Blue Planet Live viewers received a brutal, unplanned lesson about the harsh realities of nature during a broadcast from Queensland's Heron Island at night.
- A BBC film crew was filming a live scene when a gull plunged into a turtle cub
- British viewers watching the broadcast Blue Planet Live expressed its shock at social media
- Presenter Liz Bonnin said the scene was "hard to watch," but ended up being an example of the region's ecosystem in action.
Presenter Liz Bonnin was filming her signature for the BBC nature series when six baby turtle cubs were released in the sand.
Spectators from all over the UK were watching as the little turtles advanced toward the beach ocean.
But an opportunistic gull was also looking.
The bird dived and picked up one of the babies, before the transmission was briefly interrupted by another camera.
A few seconds later, the offending gull could be seen leaving the scene in a way that, given what had just happened, looked suspiciously like a cartoon.
The unplanned show horrified viewers, who expressed their shock at social media.
Tweet by LucyJFesmer: I see the baby turtle being carried to death seconds before reaching the ocean at Blue Planet Live
Tweet by Paul Burely: Presenter: These little turtles will live for a hundred years, all will be well. Seagull: Hold my beer.
Nature can be "brutal"
Heron Island Research Station deputy manager Abbie Taylor was with the editors and producers in the control room and saw the whole thing unfold live.
"We witnessed turtle pups being brought on a daily basis," said Taylor.
"Whether by seagulls or crabs ashore or sharks and fish in the water.
"It is common to see large flocks of seagulls waiting on the beach at dusk and dawn for nests to erupt."
This risk of predation hinders the lives of young turtles, with an average of only one in every 1,000 turtles surviving to maturity.
Tweet from UQ News: Abbie Taylor filmed these turtle cubs at Heron Island Research Station at # UQ. They incubate for 45-70 days and then it takes 3-7 days to break free from their eggs and crawl across the sand avoiding predators along the way!
Taylor told ABC that the puppies that appeared on the show were taken from a nest that erupted a few days earlier.
She said that this was common practice for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Guard Station (QPWS) team.
"They unearth [the erupted] Nest to get statistics on hatch rates and to see if there are live offspring remaining, "she said.
"These particular nests were replanted by QPWS to obtain data on incubation periods and have successful and unsuccessful litters."
With limited human disturbance, Heron Island should be able to support 80 seagulls, but human influence has seen the population grow to about 300 seagulls.
And this increases the pressure on the population of animals preyed on by gulls.
Taylor said that before the turtle season, the seagulls attacked the little birds with the tip of their noses, "killing them, just to eat their eyes and stomachs."
"It was a very brutal sight," she said.
Part of the food chain
On Twitter, Bonnin explained the broadcast of the scene to living rooms across the UK.
Tweet from Liz Bonnin: They need to get their instincts to kick in. Even in the water they are caught by seabirds.
"Scientists here get the puppies that usually die in the nests, the ones that are left behind after the clutch came days ago, to give them a lifeline," she said in a series of tweets.
"These pups are part of the food chain here and silver gulls also need to feed their newborn puppies.
"Hard to watch, but we can not do anything about it."
Heron Island is located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area and is an important nesting habitat for green and marine turtles.
The nesting season usually runs from October to March, with most turtles coming out of their eggs in January.
Visitors are welcome to watch the pups as they venture into their nests, but are reminded through the Heron Island website that youngsters are endangered species and are "very vulnerable to being disturbed."
Facebook post from Heron Island: And then coo-coo-cho-choo, they find the way back to the big blue ol