King penguins silhouetted at dawn, South Georgia.
King penguins are the second largest penguin species, weighing up to 35 pounds. They eat small fish — mainly lanternfish and squid — and repeatedly dive to over 300 feet to find lunch. There are an estimated 2.23 million pairs of king penguins in Antarctica, with numbers increasing. "Our crew spent a month with them," says Frozen Planet cameraman Ian McCarthy, "and although this picture looks serene, the noise was deafening!"
Orca spyhopping near Adélie penguins.
An orca, or killer whale, "spy hops" to get a view of the surrounding ice, while Adélie penguins scurry away. While some orcas eat penguins, this orca eats fish. Spy hopping allows this orca and its pod to work out which cracks in the ice lead towards the coast and better fishing. Recent DNA analysis suggests that fish-eating orcas may in fact be a completely separate species from orcas that prey on seals.
Elephant seals battle among king penguins.
A male southern elephant seal viciously defends his mating rights against a challenger on South Georgia Island. This Antarctic island is also home to over 100,000 breeding pairs of king penguins. Male elephant seals can weigh up to four tons. The "beach master" controls a stretch of beach and all the female elephant seals there, but to keep his harem, he has to fight for it. A beach master may have to defend his harem every hour for a full month.
Polar bear mother nursing two cubs.
An unusual aerial perspective of a wild polar bear mother nursing her newborn cubs. Her milk reserves are running low, as she has not eaten for five months while in the den.
Woolly bear caterpillar freezing over winter.
This caterpillar's heart has stopped beating, it has stopped breathing and its body has frozen solid — first its gut, then its blood. Animals freeze to death when sharp ice crystals form in their cells, but the woolly bear caterpillar produces a type of antifreeze to stop that from happening. In spring, this caterpillar "rises from the dead" to eat more, then when winter arrives it finds a spot under a rock and freezes again. This cycle continues for many years; most caterpillars live for less than a month, but the woolly bear caterpillar lives for 14 years before it becomes a moth. No other life better sums up the problems of surviving in the Arctic, where summers are brief and there is so little time to feed up before winter.
Arctic wolf with pup.
An Arctic wolf protects her pup outside their den on Canada's Ellesmere Island. Wolves born into High Arctic packs have a precarious life ahead of them if they are to grow big enough to survive their first winter. The scarcity of prey on the tundra means wolf packs in the High Arctic are smaller here than they are further south.
Black-browed albatross off the coast of South Georgia.
Albatrosses have the largest wingspan of any bird (between 8 and 12 feet) and spend most of their life at sea, returning to land only to mate and feed their chicks. After a chick fledges, it won't come to land for five years.
Mother polar bear leads her cubs across the sea ice.
This female polar bear hasn't eaten for five months. She's lost half her body weight giving birth to and nursing her cubs in a snowy den high on a mountain slope. She now leads her cubs to the sea ice, where she will need to hunt ringed seals to keep herself and her family alive. Only one of her two cubs is likely to survive to adulthood; life on the sea ice is unforgivably tough.
The first Arctic sunrise of the year.
The first sunrise of the year in the High Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway, on February 15 or 16. The sun has lain hidden beneath the horizon for several months. Its return marks the beginning of spring, bringing with it the warmth and light that makes life possible for many native and migrating species. However, temperatures still average around -4°F at this time of year.
A frozen Arctic river flows after 6 months locked in ice.
The immense release of fresh water from the Arctic's waterways into the Arctic Ocean triggers the annual sea ice melt in spring — and fuels the mass migration of fish, birds and whales. These great rivers transport more than 1,200 cubic miles of nutrient-rich freshwater. This represents 10 percent of the world's freshwater runoff, fertilizing the Arctic Ocean and reducing its overall salinity. As the floodwaters from the melt rush through towns, they carry thousands of tons of ice, causing millions of dollars worth of damage to Canada every year.
Narwhals wait for sea ice to break up.
In Arctic Canada, narwhals — the "unicorns of the sea" — wait impatiently for sea ice to break up. They are keen to reach the fertile fishing grounds locked in Canada's icy bays, but can only do so when temporary fissures in the ice, called leads, open up.