Published: 6 September 2022
In 2011, Frozen Planet gave BBC viewers an unprecedented insight into life in the Poles. Now, 11 years later, Frozen Planet II – presented by Sir David Attenborough – returns to the Arctic and Antarctic to observe the amazing species that thrive there.
But, going further than Series 1, it also explores life beyond the Poles – witnessing the wildlife dramas that play out in all the world’s coldest regions: our high mountains, frozen deserts, snowbound forests, and ice-cold oceans.
These are the last true wildernesses on earth; places so challenging for survival that only a heroic cast of animals can live here. From polar bears to penguins, Siberian tigers to snow monkeys, each species must overcome unique challenges to survive their extreme environments.
Filmed in ultra-high definition using the very latest camera technology, and featuring dramatic new behaviours, intimate stories, and sensational natural spectacles filmed for the very first time, this six-part series is a chance to experience the wonder of our planet’s frozen realms as they stand on the brink of major change.
As temperatures rise at an unprecedented rate our frozen planet is literally vanishing before our eyes. The series reveals the true impact on both wildlife and humans. We meet scientists who’ve dedicated their lives to understanding what these changes mean – not just for the animals and people who live there, but for the planet as a whole.
Frozen Planet II is made by BBC Studios’ world-renowned Natural History Unit, co-produced by BBC America, the Open University, Migu Video, ZDF and France Televisions.
- Episode 1 – Frozen Worlds
- Episode 2 – Frozen Ocean
- Episode 3 – Frozen Peaks
- Episode 4 – Frozen South
- Episode 5 – Frozen Lands
- Episode 6 – Our Frozen Planet
Q&A With Mark Brownlow, Executive Producer
How did Frozen Planet II come about?
I was the Series Producer of Blue Planet II and the big question that followed was… what should we do next? We’d just done Planet Earth II, which covered life across the world’s continents, as well as Seven Worlds, One Planet. We also did the big exploration of the underwater world, but what we felt was missing was a follow-up to the other big hit of its day, Frozen Planet. When we air this autumn it will be nearly eleven years since the original series first broadcast. So we felt that now was the time to re-examine, re-explore and celebrate life in our frozen regions.
The other thing is that I loved the original Frozen Planet series. As documentary makers we want to surprise the audience every episode and ring the changes. Whilst there’s a huge opportunity to apply new storytelling techniques and go with new filming technology to the Poles, I also felt that we could broaden out the series to really surprise the audience with the breadth and variety of all the different frozen worlds scattered across our globe. Remarkably, at any given time, a fifth of our planet is covered in snow or blanketed in ice. There is an opportunity to tell a much bigger of the frozen zone of the planet.
And particularly now, because this is the fastest changing region on Earth due to human-caused climate change. We felt that there was a universal film to be made that was contemporary, fresh and had real relevance, linked in to the audience’s greater consciousness around climate change. If we could do a series that celebrates first and foremost the wonder and magic of our frozen worlds, we could also surprise them with the variety and the heroic stories of survival across all of these different frozen areas at a time when they’re changing rapidly.
A changing frozen planet is a recurrent theme in the series. Can you tell us a bit more?
In the series we celebrate the frozen planet through wildlife, engaging the audience with animal stories and magical settings that will enthral them. I also wanted to show what changes had taken place in these regions while we were filming the series.
With the help of scientists we installed ruggedized time lapse cameras at the top of Quelccaya in the Andes, and down in Rothera in Antarctica, as well as up in Svalbard in the Arctic. We’ve positioned time lapse cameras long term to show the change taking place on our watch. We have also commandeered satellites to capture these changes from space, to get the bigger picture.
With this time study I really hope we can land the scale of the change that’s taking place, how rapidly this change is taking place, and what the implications are for the localised, highly cold-adapted animals. And, as we learn in episode six, how these changing worlds are also impacting all of us. In essence, it will show why we are more closely connected to these highly remote regions than perhaps we first appreciated.
I hope people will feel that, while this is a wonderful celebration and an opportunity to be transported to these magical worlds, at the same time there is a fierce contemporary relevance to these stories.
How do you maintain a balance between due concern and wide-eyed wonder?
This is something we have to get right. Highly charged films about climate change have their place but I feel that if you make it too weighty and too heavy going, you could alienate your audience.
As with Blue Planet II, I hope the audience will come to Frozen Planet II because they are enthralled by the storytelling and get gripped by the epic dramas, and some comedy too, in each film as we let them enjoy the majesty of the landscapes and the beauty of the animals found there.
At the same time we don’t want this to be just pure entertainment. People, I believe, have to know the context. So it’s getting the balance between the wonder and joy and entertainment within each episode with enough contemporary context around the changes that are taking place. It’s a fine balance but I think we’ve got it right.
Is there still hope for our frozen planet?
In the series we have the scientists at the end saying, very clearly, that it’s not too late. There’s still time, we can still protect these frozen regions and the wonderful wildlife within them but we do need to change our ways. Hopefully that’s an empowering message.
Q&A with Elizabeth White, Series Producer
What is the overarching narrative of Frozen Planet II?
I was an Assistant Producer and a director on the original Frozen Planet.
That series was very much about life in the polar regions and it was a seasonal story. Frozen Planet II is a broader remit. We are looking at anywhere that is significantly cold for multiple months of the year. This is what scientists call the cryosphere – any region of the planet where water is locked up as ice and snow.
The premise of this series is to showcase a variety of these beautiful, cold worlds, and show the challenges that animals face, or overcome, in order to live in what can seem to us quite remote and hostile worlds. In each episode there are also stories where the animals’ challenge is the fact that their world is melting away. In that sense we’ve done a more contemporary take than the original series.
What’s the structure of Frozen Planet II?
The first episode sets up these worlds and the fact that they’re perhaps more varied than you might imagine. It also explains why these regions are cold.
The following four episodes are all very different. Frozen Ocean focuses on the Arctic Ocean, the shape-shifting world of ice and water and all life that either lives on or under that sea ice. Frozen Peaks is about mountains and cold regions created by altitude rather than latitude. Frozen South is effectively the story of Antarctica as a continent starting on the sub-Antarctic islands, and then down all around the fringes of the continent and then finally to reveal life hiding under the ice. Frozen Lands is about the northern lands – the tundra and the seasonal forests. And the last episode – Our Frozen Planet – is effectively a science film. In this episode all the stories are told through scientists or indigenous people who live or work in these cold regions.
So is there room for hope?
The last film is a very powerful watch. I think that anybody who knows anything about these regions will probably say the situation is bleak in many ways. But what we’ve tried to set up from the beginning is that these people are striving to turn things around before it’s too late. And in the final messages of this series we are trying to inject a sense of hope. We’ve got scientists talking about the fact that at our fingertips we do have the technology to be using renewables, to be transforming society, and that there is the will. The will is greater now than ever. What’s so powerful is that it comes from the scientists themselves. These are people who literally, day by day, see the ice disappearing but they still have hope that we can do something about this.
What is Sir David Attenborough’s role in that final film?
We open the series with David on camera facing an enormous image of the planet on screen talking about satellite imagery from space, and how some of these regions are so remote that this is the only way to really see them. Then in the last episode we feature him in the studio watching the film. It’s a little bit like you’re sitting next to David watching the film with him or almost like an intimate view of the series through his eyes.
What is the scale of Frozen Planet II?
By the time the series airs we will have been in production for at least four and a half years. We’d been in production for nearly two years when the pandemic struck, which was in one way quite lucky, because we’d done a lot of our filming beforehand. After the pandemic hit, a lot of the Canadian Arctic and Antarctic bases basically shut down.
It’s a lot of filming but we have tried to be incredibly strategic because one of the things which was really important for us was to try and work as sustainably as we could. We’ve actually tried to reduce the number of shoots we’ve done, tried to work with local teams wherever we could, or effectively piggyback so we could film one story in one place and immediately film something nearby.
Mark Brownlow – Executive Producer, Frozen Planet II
Mark is a multiple Bafta and Emmy award-winning executive producer with over twenty-five years of programming experience across a broad range of wildlife TV documentaries and with a passion for the oceans. As series producer of ‘Blue Planet II’, he employed ground-breaking technology and environmental storytelling to give an entirely new understanding of life beneath the waves. Blue Planet II went on to become the most watched wildlife TV programme of all time and was credited with galvanising action around ocean plastics. As Executive Producer of ‘Frozen Planet II’, he has led the vision for the series and ventured to Antarctica to direct the ‘wave-washing’ killer whales. Other credits include Executive Producer of ‘Eden: Untamed Planet’, ‘Earth’s Tropical Islands’ and Series Producer of ‘Hidden Kingdoms’.
Elizabeth White – Series Producer, Frozen Planet II
Elizabeth White is the Series Producer of Frozen Planet II. A Bafta and Emmy award-winning producer and director with 18 years’ experience with the BBC Natural History Unit. She has a passion for cold places, having started life as a research biologist working in polar and marine environments. She has a strong creative vision and proven track record of producing cinematic content with intimate storytelling. Her film, Islands, for the series Planet Earth II, drew the highest audience figures for a Natural History show for 15 years. Its sequence, Snakes v Iguanas, became an internet sensation and won the publicly voted ‘TV moment of the year’. Elizabeth has worked across a range of BBC output: from presenter-led shows for the strand Wild, to landmark blue-chip productions such as The Great British Year, and the original Frozen Planet.
Frozen Planet II in Numbers
- The Frozen Planet II team completed 102 shoots across the series.
- Of these, 31 shoots were directed remotely using local crews.
- The series involved 2188 filming days in the field across three years.
- Filming happened on every continent, across 18 different countries, all around Antarctica and in space.
- The longest continuous time any team member spent on location was three months. The longest journey to location took three weeks, and the longest quarantine period (due to COVID) was 42 days.
Drones allowed filming both of landscape and an aerial view of animal behaviour in remote places.
- Light-weight drones enabled an aerial perspective on animal behaviour in situations where other aerial filming would have been disturbing to wildlife or logistically impossible;
- GPS-programmed drones were used to fly specific routes multiple times to capture changes in the landscape over time, even years, and reveal seasonal changes on the sea ice;
- High speed FPV (first-person view) ‘racer’ drones were deployed in order to fly down mountains alongside avalanches for the very first time in a TV documentary;
- Thermal drones were used to follow pumas hunting at night and enable the ground team to get into position;
High-definition remote camera traps
New 4K remote camera traps were employed across multiple locations where animals were too secretive to be filmed from a hide, including the giant Siberian tiger, the secretive Amur leopard and the wild giant pandas roaming the snow-covered forest scent marking trees as they search for food and potential mates.
Long term time-lapse cameras
Ruggedised timelapse cameras were deployed to glaciers across the world so that the team could document changes in ice over the course of filming. Locations include Svalbard, Antarctica, Greenland, and the Quelccaya glacier in the Peruvian Andes.
Timelapse and lapsed time from high altitude and space
The Frozen Planet II team worked with space imaging experts and scientists to document changes happening all across our frozen planet from space. For instance they used repeated photography from satellites to timelapse moulins forming on the Greenland ice sheet, document glaciers flowing and retreating in Greenland and South Georgia and sea ice disappearing during summer in the Arctic.
Old photographs of glaciers were used to compare to what they look today. Revisiting locations to match-frame and then blending between images the series reveals profound changes in glaciers from South Georgia and the European Alps.
Rebreather diving technology and pole cameras
Rebreathers don’t produce bubbles and are less disturbing to wildlife. They were crucial across all underwater sequences. For instance this allowed camera teams to get more intimate footage of harp seal pups learning to swim and Weddell seals interacting underwater. They also allow divers to stay underwater for longer periods of time which was critical in locations severely restricted by extreme weather.
Where conditions were too dangerous to dive, specialist pole cameras were designed and deployed allowing the camera operators to remain safely on the surface, yet film below it. These were also used around unpredictable animals.
Episode 1 – Frozen Worlds
Frozen Worlds showcases the variety of cold habitats on Earth, explores why they are cold, and examines the incredible ways in which animals have overcome the challenges of survival there.
In this episode we begin our journey in the frozen continent of Antarctica in the far south, the most hostile place on Earth. After being raised on the ice in winter, in spring emperor penguin chicks find themselves abandoned by their parents. To survive they must find their own way across the treacherous sea ice to the rich waters of the Southern Ocean.
The waters surrounding Antarctica may be the richest of all but they also home to the killer whale, an exceptionally sophisticated predator. To reach Weddell seals – their favoured prey – a family of killer whales have learnt to generate their own waves, washing the seals off their ice floes. ‘Wave-washing’ is a technique that has been passed down over generations and is coordinated by the family matriarch who can be over 100 years old.
Leaving Antarctica and traveling north, we discover frozen habitats that are created by altitude. The greatest of these is the Himalaya – the tallest mountain range on earth. It contains so much ice and snow it is known as the ‘third pole’. In the shadow of the Himalaya lies a vast frozen grassy plain that is home to the Pallas’s cat, also known as the grumpiest cat. It may have extremely dense fur but, if it’s to survive the Mongolian winter, it needs to catch lots of gerbils and voles. Easier said than done when you only have short legs and paws sensitive to the cold.
North of the Great Steppe lies the boreal forest which encircles the continents of North America, Europe and Asia and remains frozen for six months of the year. Prowling these forests in the Far East of Russia is the Siberian tiger, the largest cat in the world. In winter it is on the lookout for black bears hibernating in caves, a high-risk strategy that only a cat of this size would attempt.
Above the boreal forest we cross into the Arctic Circle where conditions become so extreme that trees can no longer grow. This is the tundra. The musk ox – a relic of the last ice age – lives here. In spring their calves must face a far greater danger than the cold. Encounters with grizzly bears can be brutal but if just a few calves survive, the herd’s future is secure.
To the north of the tundra is the Arctic Ocean, the only ocean that can completely freeze over. Living here is the hooded seal, one of the most peculiar animals on Earth. Males have extraordinary inflatable noses producing a bright red balloon out of their left nostrils; something one male hopes will make him irresistible.
All of the frozen habitats share one thing in common – the threat posed by today’s climate change. Greenland is home to the largest body of ice in the northern hemisphere. Traveling there we witness how global warming is melting its icecap at faster rates than ever before with profound consequences for global sea levels. And lastly we meet the polar bear, the Arctic’s most iconic resident, as a mother struggles to provide for her cubs in a world of shrinking sea ice.
Key Species and Stories
Emperor penguin, Atka Bay (Neumayer Station), Antarctica
Due to an outbreak of Covid in their quarantine hotel in South Africa, the crew had to quarantine for over 40 days before they could travel to Antarctica to film the emperor penguins. The delay meant they only had ten days to complete the sequence, all the time working on sea ice that was breaking up due to the spring melt. To film the penguins first swim the crew spent up to nine hours a day in water that was -1°C.
Killer whale, Antarctic Peninsula
‘Wave-washing’ involves multiple individuals swimming in tandem and then coordinating their tail beats to create waves which then go on to wash seals off ice floes. Family groups are led by matriarchs who can live to be over hundred years old. Only about 100 killer whales in the Antarctic peninsula use this complex hunting technique.
The only other time that the wave-washing killer whales have been filmed creating waves to knock prey off ice floes was when the BBC made the original Frozen Planet series.
For the first time Frozen Planet II films this incredible behaviour using drones from an aerial perspective, allowing the team to see how the whales coordinated their attack from the air.
Pallas’s cat, The Great Steppe, Mongolia
The Pallas’s cat has the densest fur of any cat which allows them to stay warm through the harsh Mongolian winter.
To film the Pallas’s cat the production team had to sit completely stationary in wooden hides for up to eight hours a day. It was so cold their sandwiches froze solid.
Siberian tiger, East Siberia, Russia
Even though tigers are the biggest of all the big cats they are incredibly wary, choosing often to walk behind the camera traps that were deployed to film them. It took over three years to finally capture them patrolling their huge 700 square mile territories on the hunt for black bears.
Musk Ox, Nunavut, Canada
Musk oxen give birth during spring just as grizzly bears emerge from hibernation, posing a great danger to their calves. At this time of year it can be light for almost 24 hours a day so, in order to film the herd, the lone camera operator followed it around the clock on his Skidoo, only taking short breaks to sleep. After three weeks he eventually filmed the predation event, which only lasted for just over two minutes.
Hooded seal, Greenland Sea
The hooded seal can inflate a large balloon like sac from its left nostril. This is done by shutting one nostril valve and inflating a membrane which then protrudes from the other nostril. It is the only animal to perform this extraordinary behaviour.
Polar bear, Russia and Svalbard, Norway
Some polar bears, as seen in this episode, use a technique known as ‘aquatic-stalking’ in which they sneak up on their prey and ambush from the water.
Calving glacier, Store glacier – Greenland
A whole fleet of light-weight fast-response drones were used to document ice calving from Store glacier in Greenland – a fast and ephemeral event.
This is the first time drones have been used in such a way to capture a full calving sequence for television. Aerial filming of glaciers has usually been done by helicopter.
- Emperor penguins – Atka Bay Antarctica
- Killer whales and Weddell seals – Antarctic peninsula, Antarctica
- Aerial scenic – Karakoum Mountains, Skardu, Pakistan
- Pallas’s cat, Mongolian gerbil, Brandt’s vole – Sukhbaatar Province, Mongolia
- Siberian tiger – Russian Far East (Land of the Leopard National Park)
- Musk deer, wild boar, Asiatic black bear – Durminskoye Forest reserve, Russia
- Brown bear, musk ox – Nunavut, Canada
- Hooded seal – West Ice, Greenland
- Melt lakes and moulins – Russell glacier / Greenland Ice Cap
- Glacier calving – Store glacier, Greenland
- Polar bears – Svalbard, Norway
Glacier calving filmed by fast-response drone fleet
To film calving glaciers from an aerial perspective the team used drones. The glacier in question, Store Glacier, measures 5km across and the team had to be on standby watching the glacier 24/7 for more than four weeks, ready to launch the drones whenever action seemed likely, within minute of activity starting.
Then the pilot had to fly the drone some 1.5 km across the ocean to reach the vast glacier before they could even get a shot.
High-altitude filming using a gyrostabilised helicopter-mounted camera in Pakistan
The incredible ice-covered mountains of the Karakorum range have seldom been filmed. The Frozen Planet II team gained access to fly with the Pakistani Military and document both the ice fields and the mythical mountain, K2. Flying at over 7,000m, this was one of the highest altitude aerial filming trips ever undertaken by the BBC Natural History Unit and the pilot and crew had to be on oxygen at all times.
Light-weight drone revealing new insights into killer whale ‘wave-washing’ behaviour
Lightweight drones allowed a new angle on their amazing co-ordinated hunting. Viewed from the air, the way they form waves becomes more apparent producing new insights for science as well as television.
The team also employed new pole cameras to give an underwater insight, where diving would have been too dangerous.
Q&A with Alex Lanchester, Producer
Introduce Frozen Worlds.
Frozen Worlds is the opening episode and it’s a journey from the bottom to the top of the planet. Along the way we’re revealing the incredible frozen worlds that exist all across it.
We start in Antarctica, the most hostile of all of them. Here we film two stories. The first story is about emperor penguin chicks fledging. Left by their parents they’re making their journey alone to the ice edge to get to the ocean and they have to go through a number of different challenges. It’s a classic, heroic tale featuring these individuals that seem to be quite ill equipped as, for instance, they can’t walk very far and they can’t climb things. It turns out to be a bit of a miracle that they get there in the end but, once they get to the water, you see that actually this is where they’re meant to be and, off they go, into the Antarctic Ocean.
Then we do our first story about killer whales ‘wave-washing’. There’s a second story about this behaviour later in the series. This is an incredible piece of behaviour where the killer whales come together as a family. Because the seals are hauled up on pieces of ice, they worked out a hunting strategy where they create a wave and wash the seal off the ice. It’s one of the most sophisticated hunting techniques there is. They calculate the number of seals there are, the size of the wave depending on how far away they are, the number of whales needed to create it, etc. Not dissimilar to elephants, the knowledge of how to hunt and the best places to hunt is stored in the matriarch who runs the family and can get to over 100 years old. She’s utterly crucial to the whole pod’s survival. We follow her and see how the others must learn from her.
Then we journey to the mountains in Central Asia, home to the Himalaya, the biggest frozen world away from the poles. The Karakoram range is in the far west of the Himalaya and has the highest concentration of snow and ice anywhere outside the poles. We’ve done an aerial shoot there where we go big on the huge mountain glaciers.
That leads us to look in the penumbra of the Himalaya where there are other, even more surprising, frozen worlds like a desert that’s covered in snow. Next to the desert is the steppe, a big grassland where we find our next character, the Pallas’s cat. It’s the fluffiest cat in the world and we have a comedy sequence about it trying to catch gerbils and messing it up. Its paws get so cold on the snow it has to wave them to get the blood circulating back again. This makes its presence known before it can actually pounce.
We continue further north to our next frozen world which is a story about Siberian tigers, incredibly rare and hard to film, that go looking for hibernating black bears. We rigged caves and pathways and we can see the tigers entering the caves to look for prey. That hasn’t been filmed before.
In the tundra we have a quite intense and gruesome story with a brown bear attacking a herd of muskox and targeting calves.
Then we travel upwards to the Arctic Ocean for a bit of light relief as we meet the hooded seal. Its way of fending off other males and appealing to females is blowing a red balloon, the size of its head, out of its nose. We film a juvenile male who’s not having any luck, though he’s trying very hard with the females.
And then finally we look at how Greenland, the world’s largest island in the Arctic Ocean, is being affected by climate change. This culminates in a big calving event, with big bits of ice falling off the front of the ice sheet. We look at how this is affecting the Arctic’s wildlife, specifically a family of polar bears, and how hunting is getting harder and harder for them.
What of all those stories was the hardest to film?
The camera operator who filmed the muskox story had to camp out on the Arctic in blizzard conditions. He towed behind him a garden shed on his Skidoo and he lived in that. Not only did he have to deal with subzero temperatures and high winds, but also there was a very hungry brown bear circling around him at the same time. So that was definitely one of the most extreme places anyone had to work. Personally, I did the aerial filming in the Karakoram. Not only was it cold, but we were above 7000 metres, filming some of the highest aerials ever filmed. The oxygen level was so low there that it’s probably the sickest I’ve ever felt. In addition, being in Kashmir, you have to work with the Pakistan military. We were using their helicopters so we had to divert to pick up casualties from the frontline and land on glaciers, 6500 metres up. They are incredible pilots but they push to the extreme what’s possible in flying a helicopter at high altitude.
What new technologies did you employ?
Drones have played a big role. ‘Wave-washing’ behaviour was actually captured in the original Frozen Planet but without that aerial perspective. This is about as remote as you can be in the Antarctic Peninsula: it would be hard to get a helicopter out there and a helicopter could disturb their behaviour. Drones allow you to see how those whales are coordinating. It means we’re able to bring new revelations. We’ve also had drones flying in new ways.
In order to capture how these environments are changing we’ve also undertaken a massive time lapse project across the production. We’ve been running time lapses from satellites in space to show the movement of ice in Greenland. And we’ve been putting cameras up on high altitude glaciers.
How will Frozen Worlds challenge people’s ideas of the frozen planet?
Our hope is that we can show people that the diversity of frozen habitats is huge. There’s a frozen habitat on every continent on Earth and we literally cover all the continents in this series. Hopefully people realise that they’re much closer to these places than they might think and that there’s a greater diversity of life and animals that relies on and lives in these worlds. As a side, hopefully, that will encourage people to keep protecting them. Because climate change doesn’t just affect the poles, it also affects all these other frozen worlds around the world. They’re all at risk.
Alex Lanchester Biography
Alex is the producer of both the Frozen Worlds & Frozen Peaks episodes of Frozen Planet II. In the 14 years that he has been working for the BBC’s Natural History Unit his passion to deliver ground-breaking stories has taken him from the sewers of Bangkok (Wild Cities) to the high peaks of the Himalaya (Mountains: Life at the Extreme). Alex has worked extensively at high altitude and specialises in filming in extreme environments, such as the Arctic Tundra (Alaska: Earths Frozen Kingdom) and the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea (Attenborough’s Paradise Birds).
For Frozen Planet II Alex travelled to Pakistan, to capture the splendour of the remote Karakorum mountains, deep into Greenland’s ice sheet to document the seismic changes occurring there due to climate change and to the far east of Russia to film the illusive Siberian Tiger.
Episode 2 – Frozen Ocean
In Frozen Ocean the series dives into a world of water and ice to reveal the animals which survive on and under the Arctic sea ice. It’s a seasonal story that begins in the depths of winter. This is a time of plenty for polar bears who can afford to play in the short winter days, through to the perils of spring as the sea ice breaks up, finally to its bountiful summer where visitors are drawn to the ocean from afar to feed up and breed.
A pod of beluga whales has been confined to an ice hole for five months risking starvation as the food around them runs out. In spring the sun melts the sea ice allowing their escape. And off the east coast of Greenland, the floating pack ice becomes a nursery ground for harp seals.
Summer is a time of plenty in the Arctic Ocean and plankton blooms feed millions of tiny skeleton shrimps and ancient bowhead whales. But today’s loss of sea ice is having a profound impact on these long-lived creatures. Every year they travel to secret locations, known as ‘whale spas’, and their vulnerable calves are now more likely than ever to be attacked by killer whales.
Full summer also brings 24-hour daylight to the Arctic attracting visitors from afar, including huge flocks of seabirds like crested auklets. For the resident walrus the summer heat can be unbearable and an old male uses an ingenious technique to get himself back to the cool of the water. And a mother polar bear finds herself stranded on a remote island full of threatening males as she struggles to feed her cubs.
Key Species and Stories
Polar bear playing, Svalbard, Norway
Polar bears are usually very solitary animals, so filming two young bears, a young male and a female bear, forging a surprising friendship and playing was a first for the camera team involved. The bears spent several hours together, seemingly dancing on ice.
Beluga whale, Russia and Canada
Entrapments of beluga whales are ephemeral and happen rarely, so it was incredible luck that the team was able to film it before the sea ice broke up. The last time the Natural History Unit filmed something like this was for the original Blue Planet, more than 20 years ago.
Narwhal and beluga share the same migration paths but interactions between these two closely related species are very rarely observed.
The behaviour filmed by Frozen Planet II is so special a scientific publication is underway based on our BBC footage.
Harp seal, Greenland Sea
Mothers and pups have just a few weeks together for the pups to learn to swim, before they are left to fend for themselves. But in today’s warming climate storms can tip helpless youngsters into the sea before they are strong enough to fend for themselves.
Skeleton shrimp, Norway
Quirky skeleton shrimp live across the Arctic. This is a species not filmed for television previously.
Bowhead whale, Russia and Canada
Bowheads can live to over 200 years old. Their special ‘spas’ have only been discovered relatively recently. Remote underwater ‘camera traps’ were developed to film these.
Killer whale, Russia
Killer whales are age-old predators of bowheads. With the loss of sea ice they are having an increased opportunity to target them as prey. Detail of the killer whale hunt new behaviour and footage filmed for the series is being used as part of scientific publications.
Crested auklets, Sivuqaq, St Lawrence Island, USA
Crested auklet mating displays have not broadcast since the original BBC Blue Planet series 20 years ago, and never in such detail.
Walrus, Atlantic Walrus
Walrus are characterful Arctic residents. In this episode we see an adult male using an ingenious technique to get himself in the cool of the water – a roly poly – a behaviour that has never been filmed for television.
Polar bear (mother and cub), Wrangel Island, Russia
Stranded by the lack of sea ice on which they usually feed, the remote outpost of Wrangel Island attracts more polar bears in summer than any other location. Due to the presence of a Russian Military base and extremely unpredictable logistics due to weather, this is an incredibly difficult location to film on. Filming was possible through the support of rangers and staff of the State Nature Reserve on the island.
Documenting the great melt of the Arctic sea
As spring finally reaches the north of the planet air temperatures creep above freezing. In order to film the annual retreat of the Arctic sea, Frozen Planet II filmed on a scale not attempted before, including using microscopes to film ice cracking, motion controlled time lapse tracks, repeated seasonal drone flights, and ultimately directed satellites to film a timelapse of the great melt on a global scale.
For millennia the Arctic Ocean has frozen over in the winter and then gradually melted throughout the spring and the summer. But in the last 40 years the extent of the summer sea ice has declined by 50%. Some predict that it’ll be ice free as early as 2035.
Episode 3 – Frozen Peaks
Frozen Peaks explores ice worlds born of altitude. Found on every continent, these icy ‘islands in the sky’ pose a range of challenges for the animals who choose to live there, from a mother chameleon who experiences the freezing conditions on a daily basis, to golden eagle parents who use extreme tactics to tackle their huge prey.
From Patagonia to the Atacama desert, to the foothills of the Himalayas, mountain ice worlds are home to a surprisingly diverse range of wildlife. We meet puma, flamingos and giant pandas who have all overcome adversity to make the icy mountains their home. In Japan we meet macaques who brave the snowiest conditions on Earth, and in New Zealand we meet the kea, a mountain parrot who through its intelligence uses the dangers of the mountains to its advantage.
And, filmed for the first time using racer camera drones, we experience first-hand what it is like to fly down the mountainside alongside an avalanche.
Key Species and Stories
High-casqued chameleon, Mount Kenya, Kenya
Many chameleon species lay eggs. Mount Kenya it is too cold for an egg to develop in the open so high-casqued chameleons give birth to live young which have developed inside the body of the mother, a process known as viviparity. This is the first time a high-casqued chameleon birth has been filmed for television.
Golden eagle, Gran Paradiso National Park, The Alps, Italy
Golden eagle mated pairs are known to hunt cooperatively. This can take the form of one individual flushing the prey from cover or distracting it, whilst the other makes the attack. For the first time on television, Frozen Planet II feature a pair making a successful kill on a chamois goat five times their weight.
Japanese macaque, Kamikochi Japanese Alps, Japan
Japanese macaques can live at altitudes up to 1,500m high in winter. During winter they gather in groups and huddle to reduce heat loss.
Kea, Southern Alps, New Zealand
The kea is one of, if not the most intelligent, bird species in the world. It has an incredibly varied diet and is known to eat over 200 species of plant and animals. They have been observed feeding on the carrion of Himalayan tahr, on Hutton’s shearwater chicks and eggs, mice, as well as domesticated sheep. Kea are social animals and have a call that instigates play behaviour. This call is infectious and can quickly spread throughout a flock. Play has been shown to help create strong bonds between individuals.
Puma, Torres Del Paine, Patagonia, Chile
New research suggests that pumas are not as solitary as first thought. They may share social patterns with more gregarious species like chimpanzees. Using the latest thermal camera technology the Frozen Planet II team was able to film them sharing a kill in the pitch black of night for the first time.
Chilean Flamingo, Atacama Desert, Chile
Flamingos can survive in seemingly inhospitable habitats such as in extreme colds and lakes so alkaline in pH it could burn human flesh off the bones.
Giant panda, China
Giant pandas are one of the world’s most fascinating vegetarians. Despite eating almost exclusively bamboo their digestive systems evolved to process meat. As they are not good at getting nutrition from bamboo they need to spend 10-16 hours a day eating. Giant pandas sometimes do ‘handstands’ to mark their scent. Pandas climb a tree backwards with their hind feet until they’re in a full handstand upside down enabling them to leave their scent higher up.
- African elephant, zebra – Amboseli National Park, Kenya
- Cattle egret, high-casqued chameleon, desert locust – Mount Kenya National Park, Kenya
- Golden eagle, chamois (Alpine) – Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy
- Japanese Macaque – Kamikochi & Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Japan
- Avalanche – Alberta, Canada
- Kea – Waitangi Forest Conservation Area, New Zealand
- Glacial ice flow – Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
- Puma, Guanaco – Laguna Amarga Estancia and Torres Del Paine, Patagonia, Chile
- Andean & Chilean Flamingo – Atacama desert, Chile
- Aerial scenics – Karakorum Mountains, Skardu, Pakistan
- Glacier lapsed time – Ferpècle Glacier, Gorner Glacier, Saint Annafirn Glacier, Morteratsch Glacier, Switzerland
- Glacier lapsed times – Quelccaya ice cap, Peru
- Giant panda – Wolong National Nature Reserve, China
Filming an avalanche with high speed FPV (first-person view) ‘racer’ drones
In order to keep pace with an avalanche and get closer to the action than ever before, the Frozen Planet II team used First Person View (FPV) drones. They are flown through a low latency video feed, monitored in VR style goggles. This technology allows the pilot a much better sense of the aircrafts proximity to the terrain and subject allowing the drone to be flown much closer to the action. FPV drones are also extremely fast with many models being able to exceed 100 mph. They are able to fly so fast because they are extremely light weight. In order to keep the weight down the Frozen Planet II team had to use the latest compact camera technology which also included a camera which was able to capture 360 degrees of vision. This camera allowed the team to choose the most immersive images from a variety of different camera angles all from just one flight. Frozen Planet II was the first television production to use FPV drones to film an avalanche.
Long term time-lapse cameras deployed to glaciers across the world
These were deployed so that the team could document changes in ice over the course of filming. Perhaps the most challenging were the cameras deployed on the Quelccaya glacier in the Peruvian Andes. To build a timelapse of glacial ice loss in the Andes the team needed to take a picture every hour of the day for the three years of production. The cameras were installed at an altitude of 5000m close to the Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru. After a 10 day trek, the cameras then had to be fastened to the rock before being attached to solar panels to provide power and hard drives to collect the data. The camera system was then programmed to run independently for three years. The equipment had to withstand the extreme conditions of being at high altitude whilst only receiving a service/check-up twice a year. This required the same 10 day trek and a week of acclimatisation every time the team needed to visit and check the memory cards.
Filming pumas at night with thermal cameras
The Frozen Planet II team used specialised heat sensitive cameras, originally designed for use in the military. Called ‘thermal cameras’, they capture wavelengths in the infrared spectrum allowing the team to film rare behaviours in the pitch black of night. The cameras weighed over 30kg which made it extremely challenging to carry across the steep terrain. To give them a fighting chance in keeping up with the pumas the team also deployed drones equipped with thermal cameras. This gave them an aerial perspective during the dark winter nights and enabled the ground team to be perfectly positioned to capture some extraordinary behaviour.
Episode 4 – Frozen South
Frozen South takes us to the most hostile ice world of all – Antarctica, an entire continent covered in snow and ice full of surprises. Here hardy animals cling around its coastal fringes. They sometimes do so in surprising numbers as on the island of South Georgia where, even in winter, colonies of king penguins number in their thousands. We meet lonely albatross forming unexpected male-male pairs as there are no longer enough females to bond with, before journeying across the Southern Ocean to meet the largest animal on earth – giant Antarctic blue whales. These are seldom seen, let alone filmed. Under the sea ice we meet a mother Weddell seal who must defend her pup from the attractions of an amorous male.
Antarctica too is undergoing great changes. We meet chinstrap penguins struggling to raise their chicks in a warming world and reveal how Antarctica’s unique ‘wave-washing’ killer whales are having to adapt to new sources of prey. We finish with a journey into Antarctica’s interior, a seemingly barren landscape entirely cloaked in ice. But beneath the ice cap lie hidden secrets: entire mountain ranges with just their peaks emerging where snow petrels dare to nest, and smoking volcanoes in one of the most volcanically active regions on Earth. Remarkably, here too, there is a vast desert and a freshwater lake buried deep within the ice, home to some of the planet’s most primitive lifeforms.
Key Species and Stories
King penguin, South Georgia island
The Frozen Planet II team visited the island of South Georgia in September and discovered the king penguins making a mile-long march across a snowy hill to get to the ocean, a behaviour never documented before. This is also a time when unusually large gatherings of leopard seals can be seen patrolling bays where the king penguins are coming and going to collect food for their chicks. King penguins are the only penguins to breed through winter on the island.
Antipodean wandering albatross, Antipodes Island, NZ
Albatross are typically very monogamous birds spending many decades with the same life partner. In the Antipodes Islands more and more males are forming same-sex partnerships. It’s a result of the male and female birds foraging in different parts of the Southern Ocean. They get caught and drown on the hooks used by industrial fishing fleets. This behaviour has not yet been seen in other species of wandering albatross and has never been filmed for television before.
Antarctic blue whale, Southern Ocean
This is the largest species of blue whale. It has rarely been filmed and never been filmed for a TV documentary.
When filming with the blue whales the director directed the shoot from the UK.
Weddell seal, Ross Sea
A female fighting off the amorous advances of a male Weddell seal has never been filmed for television before. The Frozen Planet II team were the very first to be given permission to use rebreather technology for filming in this location. This story would not have been possible to film using traditional Scuba techniques which produce bubbles.
Chinstrap penguin, Deception Island, Antarctic Peninsula
Chinstraps, like their cousins the Adelies, used pebbles to make nests to keep their chicks off the water-logged ground. With increased meltwater and rainy conditions due to a warming Antarctica to make things worse, today we find chicks shivering with hypothermia.
Killer whale, Antarctic Peninsula
Filming with a drone provided an entirely new perspective on the intricate coordination that the killer whales use during their attack. But the great revelation was how they are being forced to change their behaviour.
Snow petrel, Svarthamaren Mountain, Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica
The snow petrel is the most southerly nesting of any bird. It flies many hundreds of miles inland to breed on ‘nunatak’ mountain peaks, on the Antarctic mainland. Competition for next sites is high and projectile vomit is deployed when fights for nest sites gets nasty.
Stromatolites – Lake Untersee, Gruber Mountains, central Queen Maud Land, Antarctica
These unique stromatolites are formed by multiple species of cyanobacteria including Phormidium autumnale and Leptolynbya antarctica. This lake has only been discovered in the last 13 years.
Behind The Scenes
Getting to Antarctica is logistically difficult and the Frozen Planet II team economised by keeping crew on the ground longer to cover multiple sequences. The longest filming trip of all was undertaken by Assistant Producer, Yolly Bosiger, who spent three months on location in McMurdo to cover multiple stories.
- Scenery and king penguins – St Andrews Bay, South Georgia:
- King penguins & leopard seals – Right whale Bay, South Georgia
- Antipodean wandering albatross – Antipodes Island New Zealand
- Antarctic blue whale – Southern Ocean
- Chinstrap penguins – Deception Island, Antarctic Peninsula
- Killer whales, Adelie penguin, Crabeater seals, leopard seals – Antarctic Peninsula
- Weddell seal – Ross Sea, Antarctica
- Snow petrels – Svarthamaren Mountain, Dronning Maud Land
- Lake Untersee stromatolites – Gruber Mountains, Queen Maud Land
In Antarctica light-weight drones enabled the team to gain a never-seen-before perspective on the incredible ‘wave-washing’ behaviour of killer whales.
In extremely remote regions such as the Southern Ocean the light-weight drone was also key to success in capturing cinematic imagery of Antarctic blue whales, made possible only by the support of an Australian Antarctic Division scientific expedition to study these seldom-seen animals.
With the support of the United States Antarctic Program, the Frozen Planet II team pioneered the use of rebreather diving technology for filming at McMurdo Research Station and its nearby population of Weddell seals. Weddell seals use bubbles to communicate so only by using this high-tech non-bubble-producing diving equipment could the underwater team capture their natural behaviour.
At Lake Untersee rebreathers allowed the team to stay underwater for up to 90 minutes at a time whilst they filmed its unique stromatolite formations. This was key to accomplishing the sequence as there were limited diving opportunities due to the extreme weather at this site.
To get cinematic tracking shots of king penguins on South Georgia, the Frozen Planet II team used remote-controlled all-terrain buggy capable of carrying the significant weight of a gyros-stabilised camera system known as a Cinewagon. This was capable of tracking over unforgiving terrain of the beaches of South Georgia to film its colony of king penguins.
Episode 5 – Frozen Lands
The Frozen Lands episode takes us back to the far North of the planet where we enter the largest land-habitat on Earth, home to great Boreal forests and the barren tundra. This vast wilderness is governed by its seasonal extremes. In winter, by working together in a super pack of 25, wolves survive tackling American bison. This is the only prey available to them at this time of year. Further north, on the featureless tundra, a solitary Arctic fox must strike a living alone head diving for lemmings hidden deep underground. In Siberia’s remote forests camera traps reveal rare Amur leopards on the prowl and, in its footsteps, an even larger big cat, the Siberian tiger.
As spring arrives both the forest and tundra transform. This is the trigger for baby painted turtles, frozen in a state of suspended animation, to thaw and ‘return’ to life. It is also the trigger for a Lapland bumblebee ‘snow queen’ to similarly defrost and begin rebuilding her colony. Snowy owls also use the open tundra to breed and one pair have raised a nest full of fluffy chicks.
Finally, in high summer, we see the effects of climate change on the tundra itself as huge scars in the landscape open up as the frozen land thaws for the very first time. These changes are impacting the life of caribou, one of the icons of the North.
Key Species and Stories
Wolf, Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada
Wolves are highly social and can exist as super packs in some parts of the world. The largest super pack ever recorded was over 40 strong, but 25 is a very high number to be filmed. A super pack is formed by several family generations coming together in the harsh winter. And when taking down bison, having more hunting help is an advantage.
American bison, Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada
The largest land mammal on the continent of North America and the wolf’s greatest adversary. Bulls can weigh 1000kg and have horns that could rip any attacker to pieces.
Arctic fox, Nunavut, Canada
They are much smaller and more compact than other members of the fox family. This helps them to reduce heat loss due to lower total body surface area. They depend on lemmings as their main food source in inland areas creating a tight-knit predator-prey relationship between them. Like polar bears, Arctic foxes have a darker skin pigmentation underneath their fur coating. This is better at absorbing and retaining heat. Their fur changes colour seasonally – white in winter and grey in summer. With the ability to physically adapt to survive winter, Arctic foxes do not need to hibernate.
Northern collared lemming, Nunavut, Canada
Like the fox, this lemming’s coat changes from brown to white at the onset of winter as light levels decrease. They forge a living under the snow in ‘subnivean tunnels’. Their claws grow longer in preparation for a winter of digging through the snow to reach vegetation to eat. Their tunnels can extend up to 15m. Lemming populations are cyclical and can be susceptible to a warming world. Rain on snow events in winter can freeze lemmings under the snow and cause a population to crash.
Boreal forest, spruce trees, Norway
The Boreal forest is the largest forest on Earth containing some 750 million trees. It circles the globe from North America and Canada, across Europe and into Russia.
Amur leopard, Far Eastern Russia
With as few as 120 individuals in the wild, the Amur leopard is the rarest big cat in nature. Thanks to the dedication of scientists and rangers in Russia’s Far East, the populations have almost tripled in the last ten years. Cubs are reported each year and there is hope for the recovery of the species. Amur leopards have rarely been filmed in the wild previously.
Siberian tiger, Far Eastern Russia
There are around 500 individuals in the wild. They are three meters long from nose to tail tip. Their tail measure 1m alone and they have claws 10cm long. In the Russian Far East they share some of their range with the smaller Amur leopard.
Painted turtle, USA & Canada
It’s the most northerly turtle. Painted turtle hatchlings that hatch in autumn remain in their nest chambers and become frozen solid at the onset of winter. Their hearts stop and their brains are only faintly active.
Lapland bumble bee, Sweden
Each Lapland bumblebee queen is the sole survivor of a colony that perished in the cold of winter. She spends nine months completely frozen protected only by her thick fur, a natural anti-freeze, as well as her larger size. When spring arrives she must race against time to build her colony and reproduce before winter returns.
Snowy owls, Alaska, USA
It’s one of the heaviest owl species on the continent of North America with a wingspan of 4-5ft. Their feet are covered with feathers which provide ample insulation for the cold Arctic climate. Their powerful wings help them silently sneak up on or accelerate after prey. The Arctic summer forces snowy owls to hunt by daylight. Unlike most owls that are nocturnal, snowy owls are diurnal. The number of chicks they have depends on the availability of food, particularly the lemming population status.
Caribou, Alaska USA
Caribou, known as reindeer in Northern Europe, are the most widespread terrestrial herbivores in the Arctic and they can live in herds 200,000 strong. Caribou undertake one of the longest land migrations of any mammal, migrating between their winter feeding and summer calving grounds. Over the past two decades overall abundance of reindeer and caribou has declined 56 percent, from a total estimated population of 4.7 million individuals to about 2.1 million individuals.
Grizzly bear, Alaska, USA
Due to climate change grizzly bears are expanding their range into areas that historically have not seen their presence. Reports have been made in recent years of grizzlies making their way to the Canadian High Arctic, an area that was once limited to the polar bear.
Behind The Scenes
When filming caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, the team took advantage of 24-daylight conditions by using solar power to charge batteries. The solar panel kit was good enough to daily charge four cameras, four laptops and two satellite phones every day for four weeks.
- Wolf and bison – Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada
- Lemmings & Arctic fox – Nunavut, Canada
- Peel plateau permafrost slumps – Northwest Territories, Canada
- Scenery & aerials – Boreal forest (various), Finland
- Amur Leopard & Siberian tiger – Land of the Leopard, Russia
- Lapland bumblebee – Abisko National Park, Sweden
- Caribou & grizzly bear – Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, USA
- Snowy owls – Utqiaġvik (Barrow), USA
- Painted turtles – Northern forest, USA & Canada
Extreme low-light filming with the Lapland bumble bee
Working in conjunction with bee scientists, the team used a new low-light sensitive 6K camera called the ‘Mavo’ to reveal the secret life of the Lapland bumble bee as she emerged from her underground burrow and raised her brood. This happens in total darkness so the team needed a camera which could capture enough detail without disturbing the queen.
The result was a new insight into this remarkable animal’s behaviour which resulted in a scientific paper being published.
Filming permafrost slumps thawing with GPS-programmed drone technology
Permafrost has been frozen since the last ice age and, by definition, should be ‘permanently frozen’. However as Arctic summers on the tundra now reach temperatures warm enough to thaw the normally frozen ground, the ground itself is collapsing.
GPS-programmed drone technology allowed the Frozen Planet II team to fly specific routes multiple times to capture the landscape changing over several months and was used for the first time to film permafrost slumps thawing and developing over a matter of weeks.
The technology captured the speed of change of a landscape that would previously only be able to be measured with data points, adding to the scientific understanding of this newly emerging phenomenon.
High-definition remote camera traps revealing the lives of rare and secretive cats
High-definition remote camera traps captured the very rare Amur leopard and Siberian tigers in their wild habitat. Working in conjunction with local rangers, and with advice from a local wildlife photographer, the team were able to document the lives of these rare and secretive cats and for the first time reveal the two species living, and even walking, in each other’s footprints.
Episode 6 – Our Frozen Planet
Today Earth’s frozen regions are undergoing unprecedented change. In Our Frozen Planet we meet the scientists and people dedicating their lives to documenting these changes and understanding their impact, not just on the lives of the animals and people who live there, but on the planet as a whole.
Key Species and Stories
Harp seal, Canada and Greenland
Harp seal mothers give birth to their young on sea ice in specific regions of the Arctic, including the Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada, and the West Ice off Greenland. The pups rely on the sea ice for the first six weeks of life, firstly suckling milk from their mother and then using it as a platform to haul out on while they build up muscle for swimming. In today’s Arctic, where storms can cause sea ice to break up sooner in spring, whole cohorts of pups are being lost to the ocean as they are tipped off the ice into the ocean before they are ready.
Polar bear, Russia and Svalbard, Norway
Polar bears are the icons of the Arctic. They rely on the sea ice to hunt seals. Longer ice-free summers mean more and more are being forced to come to land to find food like those which end up on Wrangel island in Russia, which has one of the densest populations of polar bears on Earth.
- Glaciers calving – Store glacier, Greenland
- Harp seal science – Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada
- Polar bear science – Wrangel Island, Russia
- Methane seeping from Lakes – Alaska – Fairbanks surrounds, USA
- Glacier survey – Ngozumpa glacier, Nepal
- Penguin science – Torgeson and Livingston Islands, Antarctica
- Thwaites Glacier Research Project – Thwaites ice shelf, Antarctica
- International Space Station (kindly filmed with thanks to NASA)
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