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The last time I travelled on my own was when I was about 9 years old and I sailed to Sweden to meet some old family friends – that sea passage still haunts me now! But I wasn’t to be deterred, I knew there must be a set of sea legs inside of me and I was ready to face the infamous Drake Passage.
Setting off aboard the beautiful steel chariot, Le Boreal, I was instantly drawn into an air of excitement and trepidation of what lay ahead. The Beagle Channel was just stunning, flanked either side by snow-capped mountainous terrain, with a luminescent sunset backdrop. A slight air of confidence was starting to creep in; this sailing malarkey was going to be a piece of cake!
Around midnight I woke up with the sensation of sliding from one side of my bed to the other – the expedition crew member’s advice comes back to the fore - ‘it’s going to rough around midnight, so if you haven’t got any sea sick medication, I would take one of these!’. Grabbing the little tablet I crawled out of bed and shot across the room – these large modern ships, with excellent stabilisation systems still do rock ’n’ roll. I woke hungry and after a good breakfast felt ready to face the day - I’d found my sea legs.
An escort of Cape and Storm Petrels and Albatross’ followed the ship, diving and swooping; their agility was incredible, you could even see their wingtips just breaking the surface of the sea. I was fortunate to see pods of orcas, minke and humpback whales. These majestic animals swam so close to the ship that I was sure one would be clipped, but no they just seemed to have a spatial awareness that a lot of drivers in the UK don’t have.
The first object I saw was a huge tabular iceberg – this massive piece of floating ice was just on the horizon, but this gave credence to its sheer size.
Neko Island was my first encounter up close with penguins and my goodness they smell! They are however the most adorable little things. The temperature was incredibly cold, but undaunted I ploughed on through the snow, just for the glimpse of perhaps another gentoo standing in a position I hadn’t quite captured!
Stop number two; Cuverville Island. This was quite an emotional and overwhelming place for me. The sun was intense, which made the sky a vibrant aqua blue, and with a panoramic view it was breath-taking. I sat in the same spot for over an hour, with a group of gentoos milling around in front of me carrying on their daily lives. The landscape of ice and snow picked every hue within whites, blues, greys and purples nature can paint and to top it off, the scene constantly changed as the sun moved around.
One more night and then Port Lockroy. I was really excited to meet the team again. The last time I had seen them all was at their training days in September!
Nothing could prepare me for just how small Port Lockroy is. I’ve seen photo after photo, but it really is tiny. A quick zodiac ride with the lead expedition team and I was there – with enough time to put my bag into the Nissen hut and straight to work in the shop! Ha, who ever said this was going to be jolly was sorely mistaken. A few hours later and completely exhausted, I was having a cuppa with the team. What a welcome, but this is life at Port Lockroy: get up, dressed, tea and breakfast, briefings on ships, meet and greet visiting tourists, restock the shop, lunch, more visitors, restock the shop and dinner, diary, clean up and then a few short minutes for personal emails, bed! The only exception: if there are no visitors then its general maintenance and DIY jobs both inside and out (depending on the weather).
The yachts and ships that visited Port Lockroy were incredibly generous, offering showers, evening meals, breakfasts and what I soon learnt to be extra special; fresh food. It’s amazing how good fresh milk, cheese and vegetables can taste!
I joined the daily life of the team, and even had my own spot on the rota. The only task that proved really hard was gash. The toilet bucket needed to be emptied at least twice a day, and watching me wobbling like a giant oversized penguin provided the rest of the team with a great deal of entertainment! I really struggled to walk in the deep snow; I ‘face planted’ in the snow first time, and the only thing on my mind was ‘don’t drop the bucket!’ – I didn’t. I soon learnt deals could be done; washing up proved to be the least favourite job, and I was more than prepared to swap. I loved cooking. Producing a hearty meal for five out of cans of meat dishes (curry, chilli etc.) and dried produce (rice, pasta, pulses etc.) was great fun. I even managed a huge loaf of bread and pancakes! One thing you can’t be is particularly fussy about your food.
We celebrated Skinner’s 30th birthday in the lounge of Bransfield House with a surprise curry and chocolate cake, balloons, party hats and even music from the gramophone. He had no idea that we had planned this - I suppose making this our own secret ‘Operation Skinner’.
I could have easily stayed for the entire season, but my time was up and with fond farewells and even a little tear I left for my journey home.
The sea was like a millpond, which produced mirror images of the land on the water’s surface. It was only to be broken by a huge pod of orcas. The Captain, to the delight of all the passengers, turned the ship around in a huge circle so that we could all get a further glimpse of these exceptional predators.
Our next stop was Bailey Head on Deception Island. This proved to be an interesting landing – not your usual calm affair, but more of a ‘go now’ to get off the zodiac as quickly as possible as the poor expedition crew were hanging onto the boat for dear life! Everything was timed to perfection, as the wave brought the zodiac closer to the beach, it turned quickly and we disembarked one by one onto black volcanic sand. Chinstraps were everywhere! There are 60,000 breeding pairs and when people have talked about ‘penguin highways’, nothing could prepare me for the sight of an eight lane highway - although an elephant seal making a slow crossing caused mayhem. The noise was incredible.
Back on board and sailing around to Half Moon Island. More penguins, you really can’t enough of these hardy little birds who carry on their daily live, whilst under the continuous scrutiny of multi-coloured giants (humans) coming and going nearly every day for an entire season. One exception to the penguin normality – a lonesome macaroni penguin, with his long bright head feathers; he struck quite a pose.
This was the last landing, and just left the return leg across the Drake Passage. One last surprise was to come; we sailed around Cape Horn, before turning into the Beagle Channel.
This was truly a trip of a lifetime and one which will last forever. It’s not only the size and grandeur which floors you, but the sounds: ice pops and crackles like Rice Crispies, large icebergs scrape down the side of the ship, whales blow air, the thundering and roaring from avalanches, the constant shrill of seabirds and of course penguins! At night, it’s almost the complete opposite and the silence is deafening. The crisp, cold air fills your lungs making you shiver, but you feel invigorated, your eyes stream in the wind and your nose dribbles, but this white continent just gets to you.
My only problem now; when can I go back?
To view the full photo journal of my Antarctic journey, click here.
The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust’s search for a team of four to spend five months at Port Lockroy in the Antarctic Peninsula, culminates in two day selection programme
Each year, the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust’s (UKAHT) UK team, based in Cambridge, search for four dedicated individuals to spend five months at its flagship site, Port Lockroy – a historic former science base on a tiny island on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Competition was fierce; over 2400 applications were received from more than 75 countries. Shortlisting was a huge task for the Cambridge team, but they managed to narrow the field down to sixteen candidates who then had a telephone interview before being selected as one of twelve put forward for a demanding two-day selection process.
The selection days took place at Mepal Outdoor Centre on the 11th and 12th May and consisted of a full programme of activities and interviews designed to test candidates’ practical skills, communication, team-building, fitness, logic and spatial awareness, as well as their knowledge of Antarctica and desire to work in this remote location.
Anna Malaos, Antarctic Operations Manager for the UKAHT commented: “The selection days are an ideal opportunity to spend an extended amount of time with the candidates to evaluate each individual’s strengths and abilities. The final team will live and work in very close proximity to each other for five months, with no opportunity to leave the island, therefore it’s critical that we choose a team that will get on with each other and form a strong bond to support each other throughout the season, whilst carrying out the tasks that are crucial to maintaining Port Lockroy as a location of historic interest.”
Port Lockroy (British Base A) is situated on Goudier Island in the Antarctic Peninsula. First recognised as a location of historical importance following a conservation survey undertaken by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Port Lockroy was designated Historic Site and Monument No. 61 under the Antarctic Treaty in 1995. The buildings were restored in 1996 by a team from the BAS and have since been open to visitors during the Antarctic summer. UKAHT took over the running of Port Lockroy in 2006.
Port Lockroy is also a destination for many around the world who wish to experience and learn more about the Antarctic. During the summer months (November to March) approximately 18,000 visitors will visit Port Lockroy on board expedition vessels touring the region and the new team will welcome these visitors and give them an insight into life on a scientific base in Antarctica in the 1950s. The team will be responsible for the care and maintenance of the museum and buildings, as well as monitoring any impact on wildlife, through surveys of the resident gentoo penguin colony and record the number of visitors and ships visiting the area. In accordance with the Antarctic Treaty, the UKAHT Port Lockroy team will also ensure strict guidelines on the care of the environment are adhered to. The UKAHT also run the post-office at Port Lockroy on behalf of the Government of the British Antarctic Territory, from which 70,000 cards are posted each year for delivery in over 100 countries.
Camilla Nichol, Chief Executive said: “Undertaking a season at Port Lockroy is not for the faint hearted and the selection process is a rigorous test of all those qualities needed for life in the Antarctic. It was a tough decision as the field was so strong, but I am delighted that we have managed to assemble a team who we are confident will deliver another successful season at Port Lockroy”
The successful team for the 2015/16 season at Port Lockroy are:
• Adele Jackson from Clayton West in Huddersfield
• Laura Martin from Kingussie, Inverness-shire
• Rachel Morris from Saffron Walden in Essex
• Iain Pringle from Nocton, Lincolnshire
The team bring together a diverse range of skills from living and working in extreme environments to heritage sector and project management experience. Above all, each has an over-arching interest in Antarctica and a desire to be part of the living history of Port Lockroy.
From here the team will be trained in all aspects of work and life at Port Lockroy and will re-unite in Cambridge in September for a week long training course to equip them with the additional knowledge and skills they will need to successfully navigate their season in Antarctica.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) today announced its tourism figures for the 2014-2015 season on the first day of its 26th Annual Meeting in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
The total numbers of visitors travelling to Antarctica, with IAATO members, was 36,702, a slight decrease of 2% compared to the previous season. Overall, since 2011-2012, levels of visitation have been increasing modestly, but are still considerably less than the peak of 46,265 during the 2007-2008 austral summer.
There was a small decrease across all sectors of Antarctic tourism, except for trips to the interior of the continent, which increased by 19% (70 people) but accounts for only 1% of the total number of visitors. Visiting the coastal regions of the Antarctic Peninsula, on ships carrying fewer than 500 passengers, remains the most popular form of tourism, accounting for 73% of visitors. A quarter (26%) of tourists did not set foot ashore in Antarctica because they were travelling on ‘cruise only’ vessels, which do not make landings.
American and Australian visitors remained the most numerous, accounting for 34% and 11% of the total number respectively, almost unchanged from last year. British (9%), Chinese (8%) and German (8%) visitors were the next most abundant nationalities in Antarctica last season.
IAATO also released estimated numbers of visitors for next season, 2015-2016. Total numbers of visitors are expected to rise to 40,029 with the main increase expected in the sector of seaborne tourism with landings (28,304) due to the introduction of two new ships to the IAATO fleet.
IAATO’s Annual Meeting brings together the associations 124 members who are committed to advocating and promoting the practice of safe and environmentally responsible tourism to the Antarctic. As an associate-member, UKAHT will be represented by Chief Executive Camilla Nichol and Antarctic Operations Manager Anna Malaos.
For the full press release visit the IAATO webpage.
We are sad to report that our ex-Trustee and long-time supporter, artist Keith Shackleton, died on 17th April 2015.
Keith was one of the pioneers of Antarctic tourism along with Lars Eric Lindblad and Peter Scott. He was a very good friend of Peter Scott and David Attenborough. He was also a UKAHT Trustee and very good friend to UKAHT for many years. Keith was kind enough to donate a painting of Port Lockroy to the Trust, which is currently housed in the Scott Polar Research Institute. Limited edition prints were produced of the painting in order for it to raise funds for UKAHT. His print has proved very popular and become one of our iconic images of Port Lockroy.
Base A Port Lockroy is a designated Historic Site under the Antarctic Treaty and is now a museum and post office managed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT). But, it is also known for its gentoo penguins, who return to the island every year to build pebble nests, lay their eggs and raise their chicks through to adulthood during the short Antarctic summer months. There were no penguins nesting on Goudier Island when it was open as a working base, and it is believed the gentoos first begun nesting on the island in 1985. There are currently approximately 550 mating pairs at Port Lockroy.
The gentoo have become an integral part of life at Port Lockroy, and the UKAHT, through it’s team on the ground, ensures that everything possible is done to minimise any tourism impact on them.
Part of Goudier Island is cordoned off as a 'Penguin Control Colony' where visitors are not permitted. This allows the UKAHT team to monitor and compare the population size, distribution and breeding success of the 'control colony', who have very little contact with humans, with the other breeding penguins on the island, who are in close proximity both to the staff and visitors. Monitoring the penguins is carried out three times a year and the results are forwarded to the British Antarctic Survey. Evaluation of the statistics (records start in 1996) show that there has been no discernible impact from tourism on the gentoo penguins at Port Lockroy.
Other penguins are also frequent visitors to the island. In past years both king and emperor penguins have been seen on Goudier Island, and last season’s team reported that pairs and small groups of chinstrap and Adélie penguins were seen almost daily at Port Lockroy. More pictures of the Port Lockroy penguins can be found on our Facebook page.
The UKAHT end of season sale is now on, with some items in our online shop discounted by up to 50%.
Dominic West (The Wire) stars as Ernest Shackleton in Meredith Hooper's play, airing in early April. 'Beyond Endurance' focuses on the Elephant Isle lives of Shackleton's 22 marooned men and uses only the actual words of the characters involved through their diaries, accounts and journals.
Written by UKAHT Trustee Meredith Hooper, an award-winning writer, historian, lecturer and broadcaster who specialises in the Antarctic. This year she is also curating a major exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Shackleton's Endurance Expedition.
'Beyond Endurance' airs on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday 8th April at 14.15 and will be available on the BBC website shortly after broadcast.
Due to unprecedented interest in the Port Lockroy Assistant vacancies we have extended the deadline for contacting the successfully short-listed applicants from 16th March 2015 to 31st March 2015. As before, we are unable to contact unsuccessful candidates. We thank you for your patience and understanding in this matter and ask that you do not contact us to enquire on the progress of your application.
At final count we can confirm that we received 2264 complete applications for the four Port Lockroy positions. Eighty-three nationalities were represented in the 2063 applicants who included this information in their application. The largest proportion of applicants came from the UK (29%) and USA (12%), followed by France (7%) and Italy (5%). A significant number of Turkish, Polish, Dutch and Canadian (4%) applications were also received. Applications have been received from across the globe in smaller numbers, with most European countries represented as well as many in South and Central America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
We are grateful to everybody who applied and look forward to contacting the shortlisted candidates by the end of March.
A monument dedicated to Britons who lost their lives in the service of science in Antarctica will be unveiled on the waterfront at Stanley, Falkland Islands on 25 February 2015. It is the Southern part of a unique two-part sculpture; the Northern part of the sculpture is sited 8000 miles away in the grounds of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), Cambridge University.
Since 1948, a total of 28 men and one woman have died in the British Antarctic Territory, one of the most extreme, inhospitable and uncharted places on Earth. All those who died travelled through Stanley on their way South and it is fitting that their contribution should be recognised in the Falkland Islands – the gateway to Antarctica. Many Falkland Islanders have worked in the Antarctic for the British Antarctic Survey, and its predecessor the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, since Britain first set up a permanent base at Port Lockroy in 1944.
The Northern sculpture of the Antarctic Monument is constructed of two three-metre high pillars carved from British oak with a needle-like negative space created between them. This sculpture represents the mould from which the Southern sculpture, a highly polished stainless steel needle has been cast. The mirror finish reflects the water and clouds around the historic Dockyard Point on which it is situated representing both the human intrusion into the environment and the need for study and understanding.
Together the two sculptures symbolise the scientific link between Britain and the Antarctic, whilst at the same time reflect upon the emotional and physical separation experienced by explorers and their families left behind in Britain.
The bronze plinth of the Southern sculpture is inscribed on two faces with the names of the men and woman who died. Another face of the plinth has a map of the Northern and Southern hemispheres and the latitude and longitude of the two parts of the monument with the statement: “Together in distance and time.” The main inscription is on another face: “For those who lost their lives in Antarctica in pursuit of science to benefit us all.” This is the same inscription which is incised in stainless steel on the base of the Northern sculpture. It is also carved in Welsh slate on the Antarctic Memorial in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, dedicated in May 2011.
The two-part sculpture was designed by the distinguished sculptor Oliver Barratt who has been responsible for a number of public sculptures including the Everest Memorial to those killed on the mountain. The plinth was designed by Graeme Wilson. The stainless steel needle and the bronze plinth were made by the art foundry Pangolin Editions, Chalford, Gloucestershire using advanced 3D printing to create the precision for the maps and lettering on the plinth.
The Southern part of the monument will be dedicated on 25 February 2015 at 17.00 by Bishop of the Falklands, The Rt. Rev. Nigel Stock in the presence of The Governor of the Falkland Islands, HE Colin Roberts, The Hon Jan Cheek, Member of the Legislative Assembly, Roderick Rhys Jones Chairman of the Trustees, and Brian Dorsett-Bailey representative of the bereaved families and a Trustee.
The Trust has invited all those in the Falklands who have served with the British Antarctic Survey on the bases, in the Stanley office or on BAS ships. In addition there will be 85 people who are travelling on board MV Ushuaia, amongst them are colleagues of those who did not return as well as many FIDS who have served in the Antarctic and others who are supporters of the Trust including Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, Finns, and French. Following the dedication, the MV Ushuaia sails for South Georgia, Signy Island and the bases of the Antarctic Peninsula where the party will be visiting the graves and memorials of those who did not return.
The work of men and women in the British Antarctic Territory has contributed to our understanding of many vital phenomena including: the way continents drift apart; how communications are affected by solar flares; the formation of polar ozone holes; global links between weather systems; climate change reflected in ice cores; and the effect of fishing on marine ecosystems.
The British Antarctic Monument Trust is a registered charity set up to promote good citizenship by honouring those explorers and scientists who have carried out hazardous duties in the pursuit of scientific knowledge in the British Antarctic Territory particularly ‘those who did not return’. It is advancing education by increasing the understanding of how their exploration and scientific work has contributed to our knowledge of the natural environment, such as our climate and the movement of continents.
Brian Dorsett-Bailey, Trustee, who lost his brother Jeremy in 1965 in a crevasse accident says, “Jeremy was a pioneer of ice-depth radar, a technique used for plotting the profile of the Antarctic terrain thousands of feet below the surface of the ice. His loss was devastating. His body, like so many others, was never recovered. The work of the Trust to commemorate and recognise those who never returned has helped families to come to terms with their loss and assist in providing some closure. ”
Roderick Rhys Jones, chairman of the BAMT, who is spearheading the project says, “I was a surveyor on an expedition from the BAS’s Research Station Halley Bay in 1965, when three of my colleagues, including Jeremy Bailey, were killed when their tractor fell into a crevasse. I have never forgotten them and wanted to create a lasting monument to them and the others who lost their lives in the pursuit of science in Antarctica. The response has been overwhelming from families, friends and colleagues of those who died.”
The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust has announced that it has completed its conservation of the three historic huts used by Captain Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton at Cape Evans, Hut Point and Cape Royds. The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust is proud to have been a major supporter of this conservation project, having helped generate £3.5 million for the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project and more recently given £100,000 (part of which was donated from the Barbara Debenham legacy) for the conservation of Scott’s Discovery Hut and Carsten Borchgrevink’s hut at Cape Adare.
Sixty-two specialists from eleven countries contributed to the conservation of these buildings and their related artefacts over the life of the project, and uncovered previously undiscovered artefacts such as the famous crates of Scotch whisky and brandy at Shackleton’s historic base, and the photographs and notebook recovered from Scott’s hut at Cape Evans.
Maintenance of the three bases and their artefacts will be ongoing, but the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust now plans to begin conservation work at Borchgrevink’s hut at Cape Adare and Hillary’s Hut at Scott Base. To read more about the work of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust and watch the video 'Saving Scott's and Shackleton's Huts', visit https://www.nzaht.org/
To read the full press release click here.
The popular documentary Penguin Post Office will be broadcast in the US on PBS on Wednesday January 28 at 7/8c (check local listings).
Set on the tiny Goudier Island in Antarctica, the documentary follows the breeding cycle of the gentoo penguins who return here each year to find their mate and raise their chicks, whilst in the background tourists visit the restored World War II British Base 'A', which is now run as a museum, Post Office and shop by four members of staff from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. An introductory film to Port Lockroy can be seen here.
Having been broadcast and positively received in the UK in July 2014, we are very excited that the Penguin Post Office documentary will now become available to an American audience to watch. The documentary was filmed during the 2013-14 Antarctic season by AGB films for Thirteen's Nature and BBC Natural World last season. Read more about the filming of Penguin Post Office here.
Penguin Post Office is set on Goudier Island, a tiny island located in Port Lockroy in the Antarctic Peninsula. Goudier Island is also home to Base 'A', a British Base established in 1944 initially for territorial reasons but that quickly became a science base until it was abandoned in 1962. Base 'A' was restored in 1996 back to its 1962 condition, and has been run as a living museum ever since. Every austral summer, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust send four members of staff down to Port Lockroy to open the museum, Post Office and shop and welcome visitors to the site. Read more about Port Lockroy and its restoration, as well as the current Port Lockroy team blogs.
The gentoo penguins established their colony at Port Lockroy at some point in the mid-1980s. There are now an estimated 3000 penguins that return to Goudier Island each year to breed. The impact of tourism at Port Lockroy on the gentoo penguins is monitored yearly both by the UKAHT team and outside agencies. To date the results show no negative impact on the breeding cycle of the gentoo penguins.
The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust sells a range of Antarctic and penguin-branded clothing and souvenirs both at Port Lockroy and online. All proceeds from our shops go towards the conservation of Base 'A' and the other sites in Antarctica that we manage, as well as our work promoting Antarctic heritage. To read more about these other sites in Antarctica click here. A link to our online shop can be found here.
The work of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust is also supported by our 'Friends of Antarctica', who receive early access to our twice-yearly newsletter and exclusive invites to 'Friends of Antarctica' events. To become a 'Friend of Antarctica' and support the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust click here.
The Penguin Post Office – Bransfield House (Base ‘A’) is a little bit of Britain in the heart of Antarctica. Inside the British Base ‘A’, run by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT), the Post Office has everything you’d expect: a postbox, stamps, postcards and four dedicated UKAHT staff. Outside, things are a little bit different, living alongside the Post Office are 2,000 gentoo penguins. They’re here for one reason, to raise a family, but their lives are far from picture postcard - adultery and robbery are rife, as the program makes clear.
A new film made by AGB Films for THIRTEEN’s ‘Nature’ to be broadcast on January, 28 2015 chronicles life at Antarctica’s Penguin Post Office and follows the lives of the UKAHT staff and a colony of gentoo penguins as they survive around Bransfield House, a British Antarctic Territory Post Office in the heart of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Every summer the gentoo penguins return to the location of the world’s most southerly public Post Office, and it is here viewers find out that as the penguins nest, they share their home with four newly arrived UKAHT staff, who run the Post Office for visiting tourists, proudly flying the Union flag and cleaning up the penguin mess around the base. We soon learn, however, that there is more to these adorable little penguins than comical waddling. We also take a look around the Post Office and learn about its history in the 1940’s and 50’s. We meet Base Leader Helen Annan, and Post Mistresses Kristy Leissle and Jane Cooper, who live alongside the penguins for the austral summer. They, and some of the visitors to the Island, share their thoughts on their experience of Antarctica, these special animals and what they are writing on their postcards home.
“We were drawn to Penguin Post Office because of its unique story,” said Nature Executive Producer Fred Kaufman, “and were intrigued by the incongruous juxtaposition of a penguin rookery and a working post office in the middle of the Antarctic.”
Nature is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. Penguin Post Office is a production of AGB Films for THIRTEEN Productions LLC and BBC for WNET. The program airs Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). After broadcast, the episode will be available in U.S. & territories for online streaming at pbs.org/nature.
To read the full press release click here