Challenges of Life Life


Challenges of Life

David Attenborough examines how living long enough to breed is a monumental struggle, and how many animals and plants go to extremes to give themselves a chance.


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Our planet may be home

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to 30 million different kinds of animals and plants.

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Each individual locked in its own life-long fight for survival.

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Everywhere you look, on land or in the ocean, there are extraordinary

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examples of the lengths living things go to to stay alive.

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This is the coast of Florida.

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Here, strange scars on the sea bed

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hint at one animal's remarkable strategy.

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These are bottlenose dolphins,

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one of the most intelligent animals on Earth.

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Their prey is very elusive, fast-swimming fish.

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But the dolphins have invented a completely new way of hunting.

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By beating its tail down hard, this dolphin stirs up the shallow silt.

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And by swimming in a tight circle

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it creates a ring of mushrooming mud around a shoal of fish.

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The contracting ring traps the fish just like a net.

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Panicked, the fish jump to escape.

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Right into the open mouths of the waiting dolphins.

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Again and again, the lead dolphin creates a circle,

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before they all line up with perfect timing.

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These dolphins are the only ones known to have developed this hunting behaviour and it gives them an edge.

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This sort of advantage may mean the difference between life and death

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in the survival of the fittest.

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This series reveals the most spectacular and extraordinary

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strategies that animals and plants have developed to stay alive.

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For every creature, every day is full of challenges,

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all of which must be overcome, somehow, in order to survive.

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Kenya, famous for its big cats.

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The supreme hunters.

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Cheetahs specialise in hunting at speed.

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Though fast, they are fragile creatures,

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built to sprint after small prey.

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They don't have the strength or weight of a lion

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to bring down larger animals.

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This male is different.

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He doesn't hunt alone. He's learnt that there is strength in numbers.

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But here there are not just two, but three cheetahs.

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A band of brothers.

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They have changed their tactics and, by doing so,

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have taken their prey by surprise.

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They have learnt that working together

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they can bring down large prey.

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An ostrich.

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A bird that towers over a cheetah and is more than twice as heavy.

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It can't fly to escape danger, but it can lash out with a deadly kick.

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A female, unaware as yet, of any danger.

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Even with three of them this is still highly risky.

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If one gets injured the other two couldn't hope to tackle such large prey.

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On the other hand, if they get it right, the rewards

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are huge.

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The male has spotted one of the brothers, but only one.

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It's not too worried.

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Then suddenly there are three!

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The female is slower to realise the danger

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and the cheetahs switch targets.

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It takes the combined effort and weight of all three brothers to bring down this powerful bird.

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Even now the ostrich could land a fatal kick.

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So far, the brothers are winning.

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Ostriches have yet to find a way to foil such tactics.

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Other animals have also evolved surprising tactics to outmanoeuvre

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the enemy, not with brute strength but with extraordinary weapons.

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Madagascar.

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A strange world where nothing is quite as it seems.

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To hunt here requires stealth and subterfuge.

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And living within the trees is a master of ambush.

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A preying mantis.

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Well camouflaged and lightning quick,

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these insects are highly efficient predators.

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But even they are outgunned.

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A chameleon.

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Its camouflage is exceptional because it can change its skin colour to match its surroundings.

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Its eyes move independently to spot prey.

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It creeps towards to its victim, until just in range.

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Then it unleashes a super weapon.

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Its tongue shoots out at 15 metres per second.

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And not only hits, but grasps its target.

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But few hunters are always successful.

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For them a hunt is just one meal.

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For prey, the stakes are higher.

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It's life...or death.

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As Antarctica moves from spring into summer, the inlets and bays, once choked with ice, become free.

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And animals move in to feed.

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These are crabeater seals.

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They don't actually eat crabs, but krill, small shrimps that swarm in their billions in these waters.

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Resting on a large ice floe, these crabeaters are safe.

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But as soon as they enter the water, they are on their guard,

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for good reason.

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Killer whales.

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Here in Antarctica, many killer whales prey only on fish.

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But these whales are different, they specialise in hunting seals.

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This seal swimming to open water is unaware of the danger heading his way.

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Until now.

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He's in real trouble. There is no escape unless he can hide behind this small piece of floating ice.

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But he's been spotted and surrounded.

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Now agility is his only chance.

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He dodges for his life, staying as close as he can to the iceberg.

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He's tiring.

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And the whales tighten the circle, going for the kill.

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But hunters don't always get their own way.

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In the end, the seal's determination and skill, using

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the ice for protection, kept him just out of reach.

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And the whales move on.

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Recently it's been observed that killer whales

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are much more successful when hunting other types of seal.

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Crabeaters like this put up too much of a fight.

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For creatures living in the open ocean there is nowhere to hide from predators.

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But there is safety in numbers.

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One fish, however, has evolved a different escape tactic.

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To leave the water completely, take to the air and fly!

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After a huge effort to get airborne, flying fish

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can glide 200 metres or so, to escape the predators chasing them.

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Not all animals are hunters, many are vegetarians.

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But the battle between animals and plants can also be intense.

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Boa Vista, central Brazil.

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This valley is peppered with strangely pitted rocks.

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These are not natural formations but the legacy of a long struggle between one animal and one plant.

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Brown-tufted capuchins, highly intelligent monkeys.

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They spend their nights in the safety of caves,

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emerging each morning to find food.

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Down in the valley is a particular favourite.

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A nut palm.

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The palms produce huge seeds, but they have very strong shells

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that protect them against attack from hungry animals.

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For the capuchins this is a war of attrition.

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They check which seed is the ripest, and the battle commences.

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The first job is to tear the tough fibrous husk from the nut.

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He doesn't try to crack the nut straight away,

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but drops it to the ground.

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He's learnt that a nut should be given a week or so drying in the sun.

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These are ones he prepared earlier.

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He taps them to see if they're ready.

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This huge flat rock is his anvil.

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And this is a hammer.

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It's made of a different and much harder rock than the anvil.

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Now something extraordinary happens.

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The capuchins' use of these stone tools requires an exceptional level

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of intelligence, planning and dexterity.

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The nut finally cracks and exposes a rich, oily kernel.

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Youngsters watch and imitate the adults, just as human toddlers do.

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If they are to become independent,

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they must learn to crack their own nuts.

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But the learning process is long, with many frustrations.

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They learn early on that to do a job properly,

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you need the right tool.

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It can take eight years for a capuchin to master this art

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and overcome the palm's formidable defences.

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But some plants have turned the tables and feed on animals.

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This is a highly sophisticated trap. The bait,

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sugary nectar around the rim of the disc.

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The triggers, fine hairs, two of which have to be touched within 20 seconds of each other.

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The victim, a fly which finds the colour and nectar irresistible.

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One.

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Two.

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When triggered, the trap snaps shut so fast that the fly is imprisoned.

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The Venus flytrap now slowly digests its victim.

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Life's challenges are more than just finding food.

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In every animal's life there comes a time when its mind turns to breeding.

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One creature's approach is mind-boggling.

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Malaysia.

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This strange insect has been lying dormant on the forest floor.

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Once safe in the trees, these males hide among the leaves and begin an extraordinary transformation.

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One that will make the difference between fathering offspring or not.

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He begins by gulping in air bubbles, forcing them up into his head.

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He then pumps the bubbles into the stalks supporting his eyes,

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just like blowing up a balloon.

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And this is what earns these creatures their name,

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the stalk-eyed fly.

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A few final adjustments to straighten out any remaining creases

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and he's ready for action.

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They may look unwieldy, but eyes on stalks improve not only his ability

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to spot predators, but they are key when it comes to winning females.

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In the evening both males and females gather and the males begin to size one another up, eyeball to eyeball.

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Having the widest eye span puts you at the top of the pecking order.

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The eye stalks are not weapons, they're measuring sticks,

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used to gauge how big, and so how strong, a male is.

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But there's trouble if two top males have exactly the same eye width.

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Then the contest descends into a brawl.

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Defeated.

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The winner. He now has the right to mate with all the females nearby.

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The rather gentlemanly way stalk-eyed flies settle their differences over females is not the only way.

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Some animals are much more violent.

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It's the dry season in Zambia.

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The lagoons are either baked dry, or the mud is so thick animals get stuck, with fatal consequences.

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This male hippo has been living in one small lagoon, but as it dries, it's turning into a death trap.

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Understandably, the females that once shared it with him have all left.

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Even if he wants to, he can't stay much longer.

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He needs water to keep cool and females to mate with.

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And this is where they all are.

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Almost all the hippos in the area are in what is left of the Luangwa River,

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because it's the last place where there's still deep water.

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This bend is controlled by an all-powerful male.

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Since the drought many more females have joined his herd.

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THEY BELLOW

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They are happy to live cheek by jowl, but any male who comes here

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in the hope of mating must first defeat the overlord.

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The wandering male arrives and has a decision to make - submit or fight.

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Victory for the overlord.

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His domination of his channel in the river remains and with it mating rights with the females.

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The loser is alive, but is an outcast.

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He retreats to another part of the river where it's so shallow that no females will follow.

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His chance to father offspring is over for now.

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For some animals the challenges of breeding are not about fighting but about courtship.

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Among birds, displays, songs and rituals can reach extraordinary levels of complexity and beauty.

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During spring, on the freshwater lakes of Oregon,

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grebes join together to renew their partnership.

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The ceremony starts with a series of graceful duets,

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in which one partner echoes the actions of the other.

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But the real test comes now.

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Only the strongest and the most faithful

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are prepared to join together for the final exultant dance.

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Those animals which have young now face a whole new set of challenges,

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to protect and nurture their offspring.

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In the cold waters of the northern Pacific Ocean, there lives a giant.

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A giant Pacific octopus at over four metres long.

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She is hunting, not for prey, but for a den.

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Somewhere to settle down and hide.

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Her den has to be just right.

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She's going to live here for the rest of her life.

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She's carrying fertilised eggs,

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and now, happy and settled, she lays them.

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100,000 of them.

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Over the next six months she carefully tends her precious brood.

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She caresses them with her arms

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to keep them free of algae and properly supplied with oxygen.

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This is her first and only brood.

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And so she takes great care of them.

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While she's guarding her eggs she doesn't leave the den.

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Not once.

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Unable to feed,

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she is starving.

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Her last act of devotion is to blow water over the eggs to help them hatch.

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Young, fully-developed octopus pop out.

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Though only a few will survive to adulthood, she's given them the best chance she can.

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After her long and lonely vigil,

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she is dead.

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Surely this sacrifice must make her one of nature's most devoted mothers.

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Here, 30 metres beneath the Costa Rican forest canopy, another dedicated mother

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ensures that her young also have the best possible start in life.

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This tiny strawberry poison arrow frog, only the size of a finger nail, is guarding her fertilised eggs.

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Whilst the eggs and tadpoles are developing, she and her mate keep

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watch, making sure that they are safe from predators.

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But they can't stay here for ever.

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The leaf litter is drying out and tadpoles need water.

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She must do something, and fast.

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She needs to move them and so encourages one tadpole to climb on her back.

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She now begins an epic journey.

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But it's not to a pond, as you might expect,

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she is looking for something very particular.

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Her journey takes her across the forest floor to the foot of a tall tree and then she starts to climb.

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For such a little frog it is a marathon ascent,

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like a human mother climbing the Empire State Building with a child on her back.

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She's looking for a plant, a bromeliad, growing on the tree.

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It holds a pool of water at its centre, the perfect nursery pool for a developing tadpole.

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In slides her youngster.

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But this is only one of six tadpoles.

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She must rush back down to rescue the others.

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One by one she collects them and carries each to its own bromeliad.

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But there is another problem.

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The little pools contain no food.

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So she has to provide it.

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She lays an unfertilised egg in each pool for her tadpoles to eat.

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And then she leaves.

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But one egg won't sustain a growing tadpole for long,

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so she has to return every few days with another egg.

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Over the next two weeks she can climb almost half a mile tending her young.

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An astonishing feat for such a tiny creature.

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While she's busy delivering eggs,

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the tadpole grows legs and its tail begins to disappear.

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And then one day it leaves its bromeliad nursery for ever

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and climbs out into the forest.

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Whilst its mother has a well-deserved rest.

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Birds are also diligent parents.

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Over their lifetime they invest huge effort in just a few young.

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But there is only so much a parent can do.

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All along the Antarctic peninsula both male and female chinstrap penguins have been commuting

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daily from the open ocean to collect food for their chicks.

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Mouthfuls of krill, caught many miles away at sea, are regurgitated.

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But one day the chicks wait in vain for food.

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Their parents do not return.

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The chicks now face life on their own.

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This is the toughest time in an animal's life

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and some are not going to make it.

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Over the next few days, driven by hunger, the chicks make their way down to the shore.

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Instinct tells them they have to head out to sea.

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Built to withstand the cold, they have already accumulated

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a layer of fat, and their outer feathers act as a waterproof shield.

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But they still have to learn to swim.

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The polar sea is challenging enough

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but with a change in the wind,

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a slick of broken ice has choked the bay.

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For any penguin this ice presents a real problem.

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But for the chicks it's a disaster.

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They must get through this barrier to the open water, if they are to feed.

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One, perhaps hungrier or braver than the rest,

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leads the way and tries skittering over the top, while the others watch.

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The ice is hard to swim through, and progress is painfully slow.

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A leopard seal.

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This chick never had the chance to learn how to avoid the seal.

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Its end is inevitable.

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The leopard seal efficiently flays the chick, tearing off a small piece with each throw.

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Others take their chance.

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But the leopard seal is now ready for its next victim.

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It's a lottery, and the lucky chicks make it out to open water.

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There is still an element of chance in life which an individual can do little about.

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In the end, overcoming life's challenges,

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whether finding enough to eat or outwitting your predators,

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is only significant if life's final challenge can be met.

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From a tiny frog dedicating weeks to her few cherished tadpoles, to an orang-utan who spends

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eight years bringing up her baby,

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individual animals strive to reach this one ultimate goal,

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to pass on their genes and to ensure the survival of the next generation.

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Ultimately, in nature,

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that is what life is all about.

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During the three years it took to film Life, our camera crews

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visited every continent on Earth, but the most challenging was Antarctica.

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Here filming was only possible

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with the help of an extraordinary range of people and organisations.

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An Air Force jet delivering supplies to McMurdo research station

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ferried one of our crews to the Ross Ice Shelf.

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And on the other side of the continent a team sailed for five days

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across the Drake Passage to reach the Antarctic peninsula.

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Once there, a small crew was put ashore on Deception Island

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to spend a month camping on the edge of a penguin colony.

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Two people and 200,000 penguins.

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Another team joined scientists

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drilling through the ice

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to explore the beautiful and bizarre world below.

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But the hardiest and most ambitious shoot involved four film crews,

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a celebrated French yachtsman and the Ministry of Defence.

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The teams had a two-month window

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to film Antarctica's two top predators in action.

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We knew that one could be found prowling the coast of

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Rosenthal Island, waiting for young penguins to take their first plunge.

0:50:000:50:06

And the man to take us there was Jerome Poncet.

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He skippered the first yacht to sail south of the Antarctic Circle and has been back every year for the past 35.

0:50:100:50:17

He knows Antarctic sailing like no-one else.

0:50:170:50:20

His yacht, the Golden Fleece, is not an ice breaker,

0:50:210:50:25

but Jerome has his own unique way of getting through.

0:50:250:50:29

He shunts one floe against another

0:50:300:50:33

to clear a way through like playing marbles.

0:50:330:50:36

Jerome, once he gets his teeth into,

0:50:360:50:39

into a situation he doesn't like to let it go.

0:50:390:50:42

So, maybe we'll be here for a few hours yet.

0:50:420:50:45

Jerome is determined to get through this channel.

0:50:450:50:49

We talk about hundred, hundreds of tonnes,

0:50:490:50:52

maybe 1,000, 250,000 tonnes or more.

0:50:520:50:56

It's a pooling of water, you have to push.

0:50:580:51:00

Some marbles are just too big.

0:51:030:51:06

For now, Jerome is foiled and has to moor for the night.

0:51:110:51:15

For him, tying up to 100,000 tonnes of ice

0:51:150:51:20

is just another day at the office.

0:51:200:51:23

Progress is slow, but they need to get to Rosenthal before the penguins leave.

0:51:300:51:35

They make it through and the penguins are still there.

0:51:370:51:41

Chinstrap penguin chicks fledge at a particular time of year.

0:51:430:51:48

The crew knew this would draw leopard seals like a magnet.

0:51:480:51:52

Leopard seals are giants among their kind, they have teeth

0:51:530:51:57

bigger than a lion and a mouth that can open nearly 180 degrees.

0:51:570:52:02

How close can Doug get?

0:52:020:52:04

With this seal, very.

0:52:090:52:12

He loses interest in his reflection

0:52:290:52:32

and goes back to eating penguins.

0:52:320:52:35

That was very exciting.

0:52:460:52:48

He was a super seal,

0:52:480:52:51

super seal, gave me lots of action nice and close,

0:52:510:52:54

but I must admit you do have to feel sorry for the penguin,

0:52:540:52:58

just doesn't stand a chance.

0:52:580:52:59

The team knew where to find leopard seals,

0:52:590:53:02

but finding the other top predator

0:53:020:53:05

was going to be another matter entirely.

0:53:050:53:08

Very little is known about Antarctic killer whales.

0:53:090:53:13

Time to bring in reinforcements.

0:53:130:53:15

HMS Endurance,

0:53:180:53:21

the Royal Navy's ice patrol ship.

0:53:210:53:25

She surveys Antarctic waters and the crew see changes every year.

0:53:280:53:34

The latest chart of this area, we are now six miles inside an ice shelf, which just goes to show

0:53:340:53:41

how much retreation of this ice shelf has occurred over the past five or six years.

0:53:410:53:47

Would you get complications...?

0:53:480:53:51

Series producer Martha Holmes and cameraman David Baillie

0:53:510:53:54

were on board to find and film the killer whales from the air.

0:53:540:53:59

Endurance carries two Lynx helicopters used to assist

0:53:590:54:03

the British Antarctic Survey and the Hydrographic Office.

0:54:030:54:07

On this trip,

0:54:070:54:08

some time on one of the helicopters is assigned to the Life team.

0:54:080:54:13

No-one has succeeded in filming killer whales hunting off the Antarctic peninsula before.

0:54:220:54:28

Our two teams have just a few days when they can film together.

0:54:280:54:33

At water level the Golden Fleece has exciting news.

0:54:410:54:44

They've found killer whales which look as though they could be hunting.

0:54:440:54:48

And Navy 435, Navy 435, this is Golden Fleece, Golden Fleece over.

0:54:480:54:54

INDISTINCT VOICE ON RADIO

0:54:550:54:57

'Copy that. We're on our way.'

0:54:570:55:00

Guys, really windy, we'll be...

0:55:000:55:03

pretty lucky to stay with them through this. But we can try though.

0:55:030:55:08

435, this is Golden Fleece, we have lost sight of the orca.

0:55:180:55:23

-The white.

-'Yeah, OK, they're in direct line with that iceberg now,

0:55:260:55:30

'between us and the iceberg about 100 metres this side of it.'

0:55:300:55:33

'Visual. Yeah, visual.'

0:55:330:55:36

From the air, the helicopter team can follow the killer whales more easily than the boat team.

0:55:360:55:42

435, this is Golden Fleece, full copy. Out.

0:55:420:55:46

By working together the helicopter and yacht are able to keep track of the whales in the rough sea.

0:55:500:55:56

'There's four now actually yes, four, and four I can see.'

0:55:560:56:01

A change in the weather gives a chance to film at last.

0:56:010:56:05

They've gone further up this way, if we follow them that's good.

0:56:060:56:10

But will they hunt?

0:56:130:56:15

OK, here they come through.

0:56:150:56:17

Oops, yeah, they 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, it's a good 12 huh, easy.

0:56:190:56:22

Doug has spotted a crabeater seal near some ice, but have the killer whales seen it?

0:56:260:56:31

No, just keep loosening the square screen.

0:56:330:56:36

They have.

0:56:510:56:52

Some good action.

0:56:540:56:55

Can you go closer?

0:56:570:56:59

It's over, that's it, they've got him.

0:57:210:57:23

It's still there.

0:57:260:57:28

For a wildlife cameraman there are always surprises.

0:57:310:57:36

It has taken two months, but they've succeeded thanks to extraordinary

0:57:390:57:44

collaboration from an entire ship's company to a lone skipper.

0:57:440:57:48

Collaborations like this would be the foundation of the whole three years of filming across the world.

0:57:480:57:55

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:150:58:19

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:190:58:23

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.


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