A Heatwave Hits the Colony Penguin Island


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A Heatwave Hits the Colony

Documentary about the penguins who live on Phillip Island. A punishing heatwave hits the island, and penguins collapse from hunger and exhaustion.


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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 and their parents

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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, just when penguin chicks are ready to leave,

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a punishing heat wave hits the island.

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Oh, mate.

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The parents of a Little Penguin called Sammy have been missing

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for days, out at sea desperately hunting for food.

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If the heat doesn't get him, starvation will.

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So can Sammy take the chance of searching for food himself

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off the shores of Penguin Island?

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Eight-week-old Sammy is one of the last penguin chicks remaining on land this season.

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Most now have the body weight and waterproof feathers they need to brave the sea and find food.

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THEY SQUEAK AND CHIRP

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Sammy waits, hesitating to join the stampede.

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He's not the only one dragging his heels.

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Up at the Wagner's beach house on top of the cliff,

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there are two other chicks slow to move out from their home.

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Stan and Sparky are also eight weeks old,

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but still getting occasional feeds from their parents.

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Why go to sea to hunt when dinner is home delivered?

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But Sammy hasn't seen his parents for two days now.

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Without them his only food source lies out beyond the breakers.

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This hungry penguin watches the other chicks leave.

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It could be months before they return and years before they have their own penguin chicks.

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Life at sea will be tough for them.

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Most won't survive their first year.

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Sammy decides to give it a while longer before he leaves home for good.

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He's chosen a bad time to stay.

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The last few days have been unusually hot.

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RADIO: 'The southern states face at least another day of sweltering conditions

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'involving danger for the very young, the elderly and the infirm.

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'Victorians are being urged to stay indoors.

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'The state is bracing for its worst fire conditions ever...'

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A relentless heat is baking the island,

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pushing every animal to the limits of survival.

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43 tomorrow, 35...

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Basically the forecast is... it's going to be hot.

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CROWS SQUAWK

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Penguins are particularly vulnerable to intense heat.

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On land, in a hot summer, their feathers that interlock at the tips

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to keep out cold now trap heat inside their bodies.

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PENGUIN CHIRPS

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In the worst case, their internal organs start to cook.

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With the heat wave set to continue, ranger John Evans goes looking for struggling penguins.

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The ones that are ashore during the day really, really struggle. So it can take,

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you know, as little as half an hour for them to die of heat stress.

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And it generally depends all on how much shade they have and how exposed they are to breeze.

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Any chicks now that are here, you don't hold up much hope for.

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The secret for a penguin chick is to leave here really early during the breeding season and leave fat, OK?

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Being overweight is very handy for these birds.

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There's two under the boardwalk here.

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Two chicks, just at a very loose guess, because their feathers look nice and blue.

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So what they want, is they want shade and they would love

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to be able to pick up breeze on those really hot days, OK?

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So here's not a bad spot.

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They don't... yeah, they don't like those hot days.

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Every month for over 40 years, the volunteer penguin study group has been monitoring penguins

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in one particular site behind the Parade beach.

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Oops, look out, that's soft there.

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If you jump across here you'll be all right.

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Chicks need a bodyweight approaching a kilo to survive at sea,

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and without it they're stuck on the island.

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And the weight is 750.

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I'd like to see it nearer 1,000.

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And another dead one, very small dead one here.

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Above 80 degrees, penguins burn energy just to stay cool.

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But it's already 95,

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and these underfed birds don't have fat reserves to spare.

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There's one live there and two dead.

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I don't think I've seen so many that look to be heat stressed before, as this.

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It's no longer hunger that's the big killer.

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Now it's the heat as well.

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There's a penguin in here,

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I hate to tell you.

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The team is not supposed to intervene when wild penguin chicks

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die of natural, even if extreme, causes.

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This poor penguin is as good as dead, unable to crawl back under cover.

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But its suffering is too much for one young volunteer.

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If she can just get its body temperature down somehow, it may yet live.

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The seven-week-old chick is already recovering.

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But his bony little body means he won't survive without immediate medical care.

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Will the busy hospital have room for one more overheated penguin chick?

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In conditions like these it's first in, first served.

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-Hello.

-Hey, mate.

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Even off-duty rangers have come in to help with the influx of heat-stricken animals.

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We have an overheated, very small penguin here.

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Just underweight at the moment?

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Well, overheated I think. Also very light, quite possibly underweight.

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This is the most penguins that we've ever had in the hospital.

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Yesterday, there were about 40.

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We lost a few last night. I think we're between 35 and 40 penguins.

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So that's a lot.

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And you can see there that the flippers are stretched out

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and its little legs are facing out backwards, which is not a good sign.

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First, emergency hydration, then straight to the cool room to get that body temperature down.

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A nice spot for it, in with the fruit and veggies.

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That'd be lucky, maybe 400g?

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Write a note on my desk, "Don't forget the penguin in the cool room!"

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With so many penguin patients, they've used all the colours for identity tags.

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We have to actually record what medicines they have and how much they eat.

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So we use these little different coloured ribbons,

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and we've got that many birds at the moment that we're running out of combinations.

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Jan's the smartest here by a long way, so she's going to have to decide which colours.

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Just choose one - and this sounds awful - choose one of the ones that died this morning.

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-That's what I said.

-It's really morbid.

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After a couple of hours, the refrigerated chick is let out into the penguin ward.

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Ha, that's one thoroughly chilled out penguin!

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Marg Healy now takes over his care.

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Squeak, squeak.

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You poor little chick. Come on.

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They've picked out a colour for the one they thought was a goner.

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Mauve.

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He's now known simply as Mauve.

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560...

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this chick is so thin.

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And this noise is a starving chick noise.

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But hopefully we can fix it.

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Penguins don't drink for themselves, they get all their fluid from food,

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so if they're not eating well they dehydrate very quickly.

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Mauve can't possibly survive in the wild in his undernourished state.

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His only hope is if Marg can build up his body weight.

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That means force-feeding him five or six sardines twice a day.

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Um, I give him over a 50% chance now that's he's turned the corner a bit.

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There's a pool for rehabilitating penguins.

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Mauve will get his first swim here, but not till he is a bit bigger and his feathers are waterproof.

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He'll be put back in a nest box near where he was found.

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Hopefully then he'll be strong enough to head out to sea.

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Still no break in the heat wave.

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In fact, it just keeps getting hotter.

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By 2:35pm the temperature in Melbourne, only 43 miles away

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as the crow flies, hits 115.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

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At that moment there is nowhere hotter on the planet.

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Bushfires are raging across the state of Victoria.

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The day will later be known as Black Saturday,

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when 173 human and thousands of animal lives were lost.

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Unfortunately for Sammy, his burrow is more exposed than most.

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Now he's started to hyperventilate,

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the last stage before a penguin collapses.

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If he can only make it to nightfall, when the temperature should drop a bit.

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The two chicks under the holiday house are much better off, with good shelter from the sun.

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They spend the day tucked well away under the Wagners' downstairs laundry.

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In the hospital, it's not just penguins struggling

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but native animals you'd expect to be able to cope with extreme heat.

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Marg tries to hydrate a baby possum.

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He's fallen from his mother's pouch

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and was found staggering on the beach.

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No, you're not going to help are you, sweetheart?

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I know, I know, it's not fun.

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Come on, sweetheart, work with me.

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That's right. That's right.

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This is the hottest that we've ever had

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and they literally are dropping out of the trees,

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they literally are, and that poor little creature was down in the salt water trying to drink.

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So it's too hot, it's unusually hot, and it is a worry.

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So no, they don't know how to deal, I don't think, with this amount of continual heat.

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I think they can do a day or two, but give them a third day and it's all a little bit much.

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It's all a bit much.

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Oh.

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Just another one. I think it's nearly...

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we're close to 40 penguins in here now, then.

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500g.

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So he's about half what he should be, probably.

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He's not too bad, so he should be OK, with a bit of luck.

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In two hours, the penguin parade opens for tourists.

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But right now, the heat seems to have brought deathly quiet.

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Just when they thought they'd made it to the end of this demanding day,

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someone reports another penguin casualty.

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A full grown adult this time.

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In a desperate attempt to reach water

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he went the wrong way and ended up outside the tourist centre.

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At 5pm on a Saturday it's going to be hard to find anyone to help.

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There's a penguin out the back that's not looking very well.

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Look at that. He can't even get up and walk.

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Oh, God.

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It's just a bit hot.

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-That's not our chick, is it?

-No, it's an adult.

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Oh, mate.

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It's too far to take him back down to the sea.

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They do their best to cool him in the staffroom till a senior ranger takes more drastic action.

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No, mate, he's nearly dead.

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Carol, can you grab me the key, please. This bird's about to die.

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Ranger Rebecca Overy knows what this penguin needs most is a drink,

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which means getting the hydration equipment from the hospital,

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now closed for the night.

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This is like a sports drink for animals.

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No.

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No, we lost him.

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But it's too late.

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Rebecca can't save him. Once they've ventured out of their

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burrows in searing heat like this, nine out of ten won't make it.

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An evening sea breeze brings a welcome cool to Phillip Island.

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The first busload of tourists has arrived for the evening's penguin parade.

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They drive right past Sammy's burrow.

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Amazingly, he is still alive.

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Sammy has survived the hottest day in living memory.

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But if his parents don't come to feed him soon

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he'll have to risk going to sea and finding food himself.

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A week later, the heat wave has passed and Mauve is now 1.3kg.

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Marg has fattened him up enough to survive in the wild and have his first swim.

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As soon as they get their head under they suddenly go, "Oh, my life is complete."

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They often just circle the pool for hours on end. I mean, it must be like from, I don't know,

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riding a pushbike to riding a Grand Prix motorbike, in some ways.

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He's a really good weight and he knows how to swim

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and so I'm thinking, yeah, he'll work it all out.

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It's his last day of accommodation with breakfast included.

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In a few moments he'll be released near where he was found.

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PENGUIN CHIRPS AND SQUEAKS

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Mauve swaps his ribbon for a microchip to track his movements...

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Beautiful.

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..and gets a new name.

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There you go. It's very boring. It's 6C9729D.

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He's probably absolutely terrified,

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a kind of, "Now what?"

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Nobody home?

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Perfect.

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OK, sweetie, you're a wild penguin again.

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Now, the ocean's that way, OK?

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This is where you're living now and hopefully you'll come back to here, not the hospital, OK?

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Concentrate.

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Right, stay in there. In you go.

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With a bit of good sense, this time around he'll stay out of the sun.

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At least, that's the theory.

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It's one little obstacle to stop coming out during the daytime.

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You probably could see it.

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It's really hard, but I think it's just over there.

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Meanwhile, Stan and Sparky wait for dark before emerging

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from their hideaway under the Wagners' beach house.

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By the time the Wagner kids have had dinner and turned in for the night,

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the chicks downstairs are getting ready for their parents

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to bring home another slap-up feed.

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Stan's flippers are now ten centimetres long and quite ready for swimming.

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He really should be off feeding himself by now, not sponging off Mum and Dad.

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Although the brothers were born within a day of each other,

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Sparky's fluff shows he still has some growing to do.

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So, if a parent does come home tonight, it's important he gets some nutrition first.

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Sammy too, waits near his burrow in case of one last feed.

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But it's a faint hope when his parents have been gone so long.

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A well-fed female is one of the first ashore at the parade beach.

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Could this be Sammy's mum?

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Or Stan and Sparky's?

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There's no time for a curtain call tonight.

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This mum joins the rush-hour traffic to head straight to her chicks.

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It's 600 yards from here to the burrows, where the hungry kids are waiting.

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With fish in her stomach for some lucky chick,

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she shuffles through the car park, giving the coaches a wide berth.

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Patience doesn't come easily to young Sparky and Stan.

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CHIRPING

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The food isn't even here yet, and the two brothers are already winding each other up.

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Nearly home, the returning mum turns onto the coast road.

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Just got to wait for the traffic leaving the parade.

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Sparky notices something at the bottom of the garden.

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It's Mum!

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The ensuing food fights are a nightly show for Karen Wagner.

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Here come the chicks out of the burrow. Their mum beat the rush.

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Sparky gets in first.

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Stan immediately tries to elbow him out of the way.

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Not sure which is worse - penguins mating or penguins feeding.

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Shut up!

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As a parent, I don't know if I'd spend all day just to get their food

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to come back and have them harass me for the next 12 hours, when you...

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well, maybe children do that.

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FRANTIC CHIRPING AND SQUEAKING

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Further along the cliffs, plenty of adults stream by.

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But no-one stops to feed Sammy.

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It seems his parents are never coming back.

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It's crunch time for Sammy.

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In the early hours of the morning, he takes the most important step of his life.

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He heads down to the water.

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He follows other penguins in the pre-dawn stampede to the beach.

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With no-one to teach them to swim, chicks entering the water for the first time

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experiment with stroke techniques.

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It's now or never for Sammy.

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He takes one last look at the colony where he spent his first eight action-packed weeks.

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In just a few moments he'll start a whole new life in Australia's Southern Ocean.

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It's turning into a tough season, and there's still a month of summer to go.

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Next on Penguin Island, new technology shows us just what penguins get up to out at sea.

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Perennial bachelor Rocky finally finds a mate,

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but should he be starting a family when late season chicks rarely survive?

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And Marg gets her most difficult patient yet.

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-He's very lively, this guy.

-He's just attacking everything.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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Documentary about the penguins who live on Phillip Island.

A punishing heatwave hits the island. As bushfires are raging around the state, penguins are collapsing from heat, hunger and exhaustion. The penguin study group finds many heat-stressed penguins and, as the animal hospital fills with overheated wildlife, rangers work to rehydrate and cool the little penguins in a battle to save their lives.

With food in short supply, the colony's penguin chicks are struggling to build the body weight they require to head out to sea and, with 80 per cent destined to die in their first year, the stakes are high in the fight for survival.

A volunteer arrives with an overheated penguin chick, underweight and close to death, but Mauve proves to be one of the lucky ones as wildlife carer Marg Healy steps in to keep him alive. With his younger brother dead and his parents gone for good, little Sammy must survive 'Black Saturday' to brave the world alone, taking his first tenuous steps towards independence and a life beyond the breaking surf.