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The first months of any animal's life
are the most crucial.
Every day brings new challenges...
..and new dramas.
In this series, we'll reveal how animal babies survive
and even thrive
in three of the most beautiful yet demanding landscapes on the planet.
On the vast savannahs of Africa,
youngsters face the world's top predators
and intense competition.
Water babies must deal with treacherous coasts
and dangerous currents...
..and in the rocky world of the mountains,
food is scarce
and the weather extreme.
These brave little animals do have some great tactics
to overcome the odds
but they face a steep learning curve
in what can be a cruel world.
If they pay attention to those around them,
and fight against adversity,
they might just make it.
This is the story of some amazing animal babies.
From rivers to rocky shores,
vast open oceans
to pristine tropical reefs...
..over 70% of our planet is covered in water.
Although full of opportunity...
..these places are immensely challenging.
Especially for the inexperienced.
Many animals that spend their lives living in and around water
must come onto land to breed.
Being born and raised this way means the babies face many hurdles.
Sometimes, simply getting to water
can be the biggest trial of their young lives.
There are predators to evade
and vital skills to master.
It's often very early on
that water babies face their greatest challenges.
Overcoming these first hurdles
is the beginning of their road to adulthood.
On a crowded beach in the South Atlantic...
..an Antarctic fur seal takes its first-ever breath.
Right now, it's just 60 centimetres long.
The pup will spend the next four months on this beach.
It needs to grow and build up strength,
readying itself for life at sea.
But this is a difficult place to be born,
and it's easy to see why.
Every year, 3 million fur seals come here to South Georgia to breed.
In just a month, 500,000 pups are born.
The pups rely on their mums for food and protection
but, in this disorientating crowd,
it's easy for some to get...
well, get a little lost.
And it appears they're not the only ones.
The pups need to be careful.
On these crowded beaches, there's a big danger.
Only days after giving birth, the females are fertile again
and courted by enormous, broody bulls.
As males throw their weight around,
the tiny pups are caught in the firing line.
PUP CRIES OUT
PUP WHINES AND WHIMPERS
It's battered and bruised,
but it's survived.
The pup needs to find its mum,
and it has a clever trick to do so.
Amazingly, in all this chaos,
the pups can pick out the individual smell of their own mother.
By following her scent...
..and listening for her calls,
The pups have faced up to their first real test,
but this is just the beginning of their story.
It will be months before the baby fur seals
are ready to leave the beach and to take to the open ocean.
But other water babies have to get from land to water
as soon as they're born...
..and this often turns out
to be the greatest challenge of their lives.
On the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef,
Raine Island is the world's largest and most important nursery
for a very special animal baby.
Underground, something is stirring...
..a green turtle hatchling, fresh from the egg.
It has one thing on its mind,
it must get to the safety of water,
In the way lies 50 metres of perilous beach.
Oh, well, no time like the present.
But things haven't started well for the lone hatchling.
Normally, sea turtles hatch in vast numbers to overwhelm predators.
Alone, it's an easy target.
Rufous night herons flock to the beach,
looking to prey on turtles.
Luckily, the eager hatchling isn't alone after all.
It's anything but alone.
Each tiny hatchling, just five centimetres long,
makes the same death-defying dash.
The next few minutes are the most dangerous in their entire lives.
Wave after wave enter the fray.
Many a good turtle is lost to the insatiable herons...
..but the sheer numbers mean they could never take them all.
With the herons distracted by the main group,
one's getting closer to the shore,
but it's not safe yet.
but fighting back makes the heron think twice.
Hatchlings that take the most direct, quickest route to the ocean
have the highest chance of survival.
But the danger isn't over.
The reef is just as hazardous as the beach.
Only once they get to the open ocean
will their chances of surviving increase.
Their journey will continue.
The hatchlings' mad dash for the ocean
is an incredibly risky start to life.
But for a different family of water babies,
their first challenge is all about a remarkable leap of faith.
A tree hole lined with fluffy down feathers.
They're North American wood ducks.
Despite being just hours old,
they're about to have an amazing adventure.
Although they don't seem particularly up for it.
That's Mum, by the way.
Their tree nest keeps them safe from predators,
but there's a problem.
There's nothing to eat in here.
For their first feed, the ducklings need to get to water.
But that is going to be far more dangerous
than any of them could possibly imagine.
Now, it's their turn.
She calls, egging them on.
But, in the nest, they've got a mountain to climb.
Tiny claws grip the wood as they heave themselves up.
A first-ever glimpse of the big, wide world,
and it's in for a massive shock.
The nest is 20 metres up a vast tree.
It will be months before the duckling can fly.
Right now, its wings are useless.
Despite the danger, it knows what it must do -
don't think twice, just jump.
The fluffy ducklings stretch out to slow the descent...
..but luck will play its part.
Once one has made it, the others follow.
These base jumping, daredevil ducks take it all in their stride.
They've made it down in one piece...
..but Mum carries on calling.
They won't be safe until they reach the water...
..and it's a long way on little legs.
They've made it, like...
well, like ducks to water.
Now they can get their first meal.
Just 24 hours old,
and they've already survived the greatest trial of their life.
Water habitats vary dramatically across the planet.
Each environment presents unique challenges
for the babies growing up there.
Under certain conditions,
the water itself can become extremely dangerous.
In Africa, lesser flamingos nest on remote caustic soda lakes.
Volcanic activity creates an alkaline concoction...
..that could burn human skin.
As evaporation dries the lake,
it becomes a toxic quagmire.
Long, scaly legs protect the adults,
but the sticky sludge is a potential deathtrap for the youngsters.
Tower nests built by the adults are the chicks' only safe havens...
..keeping them out of harm's way.
One chick has fallen from its nest.
In grave danger, it must try and climb back to safety,
It's a monumental effort,
like climbing a slippery mountain with no arms.
The parent looks on helplessly.
Its bill is too large and clumsy to help.
The determined chick sums up the energy for one last attempt.
Safe at last.
It's learnt the hard way to stay put.
When their legs have grown and hardened,
the chicks will leave the nest, braving the burning mud.
Having run the gauntlet of the beach,
many of the green turtle hatchlings have made it to the shoreline.
But they're not out of trouble yet.
Still just minutes old,
they now need to negotiate the dangers of the reef.
Powerful waves crash all around.
Tossed about, it fights to surface and catch a breath.
Drowning is a genuine risk.
The breakers force the hatchlings back towards the sheltered water
of a rocky outcrop.
A stroke of luck.
Or maybe not.
A new menace lurks here.
The strong current makes it hard to escape...
..so the crab can wait for dinner to come to it.
The hapless turtle is thrown straight into the claws of the crab.
A firm grip gives the crab the upper hand.
But the tenacious turtle fights back,
and wriggles free.
Finally, its flippers can be used for what they were designed for...
..as the heroic hatchling makes it to the safety of the open ocean.
Only one in 1,000 hatchlings will make it to adulthood.
Turtle hatchlings can swim instinctively
from the moment they enter the water.
But for some babies, this can be a huge challenge.
Taking their first swim can be incredibly daunting.
Tucked away in a secluded den, a giant otter pup.
One of three siblings, they're all just days old.
Soon, one pup will leave the den for its first-ever encounter with water.
Although, it doesn't seem too keen.
The rest of the family congregate outside,
and it's a big family...
..12 adults, way above the average.
These really are giants, the biggest otters on the planet,
reaching up to 2 metres long.
Their home is South America's Pantanol...
..the world's largest tropical wetland.
As others check the coast is clear...
..Mum brings out the pup.
It's time for a swimming lesson.
It sounds ridiculous,
but newborn giant otter pops don't actually like the water,
hence the lack of enthusiasm.
This is something all pups must face.
Being wary of this dangerous new experience
is completely natural,
but all pups must learn to become a strong swimmer
if they're going to survive.
Right now, it's just trying to keep its head above water.
Although starting to get the hang of things,
our pup is now exhausted.
Mum calls a halt to the lesson and heads for the safety of home.
An adult shrieks in alarm.
It's a jaguar, right by the den.
There are more jaguars along these rivers
than anywhere else on Earth...
..and they'll happily hunt otters.
Mum rushes the pup back to the den,
as the rest of the family confront the predator.
As a stealth hunter,
the otters know the jaguar will give up once its cover's blown.
It's been an adventure-packed day for the pup,
with an important life lesson under its belt.
But the presence of the jaguar
is a reminder of what challenges lie ahead.
For any animal baby,
overcoming life's first hurdles is a great achievement.
But as they get older, they face new dangers.
In any water environment, predators are a constant threat.
Vulnerable and inexperienced,
youngsters are an easy target...
..but some water babies have ingenious ways
to rise to the challenge.
The High Arctic -
a young family of snow geese.
Just hatched, the chicks leave their nest
to get to the nearby pools.
But...they're being watched.
White wolves are on the prowl, looking for easy pickings.
An eider duck family is also on the move.
For these young families, water is a safe haven...
..but the wolves have other ideas.
They're not going to let a bit of water
get between them and a meal.
The adults can fly away...
..but surely the youngsters are like sitting ducks.
It dives seconds before the wolves close in.
Success is all down to timing.
Another wolf has spotted the young eiders...
..and they've got a different strategy.
Mum creates a diversion,
pretending to have a broken wing to distract the wolf...
..whilst her chicks hide in the shallows.
2-0 to the ducks,
but the wolves have another shot at goal.
A long-tailed duck.
Its chicks are the smallest, but the wolves are still interested.
These little ducklings have the best trick of all -
they stay submerged.
When the wolf's back is turned, they grab a breath.
The perfect vanishing act.
That's game, set and match to the ducklings.
And a bunch of very frustrated wolves.
In the South Atlantic,
the fur seal pups are growing up quickly...
..feeding up on Mum's milk...
..and passing the time.
After a couple of weeks together, the females leave their pups,
heading back to the sea on five-day-long fishing trips.
Left to fend for themselves, the pups congregate in creches.
Here, they start to learn key skills.
The young males even start imitating the big bulls,
practising for later in life.
Most importantly, the creches provide safety in numbers.
The beach is a dangerous place for a lone pup.
Despite this, an adventurous little one leaves the group
and heads down towards the shore,
but it's being watched.
Giant petrels are like seagulls on steroids.
They've evolved to be the vultures of the Antarctic.
They prey on vulnerable pups.
Pecking at the pup, the petrel tests its strength.
A squabble - a chance to get away.
Only one thing will save it now.
Fighting back has made the petrel think twice.
It's far better to be in the safety of the creche.
Soon, all the pups will face their greatest challenge -
swimming out into the cold, rough waters of the South Atlantic
for the very first time.
Growing up on land can make water babies clumsy and awkward.
This can mean they have to face up to some rather unusual predators.
1,000km off the coast of South America...
and right on the equator,
is a famous archipelago of volcanic islands.
These sun-baked tropical islands are probably the last place
you'd ever expect to find
These are Galapagos penguins.
And tucked away down an ancient lava tube are a pair of chicks.
The penguins nest in these natural caves for a very good reason.
On the surface, temperatures soar to 30 degrees.
In this sweltering heat, the adults do have one way to cool off.
Cold polar currents mean the sea temperature here
is ten degrees lower than normal tropical seas,
the main reason that penguins can survive here at all.
The same currents bring nutrients and, in turn, vast shoals of fish.
So the bountiful seas provide food...
..and their lava-tube homes shelter them from the worst of the heat.
But growing up on the Galapagos does pose other problems.
A Sally Lightfoot crab?
Not a normal predator of penguins.
But here on the Galapagos, things are different.
With the parents out fishing, the chicks are home alone.
In the darkness, the crabs can feel their surroundings
with whisker-like spines on the tip of each leg.
The chicks sense movement.
They know they're not alone any more.
The crab tests the chicks.
It prefers to tackle smaller, weaker prey.
A determined peck dissuades the crab.
Maybe it'll find an easier target elsewhere.
In a few weeks, the chicks will leave their lava-tube home
and join the adults in the cool, refreshing water.
The tropics are an unusual place to find a penguin,
but it's obvious they're perfectly at home.
Having avoided the dangers of predators,
the babies must now take the next step on the road to adulthood.
Growing up destined for a life in water
means there are many vital skills to master.
The water babies can only become truly independent
if they can master all of these important adult skills.
In the swamplands of Brazil...
..the giant otter pups have really gained confidence.
OTTER PUPS SQUEAL
Now a couple of months old,
all three are tentatively exploring beyond the den.
But they've still got a lot to learn.
Giant otters are highly social,
spending their whole lives in a tight-knit family.
They work together, protecting the territory,
watching out for predators
and helping out with the baby-sitting.
The pups need to learn how to contribute to family life.
Today's crucial lesson will be a big step
on the road to adulthood -
toilet training, otter style.
An adult leads the way with the pups eagerly looking on.
Giant otters use communal latrines,
meaning the whole family do their business in the same spot.
It's a vital way to mark their territory.
And there's a crucial technique involved.
Key to getting it right is all about rubbing the scent in.
It creates an almighty stink that will see off any other otter family.
Now, it's the three pups' turn.
One plucks up the courage to give it a go.
He thinks about going all the way to the top, but chickens out.
Not exactly the right spot.
And no hint of rubbing...
but it's a step in the right direction.
An adult takes over.
If you want a job done properly, do it yourself.
The pups need to get the hang of the toilet etiquette
if they're going to start contributing to family life.
These three are learning fast,
but they've still got their most important skill to master -
hunting their own food.
In these murky waters,
getting the hang of fishing is far harder than it seems.
The giant otter pups are swimming confidently in their home river,
but for young animals growing up along rocky shores,
taking to the water for the first time can be a daunting prospect.
Ferocious storms and pounding waves
mean this is a dangerous place for the inexperienced.
Parents try to act as lifeguards,
but a youngster washed out to sea is unlikely to return.
So how can these babies get their first swimming lessons
without it becoming their last?
For all fur seal pups, taking to the open ocean
is their biggest single step to becoming independent.
Here in New Zealand, storms whip up the seas.
It's easy to understand the pups' reluctance...
..but luckily, the fur seals here have discovered
a safe way to practise their swimming.
It heads inland...
..following a freshwater stream.
It's a very peculiar thing for a young fur seal to do.
And this is the only place on the planet where they do it.
Now, which way was it?
Finally, the pup arrives,
and what a sight awaits him.
A secluded waterfall and plunge pool are the perfect training ground.
Here, they can learn key manoeuvres
and build up their swimming strength.
No-one knows how the first pups found this place,
but each year, more and more make the journey.
Being able to practise in this safe, carefree environment
gives them a huge advantage.
The only downside is there's nothing for them to eat,
else they might be tempted to stay here forever.
After two days of intense training, playtime must come to an end.
The pups head back to the beach...
..to face their real test - the open ocean.
It won't be long before they'll put their new skills to the test.
For any baby adjusting to life in water,
becoming a strong, confident swimmer
is a major step on the road to becoming independent.
But before they can truly go it alone,
they need to be able to find their own food.
Learning to hunt in water creates its own unique challenges.
Up to now, the three giant otter pups
haven't had to worry about food.
Approaching four months old,
they've always relied on Mum's milk...
..but now, she's trying to wean them.
The pups have started experimenting with solids.
But it's fish they really want.
There are over 200 species of fish in the Pantanal wetlands...
and the giant otters are their top predator.
Their super-sensitive whiskers
detect changes in current and water pressure,
meaning they can sense fish while they're still metres away.
They're expert hunters, eating up to 4kg of fish a day,
but not so good at sharing.
At first, the pups try to scrounge a meal.
But the adult is having none of it.
Finally, persistence pays off,
but this is a prize worth fighting for.
Seems like both are growing up to be rather stubborn.
Losing the tug-of-war means it's back to begging.
As the weeks pass,
the adults are more and more reluctant to give up their food.
The days of free hand-outs are over.
It's tough love, forcing them to hunt for themselves.
They must master this if they're to survive as adults, but it's tricky.
In the murky water,
the pups learn to use their whiskers to detect the movement of fish.
It usually takes weeks of practice before they finally succeed.
But not for this pup.
It's a hugely important moment in its young life
and a final step on its path to adulthood.
Catching fish in murky water is hard enough.
But what if you had to master a very tricky fishing technique
African skimmers deploy a brilliant and unique strategy
to catch their dinner.
They fly low and steady across the water.
Their longer, extended lower bill slices the surface.
If they hit a fish, it snaps shut.
Or in this case, a leaf.
It goes to show it's a tricky technique, and for this baby,
skimmer school starts right here.
Mum's on hand for guidance,
although that unusual bill doesn't make caring for the chick very easy.
The chick's training ground is a remote sand bar
on the Sanaga River in Cameroon.
But term time is short.
The rains have begun and in just four weeks,
this sand-bar nursery will be flooded by ten metres of water.
It's vital they start their training now.
They can't even fly yet, but that doesn't stop them.
At this stage, anything is a legitimate target.
Although some pupils are always a little over-ambitious.
Perhaps studying the adults' technique will help.
Or perhaps not.
With every storm, the water rises
and their training ground shrinks.
Over time, they improve, but they can only truly master the skills
when they're strong enough to fly.
And just in time.
One more storm and the sand bar could have vanished altogether.
The perfect technique.
Graduation with flying colours.
These apprentices have turned the corner from chick to adult.
All the water babies have grown up so quickly.
They've overcome many hurdles to prepare them for life in the water.
The green turtles will spend the next 20 years
exploring the vast oceans...
..before returning to the exact same beach to lay their eggs,
starting another mad dash for the ocean.
Having left the beach behind them,
the Antarctic fur seals will spend several years out to sea
before they return to South Georgia to have their own babies.
The three giant otter pups are getting bigger by the day.
They've finally got the hang of using the family latrine...
..although giant otters will always end up arguing over fish.
Despite all the challenges of this hugely demanding environment...
..our youngsters have made it past
the most vulnerable stage of their lives.
They're well on their way to adulthood
and finding their place on our beautiful blue planet.