Danger in the Penguin Colony Penguin Island


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Danger in the Penguin Colony

Documentary about the penguins living on Phillip Island. Bluey and Sheila are struggling to feed their hungry chicks and protect them from predators.


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There's a very special island off the south coast of Australia, where thousands of penguins come to breed,

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and thousands of people come to watch.

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Unique to this corner of our planet, the smallest of all penguin species,

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the Little Penguin, is battling to survive in a human world.

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But a dedicated team of scientists has sworn to guard them from people,

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predators,

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and this year, from the hottest summer since records began.

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As starving chicks struggle to hang on,

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and their parents scour the oceans for a dwindling supply of fish,

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what will it take to protect these pocket-sized creatures?

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This week, chicks Sammy and Tom are old enough to be left home alone.

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It's time for the two young brothers to meet their fans.

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But sometimes, humans and penguins get too close.

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And now, there's a life to save on Penguin Island.

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Like much of Australia's coastline, by day Summerland's beach

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is a playground for surfers and sunbathers.

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And every evening, the beach is closed.

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At night, this place belongs to the island's many animals.

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But most of all, it belongs to penguins.

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Now three weeks old, penguin chicks Sammy and Tom

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have guzzled their way to an incredible ten times their birth weight.

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This pair would eat all night if you let them, so their parents have no choice but to fish all day.

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Their mum, Sheila, is one of the first adults to return home to the colony after dark.

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She's got a bellyful of fish, so it's tucker time, fellas!

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There's no let-up for penguin parents.

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Getting fed is a matter of life and death for chicks.

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No time for table manners!

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By 3 in the morning, the larder's empty and this exhausted mother has

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no choice but to go and find more, if she wants her chicks to survive.

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The boys spend the day lounging indoors.

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Though only a day older, Sammy is growing faster than his brother Tom

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and accommodation is getting increasingly cramped.

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The family burrow is in the front garden of one of the old houses,

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in a once busy area known as the Summerland Estate.

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Building your own home in Summerlands used to be a dream for many young couples.

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You could pick up a bargain block of land with a million-dollar view.

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Only problem -

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thousands of penguins lived there already.

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When we first got here, we couldn't sleep at four, or five, or six, it was so noisy.

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PENGUINS CALL NOISILY

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Shut up!

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Visitors say, "how on earth can you sleep with this racket going on all night?"

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"Rrrrr, rrrrr!"

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under the house and it's like a drum, because there's just, um...

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boards, bare boards and nothing underneath. So, it's pretty noisy.

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It might not be the quietest place for a holiday house, but the kids love it.

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-And now there's a mother sitting on eggs in here.

-No.

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Though the park rangers and penguins would prefer it if you left their nestboxes alone!

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There's an egg there.

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For years, people and penguins just accepted that they each had unusual neighbours.

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Yeah, having penguins live under your house, that's pretty novel, isn't it?

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Affectionately termed "The penguin house".

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It was the cars and the pets that caused the problem.

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And when numbers dropped at the nightly penguin parade,

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it was down to biologist Peter Dann to do something about it.

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At the time we had 180 houses, which usually meant 180 dogs and probably 180 cats.

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Probably, you know, 300 cars.

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Something like that.

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There were hundreds of penguins killed in the housing estate each year.

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The radical solution?

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Remove the residents, remove their cars and, eventually, all the homes.

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Now the housing estate is a ghost town.

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The first time a human settlement has been removed

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for a single animal species, and that's anywhere in the world.

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Though Peter can do much to keep penguins safe from humans on land,

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it's a lot harder to protect them out at sea, where they spend half their lives facing many dangers.

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A penguin's nearly drowned after getting caught in fishing line.

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Nylon cord had knotted around his left foot.

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It's straight to hospital for this fella, by penguin ambulance.

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Look at his foot, it's just really abnormal.

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Yeah, just massively swollen, the poor thing.

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They give him antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

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But this new patient is a big concern for wildlife carer, Marg Healy.

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I'm very worried about him, because he'd be in huge amounts of pain.

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If you can imagine having an elastic band around a finger or something, for weeks,

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and your finger is actually about to fall off.

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To help the swelling go down, they'll give him regular swims in the hospital pool.

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And a nickname - this penguin is now known as Foot.

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A day later, and it's Marg's job to fish him out after his morning swim.

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Don't do that!

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But Foot doesn't want Marg anywhere near his sore leg.

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And he's got an understandable aversion to fishing equipment.

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He's not happy to be here.

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Penguins are tough.

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Wild animals don't show any pain or fear, because they get eaten.

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The blood supply has been cut and the limb is dying.

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It's agony for Foot.

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With the drug regime we've had him on, it hasn't really worked.

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Marg needs some specialist advice.

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It's very nasty.

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-You're a little fatty, aren't you?

-He is.

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The potential of a bone infection starting and becoming systemic, like

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going through the whole system, is huge if it's left like this, because it's a dead foot.

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The foot will eventually drop off and bacteria can get into the end of the bone.

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Poor little guy. Ow!

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Did you want to knock him out and x-ray him?

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Yeah, we can certainly x-ray it. Yeah, for sure.

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Come out the back.

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He is really going to fight.

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It takes twice the normal amount of anaesthetic to sedate Foot.

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This is the one. The actual joint looks...

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There is no choice.

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To end his pain, they must amputate.

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It's either that or he won't survive.

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We would have to euthanase, and we actually know that penguins

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can survive with a partial foot, or a very long stump.

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They don't use that foot when they swim, at all.

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Their flippers are their wings.

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It's a delicate operation,

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cutting away all the dead stuff, but trying to keep enough healthy tissue to protect the limb.

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There we go.

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Now you can have it.

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Good man. Well done, sweetie.

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Foot is already trying to stand.

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It's a good sign that he may soon be able to walk again.

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Well, he's putting weight on it nicely there.

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-I'm hopeful now. All righty, so Clavulox, seven days?

-Yes.

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All right, thank you.

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Night closes in on the island.

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Soon, penguin parents are returning to feed their young.

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The two chicks, Sammy and Tom, line up for dinner -

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like every other ravenous youngster in the colony.

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They jostle for pole position in the nightly race for food.

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Adult penguins can recognise the unique call of their offspring,

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but chicks can only guess who's Mum or Dad.

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So they try every passing parent.

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Bluey, Sammy and Tom's father, has just come ashore.

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He still has a 100-metre cliff to climb.

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Last chance to catch his breath.

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Up top, they're already under starter's orders.

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Every weary adult must run the gauntlet of other penguins' pushy chicks.

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They fight you on the beaches, they fight you in the burrows.

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Hold the line if you can!

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Don't give in to surprise attack!

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The worst cases of parent abuse take place

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round the nestboxes behind the tourist kitchens, known as the Penguin Cafe.

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Here, thuggish chicks outnumber beleaguered mums and dads by five to one,

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and they gang up on them mercilessly.

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Sometimes they forget who are the grown-ups and who are the kids.

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Rocky's a young male who's a bit of a late developer,

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still busy tarting up his nestbox, still trying to find Mrs Right to move in with him.

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Maybe, if he waits in his ideal penguin home, love will come knocking.

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At last, a young female comes to check out his nestbox.

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Could she be the girl of his dreams, the mother of his chicks?

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But Rocky's not the only male on the prowl.

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The female seems taken with Rocky's love-pad.

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But now she wants to see his dance moves.

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Everything's going Rocky's way

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when a rival male stops the party.

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And carries on where Rocky left off.

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Once again, Rocky is left out in the cold.

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When will this unlucky seabird find a mate?

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Meanwhile, Sammy and Tom are still waiting at the head of the dinner queue.

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Hang on, could this be Mum right now?

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But this female has had one too many meal requests from strangers.

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A night vision camera shows what happens next.

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The boys think it's Mum,

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and they start begging.

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But she's not their mum and she punishes them cruelly for their mistake.

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Bluey, their dad, is halfway up the hill

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when he hears his chicks screaming.

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Now she's got Sammy by the flipper.

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Bluey rushes in to sort things out.

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No-one messes with Bluey's boys!

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Now Dad's back, they get the treat they've been waiting for all night.

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The penguins share their island with other animals and birds.

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Marg admits a new patient to the hospital -

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a pelican that flew into power lines and is now too traumatised to even eat.

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With seabirds, the really key thing is to manage stress and to understand that each animal

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that comes in is an individual with individual problems, and not try and treat it like just an animal.

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You know, sort of understand its issues.

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But stress is the huge thing and that's things like being very quiet, giving them huge amounts of time

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during the day to be not disturbed, so that they can rest and build up their energy.

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Hi, sweetie.

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As for Foot, well, he's already getting some of his fight back

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and that's just a day after his operation.

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It takes two to change his bandage.

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The wound is actually bleeding a bit.

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He's such a struggling bird to feed.

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He's pulling at the stitches while he's trying to get away from me.

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So we're going to keep it bandaged for a couple of days until it seals up a bit.

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Thank you very much. Thank you.

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Yeah, thanks for that.

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Foot's not the only noisy one.

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There's long-term patient, Jonathan, a silver gull,

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who was rescued as a chick and is still here eight weeks later.

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He's totally recovered and should be long gone,

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but this noisy seabird has grown a little too accustomed to the after-care.

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Well, you've been fed, four times.

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Foot can't keep his food down.

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He's not eating anywhere near enough to pull through.

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Is it going to stay down there?

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No, here it comes again.

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Sweetheart, don't do that.

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OK, if you really want to, I'll help. OK, right.

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And his first attempt at walking doesn't look at all promising.

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Marg can only wash his beak and pray that he'll turn the corner soon.

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Well, I didn't know he was that stressed.

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Just hope I can get drugs into him.

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They recover usually so well.

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Yeah, they don't normally vomit.

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So, anyway, we can only wait and see and do what we can.

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You go and play with Jan.

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Can he play with you for a while?

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Thank you.

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Now that the government has bought up all the houses in a compulsory purchase scheme,

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the old estate is virtually deserted.

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A solitary family enjoy a last summer stroll

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before their house is demolished to make room for the penguins.

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Look at the baby's head.

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She's sitting on him.

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We'll miss all this and the views.

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We probably can't come here unless we're here for a penguin parade.

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It's a wallaby.

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With the cars and the pets gone,

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many animals are moving back in.

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But tonight there's a new, unwelcome intruder on the block.

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A penguin's head's been chopped off by a fox.

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A fox has been spotted lurking near the penguin colony.

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The park has a dedicated team just to eradicate foxes -

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the biggest single threat to penguins on the island, apart from humans.

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If it's the right size and it's mouldable,

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fox poo.

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Foxes were introduced by homesick English settlers a century ago.

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It's the rangers' job to get rid of them.

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There's one over there.

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-Hey?

-There's a fox over there.

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-Yeah, I see him. The winds are right behind so...

-Yeah.

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The ranger makes a noise like an injured rabbit,

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to lure the fox within range.

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-A big dummy, that one.

-Yeah.

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I'll go over the road, eh? Yep.

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There's a fox over there.

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He smelled us.

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He's over there now, more to the left.

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WHISTLES

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Just hold it there.

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This feral fox has grown fat on penguins.

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They've killed, to stop more killing.

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-About five.

-Really? It's only a cub, but it's pretty much adult weight.

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They're doing very well here.

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Tonight, at last, it's safe for Sammy and Tom to play among the surrounding burrows.

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Though big enough to be left alone each day, these dopey adolescents still have to grow street smart,

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which is a worry when they start wandering off towards the car park.

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Only a short walk, and a young penguin can get his first glimpse of a strange and unfamiliar species -

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international tourists.

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Half a million penguin fans come here every year.

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They seem harmless enough, but the boys stick close anyway.

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We might see some, I think, if we come over...

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Maybe it's time to shuffle off home.

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Sammy dares to look back and sees that his brother is gone.

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Young penguins will freeze stock still in the headlights at night.

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Just as well it's a ranger who knows to wait.

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That's enough adventure for one night.

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It's taken two long weeks, but Foot, the penguin injured by fishing line,

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is now ready for release.

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He's recovered his appetite and he has learnt to walk again, in his own way.

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That's his last feed.

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Six fish, send him on his way.

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One last thing - a microchip - so they'll know if he ever comes back.

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Check and make sure it's in. Beautiful.

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He's got sort of a third of a foot,

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so it's not like he's completely legless.

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Oh, what a gorgeous bird. You're going, in lovely wild weather.

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-The ocean, wait till you see the ocean.

-Oh, really?

-It's huge.

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We like to do this in the morning

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so that he can get far enough off shore to make a decision whether

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to stay out there or to come in and re-establish his burrow tonight,

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with the other penguins.

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What a perfect day it is for it.

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So here's good.

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Don't want to get wet.

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OK sweetheart, go and be safe, all right?

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And avoid that fishing line.

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What's out there? What's out there?

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Go on, off you go.

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Bye-bye.

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Bye.

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I think he's on his way.

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He probably won't be seen again, unless another bad thing happens to him.

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Next, Sammy and Tom face a terrible crisis in their little lives.

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The colony is starving and penguin parents are forced to abandon their chicks in the quest for food.

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That chick's a shocking weight, there's no chance that it's going to survive.

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And a satellite tracker tells the research team

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how far these brave little birds will travel to save their young.

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Left alone for so long, can both Sammy and Tom survive?

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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Long-time penguin couple Bluey and Sheila are struggling to feed their hungry chicks, Sammy and Tom, and protect them from predatory gulls, domestic pets and a feral fox, which is stalking the colony.

As the rangers set out to hunt the fox, we meet the human residents of Phillip Island whose homes have been reclaimed by the government to make way for a penguin protection zone - the first time in the world that human settlement has been removed to protect a single species. Research manager Peter Dann, a world-renowned leader in the study of Little Penguins, leads the scientific effort to study and protect the Little Penguins on Penguin Island, and we visit Phillip Island's animal hospital where carer Marg Healy is working to save a little penguin whose life has been threatened by a careless fisherman. A rushed visit to the vet ensues, but will they be able to save his foot? Back at the Penguin Café, Rocky continues his search for Mrs Right and loses out to an amorous neighbour, while a hungry Sammy and Tom beg from the wrong neighbour with disastrous consequences, until Bluey returns to save the day and fight off an intruder.

Narrated by Rolf Harris.