Everyone knows the tottering birds who waddle around on the ice in their classic tuxedo-like garb. But there are actually 18 species of penguins and they aren’t all found in frigid climates.
A new episode of “Nature” on PBS features every penguin species, following their antics from Antarctica to New Zealand, Cape Town to the Galapagos Islands.
In “Penguins: Meet the Family,” there’s footage of emperor penguin chicks taking their first steps, a mother rockhopper penguin escaping from a sea lion, and African penguins cross streets during rush hour, as they head to their nests in backyard gardens.
Doug Mackay-Hope, executive producer of the documentary and of the BBC Natural History unit, talked to Treehugger about the program.
Treehugger: What was the impetus for the show? Why penguins?
Doug Mackay-Hope: Penguins are one of the most beloved animal families on the planet and yet few people know how many species there are or what extraordinary lives they live—so they were a perfect choice. We love bringing you animals that you might think you know a lot about and then go on to reveal a whole new world to you—and the penguin family are full of surprises.
What were some of the more fascinating things you unearthed during research and filming? Do you have favorite moments?"
Lots of favorite moments—but I loved learning about the ‘catastrophic moult’ of the king penguins on the Falkland Islands. They come ashore after months at sea, fishing—rock up the beach and then in a huge colony every bird loses every feather from their bodies. They look a shambles, half-plucked and a little disgruntled. Then in just two weeks they regrow a whole new coat, before strolling back out to tackle the harsh Southern Ocean once more dressed in their best—looking magnificent.
We tend to think of penguins living in the snow and ice, but where were some of the places you went for filming?
In this film you will see that is not true. Of course many do—but penguins can be found on the equator, in deserts and in fact more species live in New Zealand than any other country. Like I said this is a film full of surprises!
After learning so much about all the penguin species and filming them, did you come away with a favorite?
This is hard as they are all amazing in their own different ways, so it’s hard to pick a favorite, but the emperors do something that not a single other living animal on Earth achieves—surviving an Antarctic winter—so they are the ones I definitely have the most respect for. But the whole family delivers wonder and surprise in their own little ways.
How did the cameras respond to the crew? Were some more curious than others or were you always filming so far away that they didn't detect your presence?
One of the best things about penguins is that they are pretty fearless. They can’t live in places with any land predators as they are so vulnerable when nesting—so they have developed the habit of nesting on the very edges of the world, often alone—or with other penguin species. So this means that they have developed almost no fear of us humans and often it is the crew that have to keep their distance so not to disturb. But most of the time they don’t care—or worse are so curious they are into everything. This of course means they just go about their business and we can go about ours filming their wonderful lives.
Nature: Penguins: Meet the Family airs on PBS and the PBS video app.
Askew, Nick. "List of Penguin Species." Birdlife International.
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