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Nature film crew sees baby penguins in distress and decide to break ‘no interference’ rule

When making a documentary, there’s an unwritten rule among filmmakers to observe but not participate.

Nature documentaries in particular have a unique spot in the world of documentaries.

The goal is to film something wild and natural and at the same time, pretend like you aren’t there to the animals. Its a dance of intimacy and invisibility.

That line of intimacy is sometimes blurred when out in the wilderness.

You never know what is going to happen and your role as an observer is sometimes tested. In one episode of the docuseries “Dynasties,” for example, the crew had their mettle tested to the extreme. In the film, we see a group of penguins trapped down in an ice gulley.

The slippery ice had created a bowl that you could easily slip into, and not so easily get out of.

There was a decision to be made from the crew now – leave them or help them.

The footage was shared onto YouTube by BBC Earth with the caption:

“When the emperor penguins from Dynasties find themselves trapped, the crew faces a tough choice: save them by helping them climb or leave them to die.”

The beginning of the video shows crew members filming the penguins trapped in the gully. The crew is evidently very distressed, and one man even breaks down into tears.

“There are birds down there with chicks!” one of the crew members reports.

The legendary conservationist and documentarist David Attenborough was narrating the film and maintains a strong belief that nature should be left to run its course.

Despite that conviction, he believed that the crew had an obligation to intervene when they did.

“Film crews have to capture events that unfold, whatever their feelings. It’s very rare for the film crew to intervene. But they realize that they may be able to save at least some of these birds, simply by digging a few steps in the ice.”

One member of the film crew told the camera:

“I know it’s natural but it’s bloody hard to watch. I think we’re just going to have to observe them for a bit just to see exactly what’s happening.”

Amazingly, as the crew is packing up for the night, where they will discuss their next steps, they spot a mama penguin who’s managed to make it up the side of the gully with her chick.

“We’ve come back to the top because the weather’s coming in again, and we were just about to pack up, when an adult with a chick on its feet managed to make its way up,” a crew member says. “It’s amazing, it’s using its beak – then when it got to this last little lip, it’s using its wings. If only the other fifty in there could do the same.”

As the crew leaves for the night, they can’t shake the thought of the penguins trapped down in the gulley.

They hope that they can return the next day so that they can help the penguins and their babies out, but it isn’t until two days on that the weather finally clears.

When it was finally time to return to the colony, they spot that already the gully has claimed more casualties.

It is then that they decide to act – by digging a shallow ramp that the penguins will hopefully use to get out of the gully.

Thankfully, the crew’s intervention was a success, and within no time, the penguins begin making their way up the ramp.

“We were just about to leave, but the first birds are definitely beginning to make their way out, which is brilliant,” a crew member says.

“So hopefully they’ll just make their way back to the colony, and them and their chicks will have a better chance of survival.

There’s no chance that they were going to survive down there at all.”

We’re so thankful that the crew decided to intervene, and they received a mostly positive response in the YouTube comments section, with someone saying:

“Honestly the world and climate is in such an awful state wildlife film crews not only should, but NEED to help animals like this.”

Another commenter remained neutral and said:

“Everything we humans do has “consequences”. It’s good for the penguins but bad news for the fishes they eat. To be honest, there’s no right decision. The crew expressed compassion towards the penguins, that’s all.”

Some people were, however, upset. They claimed that natural selection had to run its course. My bet is that they don’t reject prescriptions from their doctor with that logic.

Did the crew do the right thing? We’d love to know your thoughts! Take a look at the video below, and let us know in the comments.

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