A penguin couple attempting to stage a “chick-napping” after losing their own baby. Another penguin flipping its tail under to keep its egg from freezing. A hungry predator that thought it had picked up dinner instead inadvertently became the first bird to capture an aerial-view shot.
These are just some of the incredibly rare penguin moments caught on cameras filmmakers hid inside life-sized animatronic penguins and then placed among colonies of the real marine birds. There are 17 species of penguin worldwide and these robots look and move like the real thing.
“They have cameras in their eyes and they can get really close to the animals, the penguins, and they can get these kinds of shots that are really in the penguins works and also capture extraordinary behavior,” producer-director John Downer said.
Downer, with producer Phillip Dalton, used the spy-cam embeds to capture unprecedented footage for their new documentary, “Penguins: Waddle All the Way,” which premieres on the Discovery Channel Saturday 9 p.m. ET.
“The cameras actually caught the moment the egg came round and you saw the tail flip round protecting the egg, saved it from the ice,” Downer said. “You know it was a moment that you wouldn’t have seen any other way.”
Downer and his team deployed 50 of these cameras, which were also placed inside fake penguin eggs rocks and ice formations.
The cameras caught emperor penguins as they took the treacherous 60-mile journey to their breeding grounds, rockhoppers as they bobbed and weaved their way through snapping sea lions, and Humboldts as they tried to evade vampire bats. They even captured moments of jealousy.
“The rockhoppers up in the colony, they were waiting for their females to return and most of them had, except for one individual that was quite lonely, and so he turned his eye on our robot and they very quickly bonded,” Dalton said. “But he was caught in the act, the female did return and she wasn’t very happy.”
Indeed, Dalton said, the angry female knocked the animatronic penguin to the ground.
Through these spy cams, the birds were seen slipping, sliding, and stumbling their way through a course of seemingly endless challenges on their annual pilgrimage to the harshest of destinations, all in hopes of creating new life.
“They reflect a lot of our lives,” Dalton said. “They would survive all the knocks in life, get back up, and just keep going.”