Attenborough: Dynasties crew were RIGHT to intervene to help penguins

Dynasties crew were RIGHT to intervene to help trapped penguins says Sir David Attenborough – despite it ‘breaking the rules’ of wildlife filming

  • Sir David Attenborough’s series Dynasties drew widespread comment last week
  • BBC crew followed colony of penguins battling Antarctica’s harsh -60C winter  
  • Crew intervened to save them, gathering praise from relieved viewers online 
  • Sir David has defended the ‘unprecedented’ move – despite it breaking the rules

Sir David Attenborough insisted a film crew were right to intervene to help penguins during the filming of a recent episode of his new BBC series Dynasties.

A director and two cameramen took the decision to dig a ramp to save the colony of emperor penguins  after they discovered the birds had been left stranded in an icy gully in Antartica’s Atka Bay with no way to escape.

Speaking to Times2 today Sir David, 92, who narrates the Sunday night series, defended the filmmaker’s move – hailed as ‘unprecedented by the BBC – despite it breaching a traditional rule of wildlife filming never to interfere with the natural order.  

Addressing earlier confusion over his stance on the situation, the naturalist said: ‘I never, ever said they shouldn’t have done that. What I said was is you have to be very careful in these situations.’ 

Speaking out: Sir David Attenborough insisted a film crew were right to intervene to help penguins, pictured, during the filming of a recent episode of his new BBC series Dynasties

Bold: The BBC crew, pictured, took the decision to build a ramp to save the colony of emperor penguins after they discovered the birds had been left stranded in an icy gully 

Defence: Sir David, 92, defended the filmmaker’s move – hailed as ‘unprecedented by the BBC – despite it breaching a traditional rule of wildlife filming never to intervene

Sir David explained that while it might be tempting to move a fawn who was about to be eaten by a leopard, for example, ultimately you might not be extending or improving the fawn’s life. 

‘But if it’s an inorganic thing, as it was in this case, then why not?’  

Viewers heaped praise on BBC film crew after the intervention.  

In a particularly heartbreaking scene the crew caught the moment a group of birds had fallen over the edge of a chasm after a white-out, and were left trapped with their young in bitter -60C (-76F) conditions.


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Horrified viewers watched as one bird was forced to abandon her chick who couldn’t make it out of the steep ravine, and took to Twitter to share their heartbreak over the traumatic scenes.

Upon returning when conditions had cleared a few days later to find the penguins still trapped, the BBC crew ultimately decided to break its ‘never interfere’ rule to offer the birds some help, building an escape ramp by fashioning some ‘steps’ in the snow’ that the remaining birds could use to clamber to safety. 

Viewers have heaped praise on BBC film crew after they intervened when a colony of emperor penguins were left stranded in an icy ravine in a blizzard on Sunday night’s episode of wildlife show Dynasties

After the BBC crew decided to save the penguins, relieved viewers quickly flooded the social network to praise the scenes, which will undoubtedly make for some of the most heart-warming TV of the year

But it proved to be a rollercoaster of emotions for viewers, as the BBC crew decided to act after returning for filming days later to find some penguins had perished

Speaking to The Times, Director Lawson said: ‘We opted to intervene passively. Once we’d dug that little ramp, which took very little time, we left it to the birds. We were elated when they decided to use it.

‘There’s no rule book in those situations. You can only respond to the facts that are right there in front of you.

‘As you can imagine, we only show a fraction of the real trauma and difficulty that the animals go through – it was a very hard thing to see.’

Viewers were thrilled to see the penguins using the ramp to make their way out of the ravine, with one calling it a ‘special moment in wildlife filming’.  

Heartbroken viewers of BBC wildlife series Dynasties took to Twitter to express their distress at scenes which showed abandoned penguin chicks, before the crew stepped into save them

Horrified viewers watched as one bird was forced to abandon her chick who couldn’t make it out of the steep ravine, and took to Twitter to share their heartbreak over the traumatic scenes.

One viewer wrote: ‘I’m sorry but if I were a camera man on Dynasties- I wouldn’t care for letting nature ‘take it’s course’

One viewer wrote: ‘I’m sorry but if I were a camera man on Dynasties – I wouldn’t care for letting nature ‘take it’s course’. 

‘I’d run head first into that snow storm to rescue that abandoned penguin chick. Heart broke watching it tumble down like that’.

Another emotional viewer added: ‘Right, that’s it. That baby penguin failing to climb out of the icy ravine after being abandoned by its mother has just finished me off. I’m phoning in sick at work, tomorrow.’

Another viewer wrote online: You’d have to be hard as nails to work on Dynasties – imagine having to resist saving those baby Penguins’.

But it proved too much for some, with one distressed man tweeting: ‘I’m a 23 year old man sat crying at penguins. Madness.’

The scenes drove many to tears, with one distressed man tweeting: ‘I’m a 23 year old man sat crying at penguins. Madness.’

Elsewhere one mother admitted: ‘We totally had to pretend to the youngest that the mum penguin who made it out of the ravine with her baby was the same mum as the one who abandoned her chick, and she’d just realised her terrible mistake and gone back for him’.

And another emotional woman wrote: ‘Not okay with that Mam penguin leaving that poor little chick in the ravine to freeze. Don’t know how the camera people didn’t go and scoop it out and take it back to its Mam (sic)’.

But it proved to be a rollercoaster of emotions for viewers, as the BBC crew decided to act after returning for filming days later to find some penguins had perished.

Director Lawson said: ‘We opted to intervene passively. Once we’d dug that little ramp, which took very little time, we left it to the birds. We were elated when they decided to use it.

In an unprecedented move the crew, who spent 337 days on the icy continent, working in -60C temperatures and 100kph plus winds, took a ‘unanimous’ decision to dig an escape ramp in deadly cold temperatures to save them

Defending their move, another wrote: ‘So glad the crew decided to act and save the penguins in the ravine. There’s always the ‘don’t interfere with nature’ argument, but humanity does plenty to destroy it, so we can also give a helping hand if opportunity presents’

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