(light playful music) (penguin squawking) - [Arlo] Penguins, they are like the mascots of Antarctica.
Because everyone loves penguins!
Well, almost everyone.
- I don't really get what's so great about penguins.
I'm just gonna say it, and I know, like, three billion people probably hate me right now, but I really just don't get what the big deal with penguins is.
(crowd shouting angrily) They're just kind of like birds that don't fly, and I hear they kinda stink.
So, now we're going to see the penguins.
(Caitlin laughing) Tonight, we're heading to the Cape Royds penguin colony, a helicopter flight away.
This is our first big excursion away from McMurdo Station.
When I first started working on this series, going to the penguins was non-negotiable.
I mean, it was priority one.
My boss would fire me if we did not get footage of penguins on this trip.
Cape Royds is home to the southernmost Adélie penguin colony in the world, and it's where a few thousand Adélie penguins nest.
- [Arlo] Not only is this where we plan to get some amazing penguin footage, but it's also where we'll finally get a chance to camp outside in the Antarctic wilderness.
- And, hey, Arlo!
- I'm excited about getting there, I'm excited about seeing them, but I'm also really excited about sleeping.
- [Caitlin] You're not gonna sleep tonight.
- Oh, I am, I am.
It doesn't matter how, I am.
(record scratching) So, uh, it's currently six a.m. As you can see the wind really, really picked up.
Yeah, the idea of filming in this is so unappealing.
So it's going to be a (squawking) of a day.
(pensive music) (Skype call chiming) - Hello!
- How are you?
- It's cold!
(laughing) - Very cold!
(laughing) - [Caitlin] This is our first time calling back to the NOVA office.
- [Julia] I gotta ask, was that your first helicopter ride?
- [Arlo] Yes!
- No, for me.
- [Arlo] Unfortunately, we don't have good news to share.
We're stuck inside.
- But it's been gusting to like 40, 45 mile per hour winds, so we're hoping that it quiets down so we can actually go film with the penguins.
Can we introduce you to our friends-- - Yes, perfect.
- Who are hosting us here?
Is that all right, guys?
- Welcome to Cape Royds and our hut.
This is our humble home.
I live here for three months every year.
- [Caitlin] This is Jean Pennycook.
- And um, it's a little rustic but this is where the penguins are, so this is where I'm most happy.
- [Caitlin] She's a penguin expert and runs an outreach program for kids around the world, which is why she gets the good internet.
- We come here every year from about October to the end of January and we monitor, study these birds.
- [Caitlin] Studying penguins in such a remote and harsh environment is not easy, and it takes a special kind of person to be up to the task, someone who's okay with living in this place.
- So I can't wash my hair, maybe you can tell, and I can't wash my clothes, maybe they can tell.
So it's very rustic out here, but this is living in Antarctica.
- So we're hoping that the wind dies down enough in the next hour for us to get out there and get something.
- [The Boss] Do you know what the temperature is with the wind chill?
- [Caitlin] It's negative 10 Celsius.
- That's not that cold!
- Without wind chill.
- Without... - That's not that, that's just like-- - Without wind chill.
- 18 degrees below 32.
Okay, you guys, come on-- - And then there's 40 mph winds.
- Toughen up!
(The Boss laughing) (wind whooshing) - [Arlo] Finally, we catch a break.
The winds die down just enough for us to venture out.
We walk the 15 minutes it takes to get to the colony, and it's kind of brutal.
But now we are on a mission!
- [Caitlin] Here's what we're imagining.
A hero penguin, being cute.
Beautiful background, preferably with some ice in it.
An expert explaining what's going on.
- [Jean] Penguins do not eat pizza.
- [Arlo] Basically, something like this: - A returning adult may spend hours looking for its chick among such a crowd.
Parent and chick can recognize one another's voice.
- [Arlo] But instead it's too windy to hear each other talk.
- [Caitlin] That picturesque ice near the ocean is hopelessly far away.
Keeping our camera stable is impossible.
- [Arlo] And these penguins are way more interested in, shall we say building their nests, than being cute.
(penguins squawking) And then, to add insult to injury-- - [Woman On Radio] We got some weather moving in-- - [Arlo] We get the call that more bad weather is rolling in.
- [Jean] Uh, Helo Ops just called.
They said you have to come right now.
- [Arlo] A helicopter is on its way to pick us up.
- [Caitlin] We have to toss our plans out the window and return to the hut, fast!
- [Arlo] But by the time we get back to the hut, the winds have picked up, which means the helicopter is delayed.
- [Caitlin] Fortunately...
They kinda smelled bad.
(Jean laughing) That gives us a bit of time to talk penguins with Jean.
- Well, wait 'til you go home and you'll smell the same.
(all laughing) - When you're around the birds you kind of absorb some of it.
So what we're looking at when you go down there is 10,000 years of penguin guano.
(playful pensive music) It's not dirt, it's penguin guano, and it has built up over the last 10,000 years when this colony has been here.
- [Arlo] So we were literally walking and filming in a landscape of penguin poop.
- [Caitlin] This colony of penguins has been monitored for only about 60 of its 10,000 year existence, so there are still a lot of questions to be answered.
Why is this important, to study penguins?
- Penguins are very important to study because their environment is very fragile.
There are no animals that live further into the hostility of Antarctica than these do.
- [Caitlin] This population at Cape Royds is actually pretty healthy.
- [Arlo] But elsewhere, like in the Palmer Station area of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Adélie penguins aren't faring nearly as well.
Here, the population has declined by about 90% since the 1970s.
And a NASA study projects that by the end of the century, more than half of the Adelie penguin colonies in Antarctica could be in decline.
- [Caitlin] In a lot of ways, penguins in Antarctica are like the canaries in the coal mine.
They're telling us about the health of our natural world, and it isn't looking good.
This is why Jean's outreach work is so important.
- If we could use penguins as the conveyor of information about Antarctica and climate change, then they're a good one to do, because rocks just don't do it.
People aren't as interested in rocks (laughing).
- Hey, hey, I have a background in geology!
- I mean rocks are cool, but penguins are the most engaging bird by far.
- Why is that?
What is it about penguins?
- This bird is anatomically very similar to us.
They have their vertical column like this, and their heads are perpendicular, just like us.
Their wings are down at their sides, like our arms.
So they mirror us in much of their form and in their antics and their walking around, so we kind of identify with them.
- So what you're saying in a way is that we like them because they look like derpy humans.
(all laughing) - [Jean] Well, Charlie Chaplin thought so!
(bright playful music) - [Arlo] Charlie Chaplin was a comedy legend from a century ago, and he was constantly reminded that his signature walk looked just like a penguin shuffle, but he claimed that he wasn't actually trying to imitate a penguin.
- [Caitlin] Just as I was actually coming to appreciate these little birds, our time at Cape Royds runs out.
- [Arlo] We only got about 15 minutes to film with the penguins, and instead of a picturesque icy landscape, just a lot of penguin poop.
I mean, let's be honest, this-- - [Narrator] To raise a family in one of the most unforgiving and stunning-- - Isn't this.
(penguins squawking) - [Caitlin] Our plans were kinda ruined by the weather, and, to me, it feels like failure.
- [Arlo] After that trip, Antarctica keeps us busy.
- [Caitlin] Hey, buddy!
- [Arlo] And so we kinda give up on the penguins.
- [Caitlin] But over the month-long stay, we meet a lot of scientists who work in this harsh environment, day in and day out.
- [Paul] So this is 28 degree Fahrenheit water, it's right at its freezing point.
- [Caitlin] Like Paul Cziko, who studies Antarctic fish.
Can this, like, permanently hurt me?
- [Paul] No.
- [Caitlin] He catches them from this dive hole in McMurdo.
And while attempting to see how much pain we can tolerate.
It hurts, it hurts!
(Paul laughing) It hurts so much!
- Just 30 seconds!
- He tells me something kind of enlightening.
So you mentioned something interesting in the field, you said you fail a lot.
- Yeah, we fail all the time.
You just have to work through it, and you learn over the years things that don't work and things that do work, and you learn that, you know, you can't get everything done that you expect to get done in a season.
You never do, never ever.
- I've kind of noticed that myself coming down here.
even though it's not a science project it's a media project, that everything is just a lot harder here.
- It's really challenging to do stuff down here.
So you just have to be, I don't know, really strong inside and just keep pushing through.
- [Caitlin] By coming to Antarctica, we're not just reporting on the science, we're putting ourselves in the shoes of scientists.
- The most important thing is to recognize that failures aren't really failing, right?
They're a way to rescope the problem, or a way to learn something new, a new way to approach a problem.
And if you can do that, that really matters.
- [Caitlin] Part of the scientific process down here is learning to contend with the environment.
And it isn't just how to survive the cold, it's how to persevere when all your carefully-wrought plans are destroyed by a storm.
- This is torture.
- [Caitlin] Or how to work with a small team of strangers when you're 9,000 miles away from home and can't sleep.
- Its vastness, its isolation, its hostility.
This place touches you at the soul level.
I don't think that anyone can come to Antarctica and go home the same person that they were.
- [Arlo] And by the end of the trip, we realize we've got some unfinished business.
- [Zachary] So you wanna review the plan?
- [Caitlin] Yeah, Arlo, where are we going?
- To find some penguins!
- [Caitlin] What day is it?
- The last day!
We can't just leave it at Cape Royds, we need penguins.
- We've basically done everything there is to do, in this area, except find penguins.
- Well, we kinda found them.
- No, no, no, find the real penguins.
- On ice and by the water.
(upbeat energetic music) We found a penguin!
(all laughing) - Hey, little buddy!
- There it is!
One lone ranger Adélie penguin.
You can't even see it on the GoPro.
(triumphant classical music) (penguin squawking) What'd you find, Arlo?
- [Arlo] We got a penguin!
- [Caitlin] We got a hot one!
(camera clicking) - Oo, Miles Davis.
- All right, Arlo.
It's your big day!
This isn't a picture, it's a video.
- Oh, what?
(Caitlin laughing) - Here we go, here we go, there it is, there it is!
(Arlo laughing) (penguin squawking) Yeah.
(Arlo laughing) (upbeat rhythmic music) - It turns out that for a few months this is the only penguin on Antarctica.
All the other penguins leave and swim to the north, leaving this sole penguin as the single representative of penguindom in the Southern Ocean.
- Would you say it's the most beautiful penguin you've ever seen?
- I think it's the cutest penguin.
(laughing) I think it's the cutest penguin.
(upbeat rhythmic music) (bright triumphant music) (light upbeat music)