David Attenborough is one of the best presenters of nature documentaries in the business. His easygoing style is able to communicate both information and interest and the organizations he works with, usually, the BBC, do a first rate job on the filming. This project is no exception.
LIFE IN THE FREEZER examines life in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic. Necessarily, this mostly involves pinnipeds and birds but he makes an effort to give a broad survey of life in all of its diversity ranging from lichens to great whales and humans. What controls the lives of every organism in this hellish environment is the ice. The yearly cycle of the ice retreating and advancing controls everything from feeding to mating to watching feeding and mating. It is a harsh environment and, again, the footage is superb.
The DVD consists of a miniseries of 6 half hour episodes. Each has a central theme and is presented below:
The Bountiful Sea -This episode takes place mostly north of the permanent ice but starts off with an explanation of how ice controls everything. From there, the food chain is examined and, in the Antarctic, that almost always leads back to the organism called krill. Almost everything eats it or eats something else that has eaten it. After review the basics, the action moves north to South Georgia Island which lies above the permanent ice. The birds examined in this one are able to get ashore whenever they like. The primary foci are humpback whales, krill, wandering albatross and King penguins.
The Ice Retreats - Each year, the ice retreats south and this allows most of the wildlife to begin its mating cycles. Even species that are mostly marine need land for mating and real estate is at a premium as are females. Everyone is in a hurry to get started with the business of mating because there is limited time before the ice returns and the rearing needs to be completed before it does. Much of this episode also takes place in the sub-Antarctic but it moves from there to the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Race to Breed - For a species to succeed, it must be able to reproduce. This is no easy matter in any environment but the rigors of the polar environment just add to the difficulty. The various species have differing individual strategies but they almost all have one thing in common: Beat the Ice. In addition to fur seals, chinstrap penguins, and leopard seals, the lives of insects, crustaceans and plants are examined.
The Door Closes - As winter gets closer, the wildlife in the Antarctic has to prepare for the long and cold times ahead. The last of the kids have to be made somewhat self sufficient and everyone has to get where there will be adequate food and shelter. For most species, this means moving north for a change of habitat and behavior. The ones who lag behind are apt to face dire consequences.
The Big Freeze - Winter is the big challenge for all life in the extreme south. Most species head further north but two have adapted to live out the worst of the cold on the continent itself. Weddel seals pup and then organize themselves to keep breathing holes open in the ice. They stay the course along the edge of the continent. Emperor Penguins do one step further. They actually hatch their eggs during the worst of it and have adapted a strategy to survive. I suppose it helps that there are no predators around with which they have to worry.
Footsteps in the Snow - Man is a latecomer to the far south. This episode goes over some very brief points of the original explorations and then examines how man has had to adapt to live and work down there. It also provides some fascinating footage on how this documentary series was shot and assembled. Although it is light on the natural history aspect of things, it is no less interesting.