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  • [HOST] 245 kilometers off the frigid coast of Antarctica is an island where populations of chinstrap  

  • penguins live in the thousands. But these penguins are more than just cute. The health of the Antarctic  

  • ecosystem relies on their well being. So the  scientists in this next documentary, count them  

  • yeah by hand in the freezing cold and walking  on steep cliffs. It's been years since this last  

  • happened, but the data collected will now inform  them of how one of the most remote places on earth  

  • is faring. If you want to know what  it took to film in such a hostile and  

  • rather crowded location, stick around after  the credits for a Q&A with the filmmakers.  

  • And now from, Greenpeace International, This is "Disappearing Penguins."

  • [NARRATOR] On the far side of the planet, lies one of  the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth.

  • Elephant Islandsituated just off  the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula,  

  • is a rugged landscape of cliffs  and glaciers shaped by brutal  

  • winds. It's also home to vast colonies of  one of Antarctica's most iconic animals.  

  • Supported by environmental organizationGreenpeace, a team of scientists lands on  

  • Elephant Island. For the first time in 50 yearsthey will investigate how its penguins are faring.  

  • The health of the Antarctic ecosystem is  linked to the state of penguin populations.  

  • And the best way to measure  those is by counting the birds.

  • [FORREST] So we're counting penguins. And why do we count  penguins? Well, penguins are great bio-indicators.  

  • And they'll tell us what the health of the ocean  around Antarctica is because they krill krill eat  

  • phytoplankton. So we can tell indirectly, what  the productivity of the oceans around here,  

  • how it's responding to environmental changeAnd so we can't really adequately count the  

  • phytoplankton, it's really difficult to count  krill. But we can count penguins because they  

  • come ashore every year to the same places  to breed. And we're getting some idea about  

  • how the ocean is performing by how  penguin populations change over time.  

  • And we go nest by nest. We're  counting this because we want  

  • to know what the breeding population is. We're  not interested in all these penguins that are  

  • roaming around that you see kind of  wandering about here. A lot of those  

  • are non-breeders. They just come here because  there's a lot of penguins, a lot of activity.  

  • We want to know what the size of the breeding  population is, because that's what's going to make  

  • new penguins for the future. And those are  the most sensitive parts of this population.

  • [NARRATOR] There are multiple penguins  species on Elephant Island,  

  • such as the Gentoo with their distinctive  orange beak, the flamboyant Macaroni Penguin,  

  • and even these towering King penguinscarefully shuffling across the island.

  • [AMBIENT NOISE] Michael, Michael,

  • [NARRATOR]The researchers record all penguinsBut I'm mainly interested in chinstraps  

  • so called for the narrow black band on the  underside of their heads. The chin straps are the  

  • noisiest and most numerous penguin on the islandAnd since weather conditions here are not always  

  • suitable for field work. The race is on to find  out exactly how numerous the chinstraps still are.

  • [STRYKER] There's four of us penguin counters. One person  says, "Okay, I'll take the high point up to the  

  • right" one person says, "I'll go up to the leftone person, that's me today, starts down low  

  • and we'll work our way up and then we all  meet in the middle. And it's important to  

  • divide it up like that so that we can be sure  not to be counting the same penguins twice.

  • [NARRATOR] It's January, which means the  height of Antarctic summer  

  • with one or two chicks to each nest. The colonies  are dense packs of shrieking and pecking birds,  

  • which makes moving around a delicate affair.

  • [STRYKER] Normally, we don't try to walk through the colony  because it's so dense, but here there's just no  

  • free space in between the thing right and so  very carefully. You try to step on the highest  

  • stones between the birds and obviously not  getting too close to their nests, if you can.

  • [STRYKER] Counting penguins at its core is pretty basicIt really is "1, 2, 3" we actually count them all three  

  • times to try to get a count that's within 5% errorIt kind of looks crazy. Sometimes we're standing  

  • on a rock gazing over a penguin colony. Very  still with our arms out And it looks like we're  

  • conducting a symphony of penguins or something  like that, because we're out there, really looking  

  • at every single individual penguin, and literally  counting heads. And if there's only 10 penguins in  

  • a colony, it's pretty easy. If there's 100, you  can get through them. If you're surrounded by  

  • 1000 penguins in one big blob. That's what  I would call "Advanced Penguin Counting"

  • [NARRATOR] But some colonies are over 10,000 individuals,  

  • and Chinstraps love to nest on steep and  exposed cliffs that are hard to reach on foot.  

  • So to count all of these flightless birdsyour best bet is to take to the air.

  • [SHAH] So when we get to colonies that are so big  that it's almost infeasible to count by hand,  

  • we use aerial surveys, the idea is to capture  all colonies with aerial images, so that we  

  • can either use a manual count or machine  learning algorithm to do the counts for us.  

  • When we arrive at a site, we do a quick lay  of the land where the different colonies are.  

  • And then we pick out a system where we can make  sure that we we don't miss any of the colonies.  

  • So we started a logical point, and set up a grid  survey with GPS locations of the boundaries of the  

  • colonies. And then we launched the drone, and have  it run the grid patterns. And then at that point,  

  • it's pretty hands off, it flies to the first  point and heads to the series of waypoints.  

  • And the drone is able to take photos every two  seconds. And that's how we can get a set of  

  • images with a decent amount of overlap that can  be used in the next step, which is photo mosaic.  

  • Once it finishes the whole  whole survey, we retrieve it.  

  • And that's how we can finish a site and  then walk over to the next area. And so on.

  • [STRYKER] For a bird nerd like me being in the  middle of a penguin colony here and  

  • practically unexplored Island in Antarctica  is like the ultimate experience. I can't  

  • even describe it makes my skin tingle around the  Zodiac. And we're coming into the beat is seeing  

  • all these birds waiting for us to arrive.

  • [STRYKER] I love penguins, they're just, they're  so easy to empathize with, because  

  • they act like people in so many ways. They have  all these curious behaviors they run around,  

  • they're always on a mission up to something  they're very energetic, they're charismatic.

  • penguins are really amazing creatures, they  are hardcore. And they have some pretty amazing  

  • adaptations to survive. Here. They have the  densest packed feathers of any bird in the world,  

  • it's something like 90 feathers per square inch  that gives them their waterproof parka and down  

  • jacket all in one. They spend a lot of their time  swimming, they can swim for months at a stretch  

  • without stopping, they sleep on the ocean, the  only reason they ever come to land at all is to  

  • build a nest. And then they go and spend the rest  of their lives actually in the ocean offshore. And  

  • to be an animal that only exists in the Southern  Ocean for months at a time just swimming around  

  • finding the fish and krill that they need to eatThat is hard for us to imagine and comprehend. And  

  • that I think is partly why it's so  fascinating for us to see penguins down here.

  • [STRYKER] I think that we can learn a lot by watching  birds, because birds at their core need  

  • most of the same things that we do they  need a place to live, they need food,  

  • they need to find a mate and leave a legacy. I  think that also birds experience all kinds of  

  • similar emotions and thoughts and feelings. Sothink by coming out here and doing these studies,  

  • it's almost like we're looking at our own behavior  through the prism of another species. And that  

  • gives us a license to take a step back and sayOh, yeah, okay, that's what's really happening.

  • [NARRATOR] Penguin colonies may remain in place for  centuries and Chinstraps, even though they  

  • venture out to sea for hundreds of milesalways return to the same colony to breed.  

  • The last and only time elephant islands penguin  population was properly surveyed, was in 1971.  

  • The maps and data from that  British joint services expedition  

  • are now being used by the present day researchers.

  • [FORREST] So we've got some great data from 50 years ago  about what the p-penguin populations looked  

  • like. So we'll compare our counts to thatthat historic data and we'll get some idea about  

  • whether things are changing or not.

  • penguins are extremely well adapted to live in  Antarctica in these conditions. But when those  

  • conditions then start to change, that's when  we start getting worried about them because  

  • they've evolved over so many eons to live in this  place as it is, and then as it starts to change,  

  • then we'll see how adaptable the penguins can be.

  • [NARRATOR] The Antarctic is witnessing vast changes. Over the  past 50 years, temperatures have risen by around  

  • three degrees centigrade, one of  the fastest increases in the world.  

  • Among other things, the  warming affects ice formation.  

  • And the underside of sea ice is a critical  habitat for krill, the shrimp like creatures  

  • which are food for many of Antarctica's  animals, including Chinstrap penguins.

  • [FORREST] The climate change losers here are chinstrap  penguins. Every year where else we go on the  

  • peninsula. We're seeing chinstrap declines over  the last 50 years, and it's been dramatic. Some  

  • of those populations have declined as much as 50%  we've seen chinstrap colonies completely vanish.

  • [NARRATOR] A changing climate is not the  only threat to Chinstraps.  

  • In recent years, krill fishing has  caused competition for their food,  

  • creating additional pressure on the penguins  in ways we are yet to fully understand.  

  • After 10 days of counting and covering  98% of the colonies surveyed in 1971,  

  • it's time for the researchers  to add up the results

  • [AMBIENT FORREST] 44...45....45....16, three times.

  • [NARRATOR] All of Elephant Island's 32  colonies show declines. And overall,  

  • the chinstrap population has  fallen by almost 60% in 50 years,

  • [AMBIENT FORREST] 11, three times

  • [FORREST] we try to keep an impartial look at this in terms of our emotional response to the data.

  • It's It's disturbing from the standpoint of the amount of change is happening so rapidly.

  • We just don't see this kind of stuffAnd other ecosystems generally. Have  

  • you seen this with say any terrestrial mammal  species over a 50 year period people would be  

  • certainly concerned. It suggests the amount of  change that's happening herehow rapid it's it is.  

  • It remains to be seen what the  what the ultimate consequences are.  

  • Not just for Chinstrap penguinsbut for the ecosystem as a whole.

  • [STRYKER] If you removed all the penguins  from Antarctica, what would happen?  

  • I don't want to do that experiment. As  a scientist or as a person who loves  

  • birds. The penguins are a keystone in  Antarctica, there's something like 90% of  

  • the avian biomass in this region is penguinsAnd there are millions and millions of them.  

  • We are seeing some worrying  declines in their populations.  

  • So right now I'm not so much worried that  the chinstrap penguin is gonna go extinct  

  • as that they're telling us that  something in their larger ecosystem  

  • is broken in some way and that the changes  in their populations are reflecting that.

  • [FORREST] I've been coming down here for 25 years, and I've  seen some pretty remarkable changes been seeing  

  • penguin populations crash, literally, climates  changing more rapidly in the Antarctic Peninsula,  

  • probably any place on the planet. It's very  likely that when we experience these things in our  

  • temperate climates, where we all live, we're  also going to have to adapt just as the  

  • chinstrap penguins are doing right now. So it's  a lesson for us because we've, we're either going to  

  • heed this example that we're seeing down here  in the Antarctic, or we won't, and we'll suffer  

  • the consequences just as Unfortunately, the  chinstrap penguins seem to be doing down here.  

  • They don't have a chance to control their  environment. They're stuck with whatever we  

  • hand them, but we have the ability to change  and we should take serious measures to do so.

  • [NARRATOR] Antarctica has always been a continent that  has challenged us. Now its challenge is for  

  • us to leave it unharmed, and established large  scale protection for those living on the edge.

  • Now, let's hear from the ground team  on their experience of elephant Island  

  • and its special occupants.

  • [BENSON] So I'm Frida Benson, and I was expedition leader  for the expedition where this film was made.

  • [VAN ROUVEROY] And my name is Maartin Van Rouveroy. And  I was the onboard camera man, filmmaker,  

  • for this project that the film resulted from.

  • [BENSON] Greenpeace is one of the oldest environmental  organization and is truly global. So it was  

  • started 50 years ago, turning 50  years, actually, today with a sort of  

  • aim of a greener, peaceful world.

  • [VAN ROUVEROY] Yes, Elephant Island where we did most of the filming. It's very inhospitable, and it's been  

  • visited by very few people. But famously, this  is where Ernest Shackleton the British explorer,  

  • stranded with his men, and they had to  survive in the Antarctic winter. For us,  

  • it was a bit more comfortable, because we were  based on a ship and we did these landings from  

  • inflatable boats on the shore, then it's pretty  rocky shore. So you'd basically almost be launched  

  • onto the shore like a penguin. And then you'd have  to bring all your equipment on board and clamber  

  • onto these pretty slippery rocks. And then the scientists would go off and find the penguin  

  • colonies, the photographer and I, and some of  the other people from Greenpeace, were basically  

  • following the scientists with the caveat that  the scientists can actually go into the penguin  

  • colonies, and we have to stay on the outside  not to cause too much disturbance to the colony.

  • [BENSON] It's very weather dependent. And everything shifts  very, very quickly in Antarctica. So it's a it's a  

  • matter of safety, really, like how safely can we get  people ashore and safe? And if something happens,  

  • can we get them off in time. So, I think the key  thing for us doing this was to have enough time  

  • really to give dedicated time for the scientists  to account because normally they have a very short  

  • period of time. So counting Elephant Island  took 11 days in total, that counting takes  

  • a substantial amount of time, actually, because  every single penguin is counted three times. So  

  • they don't count the grown up penguins, they count  the penguin chicks. So the little young ones, and  

  • it's also quite interesting, because you have to  do that when they when they're still in the nest.  

  • Because once they get a bit older, they start  moving around. And then this task is basically  

  • impossible, but they were very, very quick. So  when I actually tried once to help them to count  

  • some, some penguins, and I counted very few and  they counted very many, I was not very correct.  

  • And they were very correct. It's a very special  skill that they have learned over the years.  

  • [BENSON] So elephant Island belongs to a distinct planning  area of Antarctica and our face divided into  

  • two separate planning areas. And this  is what is referred to to the main one  

  • planning area, there are  ongoing conversations about  

  • establishing a very protected area in that  area, which encompasses elephant Island,  

  • and there are conversations ongoing on sort  of what does it mean, what we have found  

  • so that decline of chinstrap penguins elephant Island, and what kind of management  

  • consequences should that have. So even if there's  nothing that has happened more than that, we've  

  • seen more scientific evidence that like change is  happening in Antarctica, and it's happening fast.

  • [VAN ROUVEROY] I guess, one piece of advice, which is a bit  of a cliche, but I mean, in this day and age,  

  • when technology is so accessible, and it's  easier, it's become easier to shoot film,  

  • shoot, what's really king in more now than in  the past is a story that we were lucky here  

  • that there was a very clear and very good storyThe other thing I always tell people is to really  

  • think about the target audience because I thinkyou know, we're with environmental filmmaking  

  • with wildlife filmmaking with I think beyond  the stage of just raising awareness. I think  

  • most people on this planet are aware of  what's happening, maybe we're in

  • the next phase really where we need to act, because  it's really 5 to 12, well past 12 now, and in order  

  • to be effective with a film, you really need to  think about where your films going to be seen.  

  • And that that may be a massive audience. That  always helps. But it could also just be a very  

  • targeted group of politicians, policymakers or  other people who can influence the situation.

  • [BENSON] Yeah, I think anyone who watches this film is  that of other films about the environment. I  

  • think what's important to take with you is like  everything you do counts. Because sometimes we  

  • think that we have to do so much but I like from  from my side, but I said, you know, it's like  

  • having, like, everything from you know, a couple  of thousands to millions of people that have signed a  

  • petition for example, it's the world of difference  when you go into a political negotiation,  

  • or you're negotiating with a company, like, people  just sort of say like, oh, but like just filing  

  • a petition doesn't really mean anything. Andwould say that it does. Like it's sort of coming  

  • into a room, with with governments or industry and  knowing that you have 3 million people behind you,  

  • that support you, and believe in what you're doing  kind of changes your, the way you talk, and like  

  • the way you feel that you can sort of interact  with with people. And it's been because I think  

  • every small things that we do, every conversations  we have with our family and colleagues at work,  

  • they do matter. And I think that's kind  of in the end kind of people's actions and  

  • big or small that will kind  of make the difference.

  • [HOST] Thanks for watching Seeker Indie's screening of  "Disappearing Penguins." It stories like these that  

  • can inspire more discoveries, more adventures and  new ideas that may one day help save our planet.

[HOST] 245 kilometers off the frigid coast of Antarctica is an island where populations of chinstrap  

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The Survival of the Antarctic Could Depend on These Penguins | Disappearing Penguins

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    Summer posted on 2021/04/05
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