being rooted to the sea floor
makes them vulnerable to predators.

An ocean-going jellyfish, a metre
or so across, searching for food.

The jellyfish senses prey.

But it's the sea anemones that have
made the catch

and they've grabbed a monster.

A rare feast for these stationary

They devour their catch over the
next four days.

Life here under the ice has remained
unchanged for millennia.

But in the last 200 years,
much of Antarctica's wildlife

has had to face new predators...

..human beings.


We devised new hunting techniques
and used them so mercilessly

that we almost exterminated the
great whales.

These whaling stations on
South Georgia were at the centre

of this industry.

More than one-and-a-half million
whales were slaughtered

in Antarctic waters.

The blubber was stripped from
their massive bodies

and boiled down in vats to make
margarine and soap.

And the largest animal ever

a 33-metre blue whale, perhaps over
100 years old,

was butchered on this ramp in just
two hours.

This reckless slaughter marked a new
low in our relationship

with the natural world.

Southern right whales were hit the

They were so trusting and

that they swam right up to the
whalers' boats.

And the whalers called them right

because they were the right
whales to hunt.



Mothers with calves were targeted

To give birth, females came to the
same sheltered bays

and would not leave their calves
alone at the surface.

In just decades,
a population of 35,000

was so reduced that only 35 of the
females survived.

But times have changed.

A ban on the commercial hunting of
whales, introduced in 1986,

has stopped all but Japan, Norway
and Iceland.

Our relationship to these
remarkable creatures

has undergone a huge shift.

Scientists are now learning a great
deal about these whales.

But we still don't know how long
they live.

It's thought that some individuals
alive today

were around at the time of the mass

Yet these 60-tonne whales remain

and inquisitive around humans.

By putting a stop to commercial

this population of whales has now
grown to over 2,000.

The recovery of life in Antarctic
waters may have a significance

that extends far beyond the reaches
of the continent

and will affect us all.

Just off the coast of Elephant

we have recently witnessed what
might be

the greatest feeding spectacle on

On the horizon, over 150 whales
have gathered

to feast on krill.

This is the largest congregation of
great whales ever filmed.

These are mostly fin whales,
up to 26 metres long.

Humpback whales are dwarfed in

Thousands of animals from all over
Antarctic waters

are making their way here.

These seas are, once again,
beginning to brim with life.

And scientists have discovered that
the Southern Ocean,

and the life within it, soaks up
more than twice as much

carbon from the atmosphere as the
Amazon rainforest.

By protecting Antarctica, we don't
just protect the life here...

..we are helping to restore the
natural balance

of the entire planet.

St Andrews Bay provides one of the
most spectacular sights

in the whole of the Antarctic.

But to get there, the team will have
to cross

the roughest seas in the world,
and nerves are starting to show.

The wind is picking up already!


It'll take ten days at sea to reach
this remote location.

And it's not long before they start
to feel a bit green.

There's some big waves coming now.

With these conditions lasting days,
all who can take shifts at the helm.

And you get given a talk, to say if
you fall in the water here,

there's nothing anyone can do -
they can't save you.

It's so cold, you'll die in under
a couple of minutes.


Below deck,
Rolf hasn't yet found his sea legs.



For me, this is like punishment or
prisoner-ship or whatever.

I mean, I can't understand at all
how people do this voluntarily,

people dream of being on a boat or
sailing or anything.

Look at that.

I mean, look how much the boat is

I feel like in a washing machine.

The island of South Georgia finally

It's a relief to step onto solid

Yeah, the seasickness is already
forgotten, to be honest!

But it's all forgotten.

It's just out of this world.

It's so wonderful that these places
still exist.

They will spend the next three weeks
in St Andrews Bay.

Rolf is here to film the king
penguins in this enormous colony.

And Mark must capture the elephant
seals' intense mating season.


On such a crowded beach,
fights can break out anywhere.


Males are up to six metres long
and they are pumped

full of testosterone.

The bulls take little notice of the
crew and will stop at nothing.

Oh, my God!

That went from nothing to being
nearly steam-rollered

by four huge males.

Beyond the chaos of the beach, Rolf
has king penguins in front of him,

and, thankfully, he's smiling again.

I would really call them
the gentleman penguins

because they are very polite,
they're charming,

they have humour.

There's so many funny, lovely

I absolutely adore these penguins
for that!

But as weeks go by, the reality of
living amongst penguins

comes to the fore.

Every morning, I think,
"Wow, it's stinky!"

But then I realise, these smells
come out of my shoes

and it's myself.


Back on the beach, the team is using
a stabilised camera rig.

They can now react faster to fights.

So far in the shoot, we've seen a
lot of quick fights,

but we haven't
seen some extended fights,

where you see one bull paired

equally against another bull.

These sights are rare.

The team will need to be at the

Mark, Mark, Mark!

Let's get running.

Oh, hello!

These are two huge, evenly matched

I know.

Wow, I never thought we'd be this
close to it. I know, nor did I.

This is really tense, we've just got
to watch out.

We got there.

I never thought I'd see it that

and be able to move around it, as
this kind of

aggressive ballet is happening.


And it does make you quite tense.

The shoot is going well, but the
crew are noticing worrying signs.

It's a really hot day today.

30 years ago, the front of that

was right down on the beach.

It's retreated a huge amount.

I don't really know what climate
change is going to mean

for all the wildlife that's living

Parts of the Antarctic are warming
five times faster

than the rest of the world.

If this trend continues, it will
threaten the very existence

of these polar creatures.

On the last day of filming, the team
can't help but reflect

on the future of the wildlife here.

For me, it's emotional because I
know this might have been

a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I will definitely take big memories
with me and I will be sad.

It's a really special place,
you know? So...

I don't know.

I just hope we can keep these

And protect them.

Next time...

..the largest continent on Earth.

A world of extremes...

..where rarely seen animals roam the