Press Centre

Davina McCall: Life at the Extreme

  • Episode: 

    3 of 4

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Mon 14 Mar 2016
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    9.00pm - 10.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 11 2016 : Sat 12 Mar - Fri 18 Mar
  • Channel: 

The information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing into the public domain until Tuesday 8 March
“It’s pretty eerie. I’m literally in the middle of nowhere. There’s no land for miles, nothing beneath me.  I hate being on top of the ocean.  I’ve seen jaws too many times, that’s the problem. It makes me feel really vulnerable.” Davina McCall, treading water on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
Series overview
In this brand new four-part series, Davina McCall: Life at the Extreme, the television presenter travels to some of the hottest, coldest, deepest and wettest places on earth to discover how some of the most extraordinary animals on the planet survive in its most hostile environments.  
From the sapping heat of the desert to the biting cold of the Arctic, from the intense humidity of the rainforest to the darkest depths of the ocean, Davina’s adventures to extreme environments include running in the scorching sun alongside cheetahs, sampling how polar bears cope in -30ºC temperatures and free dive in an ocean which is home to the whale that is able to sustain one breath of air for 90 minutes.
By living alongside local people, scientists, tribes and the animals themselves, Davina will test the limits of her own endurance and offer viewers an insight into just how extreme, extreme can be.
Episode 3
In episode three, Davina travels to the islands of Svalbard in the Arctic Circle.  It’s a harsh environment set across 15 million square kilometers of sea ice, where temperatures can drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius.  Just 800 miles from the North Pole, her journey begins in Longyearbyen, one of the most Northerly towns in the world. 
She begins with a bone chilling, five-hour journey on a snowmobile to her first accommodation for the night, a boat frozen into a remote fjord.  Davina meets her guide Jason Roberts, one of the most respected in the Arctic and gets her first glimpse of an animal on the trip, when she sees the huskies used to pull the sleds.
Huskies have been pulling sleds in the Arctic for thousands of years.  Their thick fur is more insulating than goose down, deep pads on their paws protect them from the cold and almond shaped eyes mean they are less exposed in a blizzard.   They are the perfect example of an animal that has adapted to its surroundings, in order to survive.
Davina is lucky enough to wake up to a sighting of a polar bear on her first morning on the ice. Davina and Jason track the bear to the open sea and Jason uses his experience to get them into a safe position where they can watch how this predator behaves in the wild.  They are one of the few animals to actively hunt humans and just two weeks before she arrived, a man was attacked by one as he slept in his tent.
Davina says: “This feels absolutely insane that I am going towards a polar bear. It’s sort of counterintuitive.”
Spotting two ringed seals on the ice, Jason reveals that polar bears catch one every five days.  It’s a meal that satisfies both hunger and thirst.  The high Arctic is classified as a desert, as all water is either salty or frozen solid.  So seal blubber is a vital source of water for the bears.  
Jason then spots a walrus, which has grabbed the bear’s attention.  Walruses can weigh over a ton, the equivalent of 14 ringed seals.  However, their tusks can be over a metre long and can fatally injure a polar bear, making them a formidable opponent. The bear stalks the walrus by slipping into the water and slowly moving closer.   But it is old enough to know the walrus’s tusks are dangerous and passes by without attempting to attack it.   This behaviour is incredibly rare to witness and has only ever been filmed twice.
With the help of a thermal camera, Davina then demonstrates just how cold it is in the Arctic.  Wearing multiple layers, she is able to withstand the extreme outdoor temperatures.  However, as she removes each one, the newly exposed layer quickly turns from white hot to blue as the heat disappears.  Without protective clothing, Davina would not last more than a few hours in these temperatures and would be dead within minutes in the Arctic ocean.
Seals are perfectly adapted to survive in the freezing temperatures of the Arctic.  Davina and Jason see some bearded seals which use their long sensitive whiskers like feelers, to find shrimps and crab on the ocean floor, 300 metres below the ice.   Adults can weigh over 400 kilos, the same as a polar bear and a thick, two inch layer of blubber rests under their skin.  Heat leaves the body 25 times faster in water, so the blubber helps to insulate the seal from the cold water like the world’s thickest wetsuit.  
Davina demonstrates the effectiveness of the blubber with an experiment.  She removes both her gloves and dips one hand into melted lard to coat it.  She then puts both hands into the freezing ocean, through a hole in the ice, for just five seconds.  The hand with no protection is so painful after leaving the water, she needs a member of the crew to help her warm it straight away using their body heat.  However, she is able to keep the hand covered in lard out in the open air, showing how effective even a thin layer of blubber can be.  
Davina takes to the Arctic skies in a helicopter with a group of polar bear scientists, as they tag and monitor polar bears to study their long term population health.  The best way to get solid data on these dangerous animals is to tranquilise them, so when the team spot a bear, they dart him to sedate him.  
After landing, senior research scientist, Dr Jon Aars explains the work the team is doing.  Based on the measurements taken, the bear is estimated to be 26 years old.  His teeth are checked, along with his size, weight, health and body fat.  The programme has been running for over 30 years and is revealing that when the ice coverage is poor, the bears are thinner and fewer cubs survive.  
Dr Jon Aars explains: “There are many people who think polar bears are really having a tough time because they are in the high arctic, it’s so cold and harsh.  But this is actually what they like. Most of the time they are not feeling cold.”
Davina says: “These animals are just amazing at surviving in extreme weather.  The problem is, it’s just not staying extreme enough.”
As the sedative wears off, the bear begins to wake up and it’s time for Davina and the team to retreat and take to the skies once again.  
Next, Davina explores the inside of a glacier with glaciologist Heïdi Sevestre. Heidi explains that the cave is a mine of information, which can tell us about the past dynamics of the glacier.  After discovering a tunnel that leads all the way to bottom of the glacier, Heidi’s team found moss which had been frozen for thousands of years.  They are hoping to wake up some micro-organisms which can survive temperatures as low as minus 272 degrees celcius.  
Heidi explains: “They can be completely frozen for years, and then woken up and hydrated again.  They can just continue their lives. They are still very mysterious to science, so to find them here would be fantastic.”
Back on the ice, Davina and Jason drive out to the frozen fjord beneath the glacier and Davina is alarmed to see the ice beginning to break up.  Travelling over the cracks reminds her that the vast majority of the Arctic is a thin layer of shifting ice over a deep ocean.  
Jason says: “The whole thing is rocking.  As the swell comes in, it’s making these cracks further and further in. And as the tide goes out it’s taking the ice with it.  One hundred years ago, this would have been full of ice and never quite melt in summer, now it all melts. When I first came to Svalbard we could have driven hundreds of kilometers out of the fjord on this ice.  This would never break up until July and here we are in April.”
On Davina’s last day in the Arctic she wakes to bad weather and driving winds.  But after a day of fruitless searching for wildlife, the weather clears and the visibility improves.  She is stunned to see a polar bear and two cubs ahead on the ice.  The cubs spend the first few months of their lives underground in a den before breaking to the surface with their mother in March or April.  By drinking their mother’s milk with eight times more fat than cows milk, they grow from 500g to more than 45 kilos, by the time they are eight months old.
Their journey complete, huskies are waiting to take Davina and Jason home.