Filmmakers Criticised For Intervening with Trapped Penguins in Antarctica

A film crew have found themselves amid controversy, after they “broke with convention” and interfered when a group of penguins got stuck during filming for David Attenborough’s new BBC series.

It’s typically frowned upon in the industry for film crews to intervene with nature, but the Dynasties series crew took action upon noticing a number of penguins were stuck in a ravine. The incident took place on location in Antarctica.

After harsh weather conditions had trapped the birds, the crew took on the task of digging a make-do ramp by which they could use to escape, in what BBC Earth are now calling an “unprecedented move.” It is believed the animals would die without involvement from the crew.

Doug Allan, a veteran wildlife cameraman, said: “If [for example] you’re watching a predator and prey relationship, the key thing is your presence must not influence the outcome.” He added that in this situation, the camera crew didn’t spook the penguins. Picking them up would have caused significant stress, but “all [the crew] did was create an escape route for them.” 

Despite noting the incident was a “very unusual situation,” Mike Gunton, the executive producer of the series, defended the crew. “In the 30 years I’ve been doing this, it’s one of the very few occasions when we’ve ever done anything like this […] you wouldn’t interfere because of all sorts of consequences [such as] changing the dynamics of the natural system. But, in this particular situation, none of those things applied.”

What are your thoughts?

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28 Comments

Leigh Miller's picture

Tough call....I would have done the same even though I see the other side.

I ran over a school of ducklings crossing a stretch of highway a few years back. I couldn't slow down or stop because of the traffic speed (bumper to bumper). I've never gotten over that.

Lorretta Clarke's picture

U could argue that humans are animals and that animals of different species do help each other.

Ryan Luna's picture

Perhaps the photogs presence in the first place drove the birds to that ravine, so i'll give it a pass.

Seamus O'Hara's picture

What criticism? What controversy?

An "unprecedented move" is generally accepted as being a good thing.

There were no predators involved so the only relevant remark Doug Allan made was that they didn't spook the penguins.

Mike Gunton defended the crew.

Basically you summarized ( mostly copy-pasted ) the article on the Guardian without really adding anything except a click bait title and a dramatic first sentence. If you go back and take a quick look at the sub-heading on the Guardian you'll notice it reads: "Wildlife documentary experts defend crew’s decision to help trapped birds".

It's okay to take a different stance and oppose all of these professionals but you forgot to add your argument, or anything really.

David Moore's picture

At least they didn't import them to a non-native area and make them jump off a cliff.

Matthias Kirk's picture

The BBC is kinda notorious for having staged dramatic wildlife footage.
What David is referring to is the lore of lemmings committing suicide which is pure fiction that originated from Disney's nature documentary "White Wilderness" where the production team imported lemmings to Canada, where they were thrown/chased off a cliff :/

WHAT?? OMG!! Thanks for the info.

Seamus O'Hara's picture

I definitely believed that lemmings did that after growing up playing the "Lemmings" computer game!

Thank you for actually adding something to this story!

Matthias Kirk's picture

That were my exact same thoughts.

Michael Jin's picture

Not a predation event. Not an event likely to adversely affect the behavior of the wildlife. I think you'd have to be a heartless POS to level criticism at the crew for preventing these completely unnecessary deaths.

Jack Alexander's picture

Hello and welcome to the internet, you must be new here

Michael Jin's picture

Since 1994. 😁✌

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

As far as I agree with most of the comments (not a predation event), no additional stress to the animals (they didn't pick them up or so) you mentioned one thing, that is actually very important IMO. What is a "necessary death"? Especially for wildlife?

All their deaths happen in a circumstances, when an animals skills and experience can't help him to overcome an unpredicted, possibly fatal situations (like predator attack, falling down to the precipice, eating something poisoning, etc.). It happens all the time - we just don't see that.

I think this whole affair is more about "should we intervene at all, or leave nature to it's doings"? After all - it's only "unnecessary death" for us. Nature follow its paths, and everything is connected together. It's like a butterfly effect. We may think it's a "small deal" and "there weren't really any consequences" but maybe they would be? I can't really say, because I'm not a penguin specialist, nor did I was present at the place of event. But that leaves me with some uncertainty - "what if..."? Maybe that's why some people are so appalled because of this.

Michael Jin's picture

Well, to the extent that we are animals ourselves, we are part of "nature" as far as I'm concerned so human beings being driven by their conscience to help out other creatures is up there with dolphins driven by whatever drives them to sometimes ward off the occasional shark attack on a human.

Given the extent of "unnatural" destruction we rain down upon wildlife and how our activities force massive changes in everything from habitats to migration patterns, I think helping a few penguins find their way out of an unfortunate jam is a step in the right direction.

Anyone who is appalled by this should turn their concerns elsewhere.

Just my 2 cents.

Tim Ericsson's picture

I’ll allow it!

Jeff McCollough's picture

The did a good deed.

SERIOUSLY? That's just bs. If you don't help them.. You're inhuman. I despise those kind of ppl. It's okay to kill and destroy.. BUT DON'T SAVE because it's unnatural...smh..No.

With the predator and prey argument, helping the prey is not helping the predator which has itself and young to feed, but in this incident it’s just an unfortunate ‘natural disaster’ (localised small scale) so giving humanitarian help (so to speak ;)) was the right thing to do. Well done to that crew 👍

Dan Marchant's picture

1. So now dumb penguins survive to dumb down the gene pool.
2. Some predator that would have found them and eaten is denied their meal and starves...
3. The Thing, which is gestating in one of the penguins will now survive and kill every person on the planet... except Kurt.

Seamus O'Hara's picture

hahaha and penguins evolve to trap themselves by accident leading to a mass extinction of penguins. Wouldn't that be interesting.

Bruce Neeka's picture

even if its 1 off case still its interferring with nature. did human caused birds being trapped if no - let the nature decide.

Robert Trerice's picture

In the film "Antarctica: A Year on Ice" I believe there is a section where there is a seal trapped inland and the people working at the facilities are forbidden to interfere with the course of nature. Helping the animals there is certainly a moral dilemma between nature running its course and human compassion.

The crew did a good thing and it's also the right thing here. Bravo guys. End of story.

16mm Camera's picture

Judge the situation, doubt they would have been eaten and alive and alive and breeding penguins make better prey for nature anyway. I would have saved them absolutely given the circumstances.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

Wrong? You find a beached whale or dolphin, how wrong is it to help them back to the open waters?