Emperors of Antarctica

Performed through the darkness of the world’s harshest winter, the breeding ordeal of the Emperor penguin defies belief. This is perhaps the most dramatic wildlife story anywhere, and it is beautifully captured by this remarkable film.

It is interwoven with the story of the “Worst Journey in the World” when three pioneers nearly died in their epic trek to obtain proof of the Emperors’ extraordinary breeding cycle.

Produced by NHNZ

This story is well known as one of the most dramatic in the animal kingdom, and yet it’s never been fully revealed.

This film will detail a breeding cycle in the world’s southern-most Emperor Penguin colony, at Cape Crozier, which is a small colony balanced on the edge of survival.

The story also weaves a human thread. This was the first Emperor colony seen by humans, and the first visited in winter to gain proof that Emperors start breeding in mid-winter. Captain Scott’s 1911 party survived “The Worst Journey in the World” to collect the first Emperor egg for science.

The film will use their diaries and sketches to illustrate their horrific trek, and will use scenes of our crew’s film trips to parallel the 1911 journey and contrast the very different equipment we have the advantage of today.

The life-cycle story starts when the Emperors assemble on the fast sea-ice near Cape Crozier, to sit out the world’s harshest winter in the world’s harshest land.

When the single egg is laid the male takes it into his feet and covers it with a fold of belly-skin. He incubates it through mid-winter cold and blizzards for a month, and still manages to feed the newly hatched chick until the female returns with fresh seafood.

By springtime in September the chicks are big enough to gather in crèches, to huddle together to withstand the savage blizzards.

When the ice breaks out in high summer (January) the chicks drift away on ice-floes to feed on the brief summer bounty of the Southern Ocean. The reason for the strange timing of the Emperors’ breeding season is now explained – if they did not start in the depths of winter then their chicks would not grow and get to sea during summer.

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