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    One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's list of the ten best movies to supplement classes in Science, High School Level.
    SUBJECTS — Science; the Environment;World/Antarctica;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Caring for Animals;
    Age: 10+; MPAA Rating -- G; Documentary; 2005; 85 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     This film describes a year in the life of an Emperor penguin colony. The special features provide additional information concerning penguins, their environment, and the filming of the movie.

    Benefits of the Movie: "March of the Penguins" shows how these beautiful birds have adapted to one of the most challenging environments on Earth. The film shows the amazing beauty and harshness of Antarctica. It is an excellent supplement to units on biology that deal with birds or the Antarctic.

    Possible Problems:        None.

    Parenting Points:     For all children ask, and help them to answer the Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions. For younger children add the Quick Discussion Question. For older children ask and help them answer Discussion Questions #s 2 and 3.

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards: 2006 Academy Awards: Best Documentary.

      Featured Actors: Narrator: Morgan Freeman.

      Director: Luc Jacquet.

Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Helpful Background
Curriculum Standards
Discussion Questions
--- Social-Emotional Learning
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities

    Helpful Background:

    The movie is a documentary and provides its own factual background. A number of websites provide concise information about Emperor penguins. These include: Creature Feature: Emperor Penguins by National Geographic; Animal Diversity Web article on the Emperor penguins; Antarctic Penguins by Guillaume Dargaud; and Emperor Penguins by Barbara Wienecke, Phd.

    A number of themes run through the movie. If these are discussed with young viewers, the film can help to convey several basic concepts in biology.

    Despite losses caused by the harsh environment and by predators, the Emperor penguin population is relatively stable. Only 19% of the chicks live beyond their first year. However, once they reach adulthood, 95% of the penguins survive from year to year. The average life expectancy of an adult Emperor penguin is 19 years. After the age of four or five, penguins start to lay eggs and reproduce. A rough calculation shows how these statistics are consistent with a relatively stable population: 14 (reproductive years) X .19 (survival rate for chicks to one year) X .5 (for two penguins required for one egg) = 1.33 chicks who reach adulthood per penguin. This number does not take into account lost and frozen eggs or chicks that die after the first year but before they begin to reproduce, so it is too high. That is probably the extra .33.

    There are between 20 and 40 Emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica. As of 1995, the Emperor penguin population was estimated to be approximately 200,000 breeding pairs or a total population of about 400,000 - 450,000. There is no evidence that global climate change or human disturbance have substantially decreased their numbers.

    Like many other animals (including human beings) the survival of the species depends on social interaction between parents and among parents and chicks. In March or April, Emperor penguins pair off for the breeding season. After each mother produces her egg she transfers it to its father. The mothers then immediately return to the sea to feed. The fathers survive the harsh arctic winter by huddling together to keep warm. The mothers don't come back until the dead of winter. By then the chicks have just recently hatched. The mothers feed the chicks fish regurgitated from the mothers' stomachs. The fathers, not having eaten anything for more than four months, then have their chance to return to the sea. Before they leave, the fathers memorize the distinctive call of their chick so that they can later locate their own. Like the fathers, the mothers protect themselves from the cold and storm by huddling together. When the fathers come back to the colony, they feed the chicks and the mothers return to the sea. The parents take turns baby-sitting their chicks on the pack ice and returning to the sea to fish through December or January (the height of the antarctic summer) when the chicks are large enough to fend for themselves. Any break in the chain (the death of a father or a mother, or a delayed return) will spell the end for the chick.

    The survival of the colony also depends upon the social interactions among the group. The penguins march together from the sea to their breeding ground on the pack ice and back to the sea. The penguins huddle together against the cold, rotating positions to allow each to spend some time in the warmer interior of the group. They use their numbers to confuse predators such as the sea lion.

    It is sometimes difficult to remember when watching these animals that they are flightless birds with feathers instead of fur. Their actions seem distinctly mammalian.

    Emperor penguins are an important part of the antarctic ecology. They eat fish, crustaceans, octopi, and squid. In turn they serve as significant food sources for their predators, Leopard Seals, Orca whales, Antarctic Giant Petrels and Antarctic Skuas (another bird).

    The taxonomy of the Emperor penguin is: Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Chordata (animals with spinal cords); Subphylum: Vertebrata (animals with spinal chords encased in vertebrae); Class: Aves (birds); Order: Sphenisciformes (penguins); Family: Spheniscidae (penguins); Genus: Aptenodytes (Emperor penguin and King penguin); Species: Aptenodytes forsteri (Emperor penguins).

    The Southern Lights

    Southern Lights -- Photo from NASA

    The caption from this photograph by NASA states: "Looking toward the south from low Earth orbit, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavor made this stunning time exposure of the Aurora Australis or southern lights in April of 1994. Aurora are visible at high northern latitudes as well, with the northern lights known as Aurora Borealis. They are caused by high energy electrons from the Solar Wind which are funneled into the atmosphere near the poles by the Earth's magnetic field. The reddish colors occur at the highest altitudes (about 200 miles) where the air is least dense. At lower altitudes and greater densities green tends to dominate ranging to a pinkish glow at the lowest. The familiar constellation of Orion the Hunter is clearly visible above the dark horizon in the background. Because of the shuttle's orbital motion, the bright stars in Orion appear slightly elongated."

    See also the Aurora Page from Michigan Tech.


For a movie worksheet for this film, see Film Study Worksheet for a Documentary.

QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   How do Emperor penguins keep warm?

Suggested Response: There are three ways. (1) Their feathers are designed to trap air and insulate them from the cold. (2) They have a lot of body fat. (3) They huddle together in large groups.

Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: "around-the-clock," beckoning, bereft, "breeding ground," caravan, clambored, docile, endure, entrust, exhaust, harsh, huddle, "ice pack," "in vain," lavish, lingering, momentarily, "mother of all blizzards," negotiable, nonnegotiable, noticeably, organism, predator, preen, pout, quench, ravenous, reunion, shuffle, shuttling, "sound their calls," "Southern Lights," stalwart, strut, stumped, teeming, unsupervised, vigil, virtually, weld.

CURRICULUM STANDARDS:    The curriculum standards for this film are the same as those for Lesson Plan on Migration, Nomadism, and Dormancy.

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Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!

See the entry for this film in Reading in the Reel World: Teaching Documentaries and Other Nonfiction Texts by John Golden, National Council of Teachers of English, 2006.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.


    Discussion Questions:

    1.  Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film

    2.  How do social interactions benefit Emperor penguins?

    3.  How do Emperor penguin colonies survive with such a substantial loss of chicks and adults when each couple has only one egg each year?

    4.  In the summer, Emperor penguins live and feed in antarctic ocean waters. In the antarctic fall, March and April, they go onto the pack ice to pair up and to breed. The mother lays the egg which the father (still at the breeding ground on the pack ice) incubates in a special insulated pouch. This takes most of the arctic winter. Penguins eat fish and other animals found in the ocean. There is no food for them on the pack ice. After the mother lays the egg, she returns to the ocean to feed. When the egg hatches, the mother travels back over the pack ice to feed the chick with food regurgitated from her stomach. By that time, the father will have been without food for about four months. The mother then takes responsibility for the chick while the starving father returns to the sea. He comes back to the breeding ground with a stomach full of food for the chick. The parents then take turns going back and forth with one babysitting and feeding the chick on the pack ice while the other goes to the ocean to get food. This continues until the summer (December or January) when the chick is old enough to fend for itself. Certainly, the ocean and the pack ice are different biomes. Do Emperor penguins engage in classic biome migration in which animals move from one biome to another? (For a shorter version, just ask the question: Do Emperor penguins engage in classic biome migration?)


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.


    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    1.  How can we best show our respect for Emperor penguins?

    2.  What would be lost if a species such as the Emperor penguin became extinct?

  MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Winged Migration and Fly Away Home.

PHOTOGRAPHS, DIAGRAMS AND OTHER VISUALS:   See the Photo Gallery from the Official Site for the film.

    Bibliography: The movie itself and the websites linked in the Guide.

    Last updated December 16, 2009.

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