Great gray owl in flight.
One of the largest owls in the world, with a wingspan of between four and five feet, this bird is often referred to as the "great gray ghost" or the "phantom of the north" as it is so reclusive. Unlike dark-eyed nocturnal owls, it has distinctive piercing eyes, which may be an adaptation to hunting by day. In Frozen Planet, the great gray owl hunts for voles in the taiga — an unbroken belt of forest stretching 7,000 miles around the top of the planet.
Aerial view of meltwater lake on Greenland's ice sheet.
This sapphire blue meltwater lake "formed in a matter of days, was several miles wide and carved a meltwater channel through the ice that eventually plunged a vertical mile into the heart of the Greenland ice sheet," says Frozen Planet series producer Vanessa Berlowitz, who took the photograph. "Although tempting to go for a dip in the middle of the day, it was sobering to think that you could get sucked out and swept down the moulin (a well-like shaft in the glacier). Several weeks later, a crack appeared on the lake bed and the entire lake drained into the ice sheet in a matter of hours."
Gentoo penguin surfing on a wave.
Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) are masterful surfers. The Frozen Planet team filmed them in high speed using a Phantom camera as they came ashore to feed their young.
Underwater life beneath Antarctic ice, McMurdo Sound.
Below 100 feet, the Antarctic seabed is safe from the scouring action of "anchor ice." The ocean floor is covered with giant sponges that can grow up to 6 feet tall and are as much as 1,000 years old.
Gray wolves hunting wood bison in Northern Canada.
After hours of harrying them, the wolf pack forces the wood bison herd to stampede. Their hope is that a yearling will fall behind. This yearling's fate was actually sealed by another member of the herd (right) which ran headlong into it.
Humpback whale dives for krill amidst thousands of shearwaters.
"It's mid-summer in the Bering Sea, off Alaska's Aleutian Islands," recalls Frozen Planet director and cameraman Chadden Hunter. "Cold water and long sunny days lead to some of the richest seas in the world. Humpbacks have travelled for months from Hawaii, while short-tailed shearwaters have traveled the length of the planet from Australia. The two are so busy gorging on the summer bonanza they barely get out of each other's way. Filming from the boat, we watched shearwaters accidentally fly straight into the side of breaching whales, and humpbacks accidentally swallow and spit out shearwaters! This is the largest gathering of seabirds on the planet — 18 million."
Early morning view of Antarctica's Mount Erebus.
Mount Erebus is Antarctica's only continuously active volcano, and the most southerly active volcano on the planet. "On still days the gas plume is hardly visible," recalls Frozen Planet series producer Vanessa Berlowitz. "The aerial crew waited eight weeks in order to get this clear view of the top of the volcano, which was often shrouded in cloud and extremely treacherous to fly around."
An orca drags an exhausted Weddell seal to its death.
This photograph was taken after a three-hour team hunt during which the entire orca pod cooperated to dispatch the seal. The hunt began with the orcas (aka killer whales) creating giant waves that washed the Weddell seal from its initial ice floe. The orca pod then sideswiped the seal with their tails, blew bubbles to confuse it, rolled any ice floe the seal clambered onto, and eventually dragged the seal to its death. Such lengthy hunts are in part training exercises for the younger members of the pod, but they also ensure that the seal is exhausted and won't turn around and attack. Early Antarctic explorer Robert Scott witnessed these hunts over 100 years ago. Scientists today think they may be the most complex team hunts in the natural world.
A massive pack of gray wolves hunts bison in the Arctic Circle.
"It's mid-winter in Northern Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park, and temperatures hover around -40°F," recalls Frozen Planet director and cameraman Chadden Hunter. "A massive northern gray wolf pack, led by the alpha female, travels single file through the deep snow to save energy. The size of the pack — 25 members strong — is a sign of how rich their prey base is during winter, when the wood bison are restricted by poor feeding and deep snow. The wolves in this park are the only ones in the world that specialize in hunting bison, which are 10 times their size. On this diet, they have grown to be the largest and most powerful wolves on earth."
Male polar bear, showing battle scars, follows female.
The male polar bear in this photograph (left) weighs twice as much as the female he follows. The Frozen Planet crew filmed their entire courtship over a fortnight, capturing extraordinarily intimate and tender moments between the two bears. During this time the male had to defend his mating rights by fighting off at least 10 rivals. By the end of the two weeks he was covered in blood — a small price to pay to guarantee that the cubs his mate will give birth to in nine months are his. The battle-scarred male eventually limped away into the sunset to return to his solitary life, never to see his mate again.
A southern sea lion chases a gentoo penguin onto land
Southern sea lions normally eat fish, but they like penguins too. Here a sea lion attempts a land assault to catch a gentoo penguin. The two are champion swimmers, but they're equally unsuited for a foot race.
Aerial view of humpback whale amongst shearwaters
This picture was taken at the largest gathering of seabirds on the planet: 18 million short-tailed shearwaters off the coast of Alaska in the Aleutians. The shearwaters and humpback whales are after huge schools of krill and herring.