Seven Worlds, One Planet (2019–…): Season 1, Episode 6 - North America - full transcript

More than any other continent, North America is defined by extreme weather and seasonal change. For animals that live here this poses great challenges, but for those with a pioneering ...

One continent on our planet changes

more dramatically than any other.

North America.

Whole landscapes here can be transformed
in a matter of minutes.

And all life has to be ready
to seize the moment.

Getting it wrong can be disastrous.

But time it correctly,
and there can be great rewards.

This is a land of opportunity.

Over 100 times the size of Great Britain,

North America stretches from just above
the equator almost to the North Pole.

Temperatures can range
from 50 degrees Celsius to minus 40.

The coldest wilderness of all
lies in the Arctic north.

Here, in Canada's Yukon Territory,
winter is brutal.

Many animals have travelled south
to avoid the worst of the cold.

For those which stay behind,

life becomes very hard indeed.

A Canadian lynx.

No other kind of cat, anywhere,

lives farther north than this one.

The search for food could take him
hundreds of miles.

A snowshoe hare.

This could be a chance.

He's lost the element of surprise.

And now there's a tangle of branches
between him and his prey.

Missed again.

More of his energy wasted.

Another hare...

this time out in the open.

And another failure.

If he doesn't kill soon,
he may not survive these winter months.

But in North America,

change is never far away.

April - and billions of tonnes of snow
and ice are starting to melt,

bringing new opportunities.

Much of the water drains southwards.

10,000 creeks join, forming
North America's biggest river system.

The meltwaters travel 2,000 miles
down the Mississippi,

right through the heart of North America.

In the streams of Tennessee,
river chub are getting ready to breed.

This male is busy building
a mound of stones, in which,

if he's lucky,
a female will lay her eggs.

As the river flows faster,
the work gets harder.

It's a good start,
but rivals are doing the same thing

and want some of his pebbles.

The intruder seen off,

and it's back to business.

A few finishing touches.

And then, with the last
of some 7,000 stones,

his nest is complete.

And right on time, here is a female.

But the mound now needs one last feature.

A trench where she can lay her eggs.

And with a gentle shimmy of his body,
he nudges her into position.

And she deposits her eggs

where they will be safe
from both currents and predators.

His work is done.

The eggs will hatch,

and then his mound
will be slowly dismantled

by the current.

So next year,
he'll have to start all over again.

Spring is now well on its way.

North America is wonderfully rich
in wild flowers.

There are over 10,000 species of them.

Hummingbirds fly up from the south
to feast on the nectar.

Along the North American coast,
the tides are the largest in the world.

The fragmented shoreline
forces seawater to rush up narrow inlets.

And each time the tide retreats,
it opens a freshly stocked larder.

7,000 square miles of extra coastline

is uncovered in the space of just
two hours.

A mother black bear is looking
for something suitable for her cubs.

This is their first ever trip
to the seaside.

In a few hours, the tide will return.

So they must keep up with Mum.

Here's something tasty -


Big crabs can give a nasty nip.

So it's best to start off
with smaller ones.

During spring, three quarters
of the bears' food comes from the beach.

But now... this family is not alone.

An adult male.

He's double her size,
and they're in his territory.

The cubs know that call.

It's time to head for safety.

Bears have poor eyesight,
but their sense of smell is acute,

and the male has detected intruders.

He knows exactly which tree they are in.

If the cubs stay up there,
they'll be safe,

but they're losing precious feeding time.

For now,
he's content to leave his scent mark.

A warning note for trespassers.

The family moves on.

For the cubs, lunch today
will have to be a takeaway.

The tide comes in.

And within minutes,
feeding time is over for another day.

As the continent warms,

on a few special nights,

when the temperature is just right...

the forests of North America
put on a show.

Male fireflies are taking to the air.

These insects are not, in fact, flies,
they're a kind of beetle.

The light produced by the males
is the most energy-efficient on Earth.

Some species synchronise their flashes

to increase the visibility of the message.

If a female sees something she likes,

she returns the signal.

It looks as if the message is working.

But the forest is booby-trapped...

by orb-weaver spiders.

The firefly continues to glow,
even in death.

Other males see the flashes,
but not the dangers.

The spider's larder is filling up.

But for every firefly that gets caught,

thousands avoid the traps.

And this male is lucky.

He's found a mate.

And over the course of the night,

millions will pair up.

There are over 150 different species
of fireflies in North America,

and each has its own flash code.

Once they're mated, the females
deposit their eggs in the ground.

And for those that didn't find a mate,

their one chance has come and gone.

Little rain reaches
the heart of the continent.

For over a million square miles,
there's not a tree in sight.

Many of those living here
spend much of their time underground.

A prairie dog - a kind of
large, burrowing squirrel.

Sentinels keep watch,
ready to warn others of any danger.

And at this time of year
is a new generation to protect.

This mother has six pups.

The youngsters constantly beg for food.

After all,
the pups aren't great at sharing.

But the prairie dogs don't have
the prairies to themselves.

An American badger.

The pups have never seen one before.

And badgers eat pups.

A burrowing owl.

It also knows that badgers are dangerous.

It too has young and does not want
the badger anywhere near them.

Eventually, the badger gives up.

He sets off to look elsewhere.

If he can find a place
where the grass is higher than he is,

he will have a better chance.

The mother sounds the alarm.

Adults know the danger all too well.

Four pups make it to safety below.

But their mother dare not
wait above ground any longer.

Half of all prairie dog pups
don't survive to adulthood.

Predators are not the only problem
faced by animals

living on these great plains.

Warm air sweeps up from the Gulf of Mexico
and across the open prairies.

And here, with no mountains to block it,

it meets the frigid air from the Arctic.

The results are spectacular.

As the air currents mix and swirl,

they build into one of nature's
most fearsome forces.


These twisters spin at speeds
of up to 300mph,

the world's fastest wind.

Over 1,000 tornadoes
touch down here every year.

These drenching summer storms

are prevented from spreading westwards
by the Rocky Mountains.

Some peaks are over four kilometres high,

so, beyond them, to the west,
much of the land remains parched.

The great American deserts
cover over a million square miles.

Here, roasted by the sun and blasted
by the wind, the rocks disintegrate,

and mountains, particle by particle,
are reduced to sand.

These pillars are all that remain
of a plateau where dinosaurs once roamed.

Few animals can now survive here.

In summer, as in all deserts,

the enemy is heat,

and it returns every day.

At seven in the morning

the temperature
is already 25 degrees Celsius.

The clock is ticking

for one unusual descendant
of the dinosaurs.

A roadrunner.

Found only in the deserts
of North America.

Built for a life on the ground.

He can run at over 20mph.

But the prey he seeks are one step ahead.

The roadrunner's challenge
is picking the right target.

A Gila monster -

too big.

By mid-morning,
it will be 40 degrees Celsius.

Even the smallest lizards
will soon head for cover.

A centipede.

Slim pickings for a morning's work.

Hunting should get easier

and prey will stay out longer

once the summer's peak begins to fade.

On the East Coast,
summer is coming to an end.

Cold currents are sweeping
along the coast of Florida.

And with them
come grey mullet on their migration

to their spawning grounds in the south.

Millions of them -

and packed so tightly,
they stain the water like an oil slick.

Few people on the beach
are even aware of them.

The mullet keep as close
to the shore as possible,

for, in deeper water, there are predators.

Close to the beach,

they have to keep clear of human swimmers.

But now hunters from the open ocean
have detected them.

Tarpon - over two metres long
and weighing over 100 kilograms.

To get close to the mullet
in the shallows,

the tarpon turn on their sides.

Now the mullet can't see
their shining silver flanks

until it's too late.

And feasting begins.

Black-tipped shark arrive.

Pelicans join in.

But these attacks have little effect
on the immense shoals.

The mullet outnumber their enemies
by 10,000 to one.

So the great procession travels on,
into the Northern Atlantic Ocean,

where, at last,
they will be able to spawn in safety.

Autumn arrives in North America.

No mountain range spans the continent
from east to west,

so there is nothing to stop cold air
from the Arctic

sweeping down unhindered
as far south as Louisiana.

Autumn brings colour
to the southern swamps.

Here, it has been hot and humid
for most of the year,

and now these sub-zero temperatures
are something of a trial

for the local inhabitants.

An American alligator.

The alligator reacts to the chill
by slowing its heart rate

to barely one beat per minute.

It's a kind of energy-saving winter sleep.

But other creatures
don't have this ability.

The largest inhabitants of the swamp.

A relative of the elephant.

A manatee.

A female provides milk for her calf
from a teat behind her flipper.

She might be able to survive the chill.

But her calf cannot.

So every autumn,
they need to find warmer waters.

They have a long journey ahead -

it could be hundreds of miles.

And she is not alone.

The warm waters they need to survive
come from an unusual source.

An immense underground river

flows through subterranean channels
in Florida's rocks.

In places, it comes to the surface,
creating over 1,000 springs.

Now, in winter,

these springs are ten degrees warmer
than the surrounding waters.

So manatees come here every year
from far and wide.

And here they can relax.

They can get their backs scrubbed.

And they socialise.

No-one is in much of a hurry.

And young manatees have a chance
to meet some surprising neighbours.

In summer, playing with an alligator
might be a dangerous game.

But now, at any rate,

the giant reptiles are still too chilled
to react with any vigour.

Without these warm pools,

few of Florida's manatees
would be able to survive the winter.

But the waterways here
are now very popular with people, too,

and many manatees carry scars inflicted
by the propellers of boats.

Her calf has already had its first scrape.

Every year, more than 100 manatees die
from human causes.

As the human population of Florida grows,

so wildlife is coming
under increasing pressure.

Across North America,

a million acres of wilderness
are lost every decade.

But it is in the far north
of the continent

that human beings
are affecting wildlife most critically.

Canada is warming faster
than any other country on Earth.

Polar bears have always relied
on sea ice for their hunting.

But summers are now getting longer
and hotter.

For most polar bears,

this is a time of starvation.

On the shores of Hudson Bay,

some bears are finding
a new source of food.

They're all looking for the same thing,

and they have their own ways
of catching it.

First, they must find the right rock.

Now they must wait.

The tide comes in,
bringing with it other northern giants.

Beluga whales.

Close to the shore,

their calves should be safe
from ocean-going predators such as orca.

Over 3,000 whales have gathered here.

A young male makes his move.

Polar bears are skilled marine hunters...

and beluga are slow swimmers.

As long as a whale
can keep an eye on a hunting bear,

it should be safe.

This young bear is still learning.

More experienced bears
know to be patient.

Success will depend
on split-second timing.

A bite at the back of the head,
and the kill is swift.

This extraordinary behaviour
has only been reported here,

in this remote corner of North America...

and only in the last few years.

This one small group of bears
has found an ingenious way

of surviving the lean summer months.

But for others, it is not so easy.

We continue to transform our planet,

and the seasons
are becoming less predictable.

Will the wildlife of North America
be able to adapt?

Not only on this continent,
known for its change,

but in a rapidly changing world?

The North America crew heard reports

of a rarely seen
polar bear hunting behaviour.

To film it, they set out in a small boat

to navigate the far corners
of Canada's Hudson Bay.

But the weather here,
on the Arctic Circle,

can be unpredictable.

We're out in the middle of Hudson Bay
and we have a thunderstorm approaching.

The thing you don't want with
a thunderstorm is a metal boat

and a big metal crane.

Hundreds of miles from help,
there's no chance of rescue here,

so the crew head for safety.


Let's see -
30K, and then gusting up to 50 or 60,

so it's gonna get a little nasty.


On land, they'll be safe from the storm,

but they need to be armed.

Polar bears have little fear of humans,

and at this time of the year,
most are hungry.

With the bears at a safe distance,
there's time for a quick moment

to celebrate
cameraman John's 40th birthday.

♪ Happy birthday to you. ♪

We've come to what is probably
one of the windiest shoots

I've ever done in my life.

This is the first time
I've had a birthday on the beach.

- You're kidding?
- Yeah.

And what a beach it is.

At the first sign of calm weather,

the crew head back out
to look for a key part of the story.

Beluga whales.

With frigid waters and strong currents,

a thin rope will be
cameraman Bertie's only lifeline.

Bertie can hear the belugas,
but he can't see them.

To communicate,

the whales sing to each other
through the murky water.

So, with this underwater microphone,

we're going to listen
to what these beluga whales are singing

for Bertie.

Listening to their calls
gives the crew an idea.

Bertie tries enticing the belugas closer
with some tunes of his own.

Despite some questionable singing,

it seems to be working.

Once reeled in, he shares the secret.

The moment I started singing Adele,
they just went crazy.

It's the chorus, that's what gets them -
every time.

With their boat
the only feature for miles,

it's not just beluga
that come to check them out.

Here's a young guy,
really curious.

That's about as close as you can get
to a polar bear.

This bear is pulling our anchor
off the bottom, and we're drifting

cos he's pulling... keeps pulling it up.

Hey, leave that anchor alone. Leave it.

With all eyes on the bear,

the crew suddenly realise
they have a bigger problem to deal with.

Their boat has hit a rock.

Do you know exactly where the rock is?

Push it that way.

Strong currents risk tipping the boat

and putting the crew in serious danger.

We're up on top of it, I think.

The team doesn't have long

before the falling tide
will leave them stranded on the rock.

Is it moving or is it just swinging?

- OK, push your end, push. Go on.
- See if we can...

- OK, we're off.
- We're off?


A narrow escape.

Like all film crews,
we kept wanting more and more,

and eventually the boat
got high-centred on a rock.

I didn't think about bears
until I was back on the boat.

There was a bear in the water.

Yeah, there are a couple right around us.


But with time running out,

there's little sign
of the bears' unique hunting strategy.

It's a waiting game,
for both the bears and the crew.

Bear, bear, bear! Straight off the front.

Finally, a big male
in a promising position.

This is just the situation
they've been looking for.

With one camera on the boat
and one in the air,

the crew is hoping to cover the action
from all angles.

Just waiting for the right one
in the right spot.

He's got one. He's got one.
Let's get the anchor up, anchor up.

He's got it.

He's got it on the back of the head.

He's got him by the tail now.

For the team, witnessing
this life-and-death struggle is hard.

Oh, it's kind of shocking

when it just happens
in front of you like that.

It's amazing how powerful the bear is -

it just grabbed an animal that's designed
to be in the water and be powerful,

and the bear just throws it around.

To see an animal lose its life
is upsetting,

and the crew are left with mixed feelings.

We've really connected with these belugas,

so it's sad to see them die,

but that was a really spectacular bit
of nature right there.

This footage adds to our understanding

of these ingenious animals.

In a changing world,

one small group of polar bears has come up

with a remarkable strategy for survival.

Next time...

the continent where wildlife
puts on the greatest show on Earth.