MS Sea Spirit, Arctic Canada

Frozen Planet II Episode Guide

Natural World Safaris

Charlotte Field

13 Sep 2022

Our weekly review of David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet II

Over the next few weeks, we will follow along with David Attenborough and his team of extraordinary filming crew to explore the planet’s frozen regions and the incredible wildlife that survive in some of the harshest conditions Earth has to offer. We can’t wait to see what these ice-bound lands have to cover.

Each hour-long episode covers a different below-zero area, focusing on the different species adapted to survive there, with stunning shots accompanying each interaction. This series has been no small feat, with 102 shoots over 2188 filming days in 18 different countries, all around Antarctica and in space. We know it will show us the best of what the frozen areas of our planet has to offer.

Follow NWS as we get cosy every Sunday night for the next six weeks. Each week after each episode, we’ll cover those that are mentioned in the episode, give insight into the series as it unfolds and highlight experiences from the series that you can replicate in the future.

Antarctic safari;  emperor penguins

EPISODE ONE: FROZEN WORLDS

With the Earth sandwiched by two poles and numerous frozen stops throughout, there is a surprising amount of wildlife to be found in these inhospitable environments. Starting in the furthest south, the series begins in the most hostile place on Earth, Antarctica.

In the midst of Atka Bay, and after being raised on the ice in the winter, we witness emperor penguin chicks on their own for the first time. Making their way across the hazardous sea ice towards the Southern Ocean is an incredible feat at such a young age.

You too can see the Emperor Penguins of Atka Bay on our trip, Spring Emperor Penguins of Atka Bay.

Orca pod, Mazdak

However, the waters are not a complete refuge as it contains some of the most seasoned predators of the sea, the killer whale. Luckily for the Emperor Penguins, Weddell seals are the killer whales favoured prey and the whales have adapted to generate their own waves to wash the seals off their ice floes, coordinated throughout the whale family.

You can swim with killer whales in the tamer waters of Norway on our Swimming with Killer Whales trip. 

Travelling further north, the episode then explores the icy conditions caused by altitude in the tallest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas. One of the creatures to call these inhospitable conditions its home is the incredibly fluffy Pallas’s Cat. We watch it hunt for gerbils and voles, vital for its survival during the Mongolian winter.

Siberian Tiger

The episode then pans to the Great Steppe, which encompasses the top of North America, Europe and Asia, and contains the boreal forest which is frozen for six months of the year. Prowling through these forests in far east Russia are the elusive Siberian Tigers, the largest cat in the world on the search for hibernating black bears.

Work with conservationist Alexander Batalov, track the big cats and set camera traps on a unique adventure that truly puts you on the front line of wildlife conservation on this unique trip.

Heading further north and across to the Arctic Circle, cold conditions are extreme in this area. Musk Ox, animals remnant of the last ice age, remain here with their imposing statures. However, their calves face real danger in the spring, in the face of the grizzly bear and encounters can be brutal.

 

Polar bear in Greenland, Andy Mann

The episode then pans north of the Tundra to the Arctic Ocean, unique in that it is the only ocean that completely freezes over. Here hooded seals reside, with a rather peculiar way of attraction. Males inflate their noses to a bright red balloon in the hopes of attracting the opposite sex. Finally, the episode ends in Greenland, home to the Arctic most iconic resident, the polar bear and the plight of providing for cubs in a world of shrinking sea ice, from the threat of today’s climate change. A theme that run throughout the series.

For your chance to see polar bears in Greenland,  take a trip aboard the MS Polafront on The Great East of Greenland trip.

 

Beluga Whales in the OCean

EPISODE TWO: FROZEN OCEAN

The second episode in the series takes place among the frozen waters. Starting at the Arctic Ocean, the sun reveals the ocean frozen over after four months of being steeped in the polar night. At this time of year, polar bears emerge. In particular, the mothers with their cubs head down towards the sea ice to hunt.

Whilst for the polar bears the sea is a haven for food, for others in the Arctic the sea is a frozen trap. The episode then focuses on a pod of beluga whales, who are slowly starving to death after being stuck within an ice hole for the past five months. As the sun comes through, it brings a lifeline to the stranded belugas as it melts the ice hole and allows them to escape their prison.

See both polar bears and belugas in the Arctic wilderness during one trip, on the Birds, Bears and Belugas safari

MS Sea Spirit, Arctic Canada

The springtime off the east coast is also a new start for the harp seals. Pups only have a few weeks with their mothers before having to fend for themselves, learning how to swim in that time too. Each year this gets more and more perilous as storms from the warming climate can tip the young harp seals into the sea before they are strong enough to look after themselves.

The Arctic Ocean becomes alive in the summer, with the plankton feeding millions within it, from big to small. We see the strange-looking skeleton shrimp feast, as well as some of the biggest creatures in that part of the ocean, the bowhead whale. These fascinating creatures gather each year at ‘whale spas’, a spectacular phenomenon. However, these secret locations are being shattered by the arrival of orcas from the south, due to the loss of the summer sea ice, and these daring predators target the vulnerable calves of the larger bowhead.

Svalbard May 2019 | © Steve Winter

The Arctic oceans are also home to spectacular sea birds who travel from incredible distances to enjoy the midnight sun. Huge flocks, including the crested auklets, make the north their home for the summer. Here they mate, with the male crested auklets using both his song and unique tangerine scent to attract a partner of the opposite sex.

Whilst the summer sun attracts many creatures, for others the heat can be unbearable. Resident walruses, with their thick blubber, are built for the colder climate. In order to keep their bodies cool, the walrus moults on the beach before roly-polying into the cool water, a technique used by many before.  

Walrus’ and birds can be seen aboard our Polar Bear Explorer expeditions through the summer in Svalbard.

With climate change, the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth and the summer bringing in record-breaking heat. With less sea ice each summer, more and more bears are becoming stranded on remote Arctic islands, meaning it is even more dangerous for mothers and cubs.

High-Casqued Chameleon - Frozen Planet Credit BBC

EPISODE THREE: FROZEN PEAKS

Peaks are the focus of the third Frozen Planet episode. In an unexpected turn, the episode starts off in an unusual place, near the equator in East Africa on the high slopes of Mount Kenya. During the sunny days, the peaks remain warm but the nights bring along a frost. During the turbulent temperature, we watch as high-casqued chameleon navigate the right time to give birth, and avoiding the newborns from becoming victims to the freezing night.

Next, turning up to the skies in the European Alps, where the winters are longer, another parent striving to keep their baby alive as we witness a pair of golden eagles raise their chick. With the cold winters, the eagles must provide enough food, tackling prey five times their size, and use incredible techniques to capture the goat-like chamois.

Rhesus macaque, Pench National Park, India

Over in the snowiest place on Earth, the mountains of Japan are hostile conditions. Here, a lone macaque has been cast away from his troop, and the haven of warmth their bodies bring. The plight for the survival for this male macaque means finding another who will embrace him with life-saving warmth. Nearby, using high-speed camera racer drones for the first time, avalanches are captured as one of the deadliest and most destructive powers in this area of the world.

After witnessing wildlife who must create the right conditions in their cold climate, the episode covers an array of wildlife that thrive in the cold. There is a species of parrot, the kea in the Southern Alps of New Zealand who have a morbid feeding strategy, but famed for their intelligence, and alternatively, there are flamingos in the Andes who thrive in high-altitude volcanic lakes. Although adapted to their frozen lifestyle, their chicks must adapt to escape the winter months before becoming trapped in the ice.

Mountain and glacier, Svalbard, Catalina Christensen

These incredible frozen peaks around the world are experiencing rapid change. A time-lapse, using ground-breaking technology, shows the mountain glaciers as they vanish completely and harsh warming for many that call the frozen peaks their home, including the giant panda.

 

Antarctic safari; king penguin

EPISODE FOUR: FROZEN SOUTH

Mention frozen worlds and instantaneously Antarctica springs to mind. The most hostile of landscapes, wild and vast, yet here you can find some of the most incredible wildlife that not only survive, but thrive in the inhospitable climate.

The episode started where Antarctica is closest to civilisation, but still far from, in the sub-Antarctic islands. Here king penguins risk their life with every feed as leopard seals, known for their ferocity, lurk in the shallow waters. On a similar island, albatross are captured finding their first-time partner, an act in much need as their population are diminishing due to fishing.

You too can see the all kinds of penguins, including king penguins on South Georgia during our trip, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. 

Weddell sea, Mogens Trolle

Further onto the continent, we witness some of the roughest seas on earth in the Southern Ocean. Here, the Antarctic blue whale lives, and we capture a rare glimpse of the creatures who are seldomly filmed but are an incredible sight to see. In these oceans, Weddell seals raise their pups. As the sea freezes over, vital ice platforms are created so that the pups can be sheltered from aggressive males.

Weddell seals can be seen on our In Search of the Emperor Penguin trip. 

As spring emerges, as do the thousands of breeding chinstrap penguins, to build their elevated nests to protect their chicks. The chicks have more than just being stolen to worry about, climate change means that increased meltwater encroaches on the elevated nests and risks hypothermia.

Union Glacier Camp - Wildlife - Colin Miskelly

Killer whales are also facing danger as their favourite prey, the Weddell seal, proves harder to reach. Resorting to alternative food sources all us to witness a dramatic encounter that has never been filmed before. Leopard seals are typically an apex predator, but are slowly finding themselves within the food chain as killer whales use them as a food source.

Antarctica’s landscape is one of absolute wonder, as the driest and windiest of all the continents, but also one of the most volcanic regions on earth. On exposed mountain tops are tiny petrels. They are the most southerly birds to raise their chicks, with a unique defense technique.

Finally, the episode covers giant stromatolites, built by primitive lifeforms. The extremes of Antarctica raise the possibility that life can exist elsewhere.

 

 

Shannon Wild, Svalbard

EPISODE FIVE: FROZEN LANDS

The far north is home to the largest land habitat on earth, with large icy tundras and snow-covered forests as far as the eye can see. The ground here is so cold that it has remained frozen since the last ice age and the battle for survival is extreme. First, we witness a large pack of wolves take on the prey available to them over the winter months, the American bison.

In contrast, we then follow a lone Arctic fox as she wanders the hundreds of icy miles in search of lemmings, her source of energy. Head diving deep underground to catch them, it is remarkable to watch this determined creature.

Arctic foxes have been witnessed on our Svalbard Polar Bear Explorer trip throughout as it travels through the Arctic north.

Amur leopard, Colin Hines, Wikimedia Commons

Crossing east into the remotes of Russia, we follow the rare Amur leopard in the seemingly empty frozen forest. Here, it must use its ingenuity to stalk the hidden prey in this desolate habitat. It follows the food chain, hoping a crow will lead it to carrion, however, the leopard is not the top of the food chain in this area and it must be alert against the large Siberian tiger that also stalks these forests.

Set camera traps alongside conservationist Alexander Batalov whilst searching for the elusive Siberian Tiger on this incredible safari. 

The winters here are harsh and as spring thaws, life begins to emerge. That includes a nest of tiny painted turtle hatchings, that were frozen over throughout the winter.

Siberian tiger safari

Further north, spring doesn’t arrive for another month. We follow a tiny snow queen, a Lapland bumble bee. Although small in stature, she was the sole survivor of her colony, able to survive due to her larger size, paired with a furry body and antifreeze coursing through her blood. However, she must be quick to feed herself and raise a family in the brief window of summer.

The open tundra is home to many animals during the summer, particularly to breed. We follow a pair of snowy owls as they raise their nest of fluffy chicks. The 24-hour daylight allows them to hunt meal after meal to raise their babies.

The increasingly warming summer has changed the landscape permanently. As caribou arrive in their hundreds of thousands in the rich pasture, the increase of mosquitos means that are driven to cooler, much more treacherous land. Like much of the wildlife that calls the frozen land their home, they are continually adapting to the extremes that are changing for the more permanent.  

We can't wait to see what the rest of this Frozen Planet series has in store for us. 

 

 

Humpback whale, Antarctica

Inspired by Frozen Planet II?

If you'd like to follow in the footsteps of the BBC film crew on Frozen Planet II, speak to one of our Destination Specialists to start designing your own wildlife safari.

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