Where Have All the Fish Gone? Penguin Island


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Where Have All the Fish Gone?

Documentary about the penguins who live on Phillip Island. The rangers keep an eye on hungry penguin chicks Sammy and Tom as their parents seek food.


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There's a very special island off the south coast of Australia,

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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,

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the smallest of all penguin species, the Little Penguin,

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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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Just seven-weeks-old, Sammy and Tom face the greatest challenge in their little lives.

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With food so scarce,

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all around them, chicks are wasting away.

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For these animals, raising chicks and staying alive, it's not easy.

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Parents must swim for days on end to find anything to eat,

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leaving chicks like Sammy hungry and alone on Penguin Island.

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Perched on an exposed clifftop, in the shadow of a condemned family home,

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is a shallow burrow.

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It's where penguin partners Sheila and Bluey chose to start a family.

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When mum and dad first left the chicks on their own at just three weeks of age,

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they started exploring the neighbourhood

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and soon learnt what life was like as a celebrity.

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Now seven weeks old, Sammy and Tom are a staggering

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20 times their birth weight.

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But they're still not big enough to survive on their own.

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It's eight o'clock, the hour when penguin parents

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come home after a hard day's fishing.

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That's if they've found enough food for the family.

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Sammy's waiting up. It's been two days since he's seen his mum

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and he's fluffed up and hopeful.

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There's nothing for penguins to eat on land, so until he's

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big enough to get out there himself, he's totally reliant on his parents.

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Tom waits in the family burrow.

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He's less than a day younger than Sammy, but he's smaller and weaker.

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80% of chicks don't survive their first year.

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When fish are scarce, starvation is the colony's number one killer.

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PENGUINS CHIRP

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Only those penguins that have dodged boats, predators and bad weather

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will return to their burrows tonight.

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There's no guarantee that Sammy and Tom's folks will be among them.

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PENGUIN SQUEAKS

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Sammy's unique peeping call is recognisable only to his parents.

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But he has no way of knowing which of these adults is his mum or dad.

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Also waiting up are the eight-week-old tearaways next door, Butch and Bruiser.

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More aggressive than Sammy, they beg from every passing adult.

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PENGUINS CHIRP AND SQUEAK

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Sammy seems to have a little more self-respect.

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He wants his real mum.

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This female has had it with Butch and Bruiser.

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They're not her chicks and she's desperate to find her own.

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It could be good news for Sammy.

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If she's not their mum, then maybe she's his?

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There's only one way to be sure.

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A penguin version of the rugby tackle.

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But it's all for nothing.

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She doesn't recognise him.

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Penguins stream past Sammy and Tom's burrow, ignoring the peeping chicks.

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PENGUIN SQUEAKS

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The adult penguins all have their own chicks to feed in the scrub behind the house.

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A no-show from mum and dad means yet another day hungry and alone.

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It's early December, and the heat has already set in.

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It's going to be a tough summer for all the island's animals.

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But time is running out for the chicks in the clifftop burrow.

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Sammy and Tom have only a few weeks to grow to a weight where they can survive at sea.

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Without regular food, they'll never make it.

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Penguin ranger Elizabeth Lundahl-Hegedus lives here.

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She's been keeping an eye on the penguins that nest in her garden.

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And with the heat picking up, she's a bit worried about Sammy and Tom's burrow.

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That's the only natural penguin burrow, that's actually

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right smack in the middle of the grass here.

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And it's not a very successful one.

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Well, it's a bit...open.

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I think the roof has caved in because it's so terribly dry that there's nothing holding it together there.

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Sammy and Tom are just two of 26,000 Little Penguins

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who hide away along this rugged two mile coast of Phillip Island.

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But they are being watched -

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by a team of dedicated scientists close-by.

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We're so environmentally conscious in this place that I can't actually find a plastic bag.

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OK.

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Field researcher Leanne Renwick keeps track of micro-chipped

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penguins in special sites, to check the health of the whole colony.

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She soon realises something is wrong.

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This chick has quite obviously died

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and unfortunately its sibling is dead inside.

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There's two on top of each other.

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There's another one close by and...

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I can actually see another two just right nearby, as well.

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Which seems to be a little too many, just right here in one area.

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There's another dead chick in here as well.

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Leanne knows how tough life is for penguin chicks, but this is much worse than normal.

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Oh, this one's going terrible.

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This one anyway is 470g.

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So it's not looking good.

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Clearly, penguin parents are not coming home to feed their chicks,

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leaving them to die a slow death from starvation.

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It's heartbreaking, but the scientist's role is only to monitor the penguins.

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These are wild animals and it's a completely wild population and wild situation,

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so, really as scientists and people working in this industry,

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you're really not meant to interfere in that life and death and survival process.

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There are thousands of chicks around here at the moment,

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you know, just not making it through the breeding season.

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So, you just can't rescue them all.

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Immature chicks are unable to rescue themselves.

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They can only wait and wait for mum and for dad to come back with food supplies.

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In this heat, Elizabeth checks in on Sammy and Tom one more time.

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But she's about to make a grim discovery.

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Another night without food was just too much for poor little Tom.

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He must have collapsed while out desperately begging for something to eat.

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Sammy is now left to continue on his own.

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I don't think that that one's going to survive either.

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It could do, if the parents come back tonight.

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But obviously the reason the other one died is that it hasn't been fed,

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so it means that they've gone a long way away to fish and are not finding anything.

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If it's lying around like that I tend to throw it into the bushes

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because little children will come past in the car and get upset.

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And lots of parents don't want their children to know what actually goes on in nature, so...

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Nature is cruel, or not even cruel, it's just totally indifferent.

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Penguin parents don't usually stay away this long.

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With chicks back on shore, they normally make short day trips - unless they can't find fish nearby.

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Ranger John Evans is checking for telltale schools of fish, called bait balls.

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It's a kind of penguin banquet.

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It's all really to do with how close it's feeding to shore,

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so those adult birds are always going to look after themselves.

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So if they're too far away, and they still haven't caught enough food,

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they're going to stay out at sea. So that's when those chicks

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cannot get fed perhaps one, two, three, four days.

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So it all depends on how close the schools of pelagic fish are to here,

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and how close those birds are catching them, will depend on that chick getting fed.

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Penguins with chicks on land will normally swim no more than about 12 miles to find food.

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But that's still the equivalent of two marathons for us -

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given our comparative size - just to get lunch.

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And they travel pretty much non-stop, too.

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Occasionally taking a nap for a few minutes at a time as they float on the surface.

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But the longer they are out here, combing the sea for food,

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the more they're exposed to danger.

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Their white bellies make them a little harder to spot by sharks peering up from below.

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And their dark blue overcoats give them the perfect camouflage from predators in the sky.

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But that doesn't protect them from humans.

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There's plenty at sea to stop a penguin making it home.

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Ranger John Evans patrols the colony.

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He knows it's no easier for penguins stuck on land.

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He's not sure Sammy is going to make it.

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It's a reasonable weight.

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What do they say? Life's exhausting, you know?

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I mean, we probably find it easy. We're about the only ones that do find it easy at times,

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but for these animals, raising chicks and staying alive, it's not easy.

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The clock is ticking.

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Sammy's parents have got a day or two at most,

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if they are to save their sole surviving chick.

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Down at the Penguin Parade, the tourists who've come to see the cute Little Penguins

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have little idea of the life and death struggle going on, up in the hills all around them.

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The audience is well fed, but the performers are hungry and their numbers are down.

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Just around the coast, far from the glitz and the glamour

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of the big show, other penguins swim ashore unnoticed.

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Sammy is out of his burrow on his nightly vigil.

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Underfed chicks often seek company

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and he's teamed up with neighbours Bruiser and Butch.

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THEY ALL START CHIRPING

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Sammy's a lot smaller than the others.

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He's wasting away.

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He begs from his friends - a sign that he is desperately hungry.

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Flora, that's Butch and Bruiser's mum, has made it back this evening.

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She's clearly found a good food supply not far from shore.

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But still no sign of Sammy's mum or dad.

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Tonight, Sammy rushes to join the scrum.

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Bruiser gets the first mouthful of regurgitated squid.

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THEY CHIRP FRANTICALLY

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Just one little scrap would be enough to keep Sammy going for another night.

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But Flora will only feed her own chicks.

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As the weather worsens, Flora's kids are still pestering her for more grub.

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They can guzzle up to 320g in a single night.

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Maybe when their dad, Frank, gets home he can dish up seconds.

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After three nights at sea, Frank is on the last leg home.

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Penguins have an acute visual memory to guide them back,

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but it's a bit of an obstacle course round the back of the visitors' centre.

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There's a great shortcut right across the car park.

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Some bright sparks have even tried to nest here!

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It's a major headache for the rangers and for the penguins.

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Another few hundred yards and Frank will be home.

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Dad, the delivery man, is back

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and he dishes out dessert.

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After feeding Butch and Bruiser,

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Frank greets Flora fondly.

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Some penguins mate for life and Frank and Flora have now been together for four years.

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Poor Sammy can only watch

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and wonder where his mum and dad are now.

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So, all the transmitters are on, so at least that's...

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The scientists want to work out exactly why penguin parents

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are leaving their chicks starving on land for so long.

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The best way to find out - satellite tracking devices.

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If they can plant one on an adult before it heads off to sea,

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it could lead them to the penguins' current hunting grounds.

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It's late afternoon and Frank is still snoozing after that long trek through the car park.

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You really need to wear proper protection when waking up a penguin with their razor-sharp beak.

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Frank will be one of eight penguins to have a tracker snugly fixed

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to his back with industrial strength sticky tape.

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Yeah. Have you got its head from behind?

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Yep, that's it.

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Back in the burrow, Flora comforts Frank.

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CHIRPING AND SQUEAKING

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It's a greeting call. Just, "Hi, honey.

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"It's you again. That's good."

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At 4am, the penguin parents assemble for another perilous voyage,

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and they head down to the beach before it gets light.

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The morning rush has begun.

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Jittery about swooping gulls, they like to get down to the beach

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and into the water before sun-up.

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Frank's late for today's marathon food hunt.

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Maybe it's that tracker on his back.

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So as not to put him off any more, we've switched to night vision.

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Penguins are wary on land and anything can scare them -

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even a tiny bush mouse.

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Next, Flora emerges to farewell her mate.

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Penguins fish alone and this couple may not see each other for several days.

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Frank heads off with £2,000 worth of electronics stuck to his back.

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He has no idea he's transmitting a signal halfway round the world.

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-So, there were eight trackers?

-Yeah, eight.

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The scientists will follow the signal from Frank's tiny transmitter

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via a satellite station in France.

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This one here, at 9 o'clock, was 10km.

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After just a few hours, Frank is already far out to sea.

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But then he just keeps going, way beyond the usual ten-mile range.

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Soon they are 50 miles from their burrows,

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crossing some of the busiest shipping lanes in Australia.

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It's unusual for penguins to come this far in summer.

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Close to the city of Melbourne, an incredible 75 miles from home.

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They've found a nutrient-filled river that drains into the bay.

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Micro-organisms blooming here have produced the penguin Holy Grail -

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a massive school of bait fish.

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It's a slap-up meal for penguins desperate to feed their chicks.

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These tiny battlers now must make the long journey home with the day's shopping.

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Two days later and nothing stops the nightly arrival of nature tourists.

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But will more penguins be home tonight?

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Numbers are definitely up. It looks like they've made it safely back

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from their distant hunting ground.

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With starving chicks waiting, there's no time to dawdle for the adoring fans.

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For the tourists, the long uphill waddle is entertainment.

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For the penguins, it's a race for survival.

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Meanwhile, up on the cliff, despite his crippling hunger, Sammy is giving it one last go.

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Suddenly, there's a familiar figure. But he has made mistakes before.

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No need for a rugby tackle this time.

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His mum, Sheila, recognises her only surviving chick and feeds him dinner.

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Sammy now has a fighting chance.

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Later that night, the signal from the satellite station in France

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says that another Little Penguin has made it home to the island.

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The scientists head off to relieve Frank of his tracking device.

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Frank clambers 100 yards up the cliff after four days at sea.

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Flora has made it home too and Frank rushes to greet her.

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But the little fisherman can't be that exhausted as one thing

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soon leads to another for this devoted couple.

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I wonder what they'll be making of that signal in France!

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You'd think they'd give him ten minutes with the missus

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-before coming to collect their blessed gadget!

-Got him!

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Fantastic. This is the penguin with the transmitter.

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It feels like it's an OK weight but it's certainly not huge.

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So it's sort of seeming like, even though they're going a long way to get food at the moment,

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that they're still not managing to find a huge amount out there.

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Frank has clocked up a round trip of 150 miles in four days.

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And that's with the tracker attached to his back.

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He scurries off to feed the kids before anything else gets stuck to his body!

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But what about little Sammy?

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Two days after he nearly starved to death, have his parents managed to feed him up?

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I think he's probably got a bit of a chance that he might make it.

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I've seen penguins that are much skinnier and in much worse condition than he is.

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He's much stronger now. Looks like he's going to reach the next hurdle.

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Sammy's close to what's known as fledging - that's the moment he can

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finally leave the burrow and venture out to sea to find his own food.

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That's a short walk down the cliffs for us,

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but a giant leap into the unknown for Australia's Little Penguin.

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Next - Penguin Island scorches in 104 degree heat,

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causing havoc among its animal population.

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Penguins are just not kitted out for weather like this.

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They're just staggering around and falling over.

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Can Sammy reach the ocean in these conditions?

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Oh, mate. You're just a bit hot.

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And what do you do with an overheated seabird?

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Nice spot for it, in with the fruit and veggies.

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If in doubt, stick 'em in the fridge!

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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Time is running out for hungry penguin chicks Sammy and Tom, whose parents Bluey and Sheila must swim further and further out to sea in a desperate attempt to find fish.

Ranger Elizabeth Lundahl-Hegedus keeps watch over the undernourished chicks, worried they won't survive until their parents return to feed them, while ranger John Evans patrols the colony, checking for offshore 'baitballs' of fish, a sign that food is nearby and the parents will soon return.

In the burrow next door to Sammy and Tom, penguin parents Frank and Flora struggle to feed their boisterous teenagers, Butch and Bruiser. Scientists monitoring Phillip Island's penguins fit a satellite tracking device to Frank's back, and are surprised to find that the plucky little penguin covers 240 kilometres in four days as the fish move further afield.

Meanwhile, field researcher Leanne Renwick checks micro-chipped penguins to monitor the health of the colony and soon realises something is wrong.

As the weather heats up, chicks are dying of starvation throughout Penguin Island as their parents fail to return home and the harsh reality of nature is revealed.