Antarctica is the southernmost continent on Earth where the geographic South Pole lies. The frozen desert is home to about 1,000 scientists living in blustery conditions that sometimes reach -90 Ц as they try to understand more about Earth's history and climate change. Last Sunday night, Sir David Attenborough – the legendary BBC presenter – took viewers halfway around the world for the first episode of his new series.
Following a stunning plunge under the ice To discover seafaring with life, the series has turned a dark turn after the 93-year-old has exposed the shocking implications of human intrusion.
He said: "Life here under the ice has remained unchanged for millennia, but for the last 200 years, much of Antarctica's wildlife has had to face new predators – human beings.
"We devised new hunting techniques and used them so ruthlessly that we were almost extinct.
"These locations in South Georgia were at the center of this industry.
"More than one and a half million whales were slaughtered in Antarctic waters, the blot was stripped of their massive bodies and boiled in pots to make margarine and soap.
"And the largest animal ever recorded, a 33-foot blue whale, perhaps over 100 years old, was mounted on this ramp in just two hours."
Sir David detailed the shocking extent of barbaric treatment and the effect it had on the Antarctic ecosystem.
He added: "This thoughtless slaughter marked a new level in our relationship with the natural world.
"The southern right whales were hardest hit, they were so reliable and inquisitive that they swam right next to the whale boats.
"The whales called them real whales because they were the real whales to hunt.
"Calf mothers were directed first to give birth, the females came to the same shelters and did not leave their calves alone on the surface.
"In just decades, the population of 35,000 was so declining that only 35 of the women survived."
There was hope, however, the legendary BBC presenter revealed.
He explained how an attempt was made to slowly redeem the shocking historical behavior.
Sir David concluded: "But times have changed, the ban on whale trade, introduced in 1986, has stopped all of Japan, Norway and Iceland.
"Our relationship with these extraordinary beings has undergone a tremendous change.
"Scientists are now learning a lot about these whales, but we still don't know how long they live.
"It is thought that some individuals alive today were around the time of mass slaughter, yet these 60-ton whales remain gentle and inquisitive about humans.
"With the hunt for commercialization, this population has now grown to over 2,000."
The first episode of Seven Worlds, One Planet was aired on BBC One on Sunday, October 26 at 6.15pm.
Viewers can now handle every installment in the BBC's Ultra-High-Definition (UHD).