The flock of baby penguins gets ready to leap off a 50-foot cliff for their first swim (Credit: National Geographic/ Bertie Gregory)

Renowned wildlife filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer Bertie Gregory is known for capturing rare and unforgettable moments in the animal kingdom. On April 11, 2024, Gregory once again made headlines with his unprecedented footage of a flock of baby penguins bravely diving off a 50-foot (15m) cliff for their first-ever swim in the icy Antarctic waters.

"I had no idea that the chicks would be able to make such a giant leap," Gregory said. "And not just survive, but happily swim off together into the Southern Oceans . . . How's that for your first swimming lesson?"

The video shows about 700 emperor penguin chicks cautiously approaching the cliff's edge. Then, one brave chick jumps in and starts swimming. More chicks follow, and soon a large group of them are joyfully frolicking in the sea.

"They were falling and there were big chunks of ice floating in the water beneath them, so it's like falling onto a chunk of concrete. But, to my amazement, they were not just surviving but popping up and going, 'I can swim!' This is their first swim ever, the first swim of their lives," Gregory recalls.

This is the first time the baby penguins dive. a high cliff has been captured on camera (Credit::National Geographic/ Bertie Gregory)

Emperor penguins typically breed and care for their offspring during winter. In January, when the chicks are about five months old, they lose their baby feathers and head to the sea for their first swim. The ritual of taking their first plunge off an iceberg is known as fledging.

Most emperor penguins set up colonies on sea ice, which forms around the Antarctic continent every winter and breaks up every spring. As a result, the chicks only have to dive a short distance for their first swim. However, in the past few years, high-resolution satellite imagery has shown that some emperor colonies are choosing to breed and raise their chicks higher up on the permanent ice shelves. But until Gregory's video, researchers had never been able to verify how the baby penguins came down the steep ice shelves for their first swim.

To capture the extraordinary footage, Gregory and his team spent two months camping alongside a colony of emperor penguins on Antarctica's Ekstrom Ice Shelf.

"This colony was about 10,000 strong, so a lot of noise, a lot of fun smells, and a lot of fun characters," Gregory said.

The video provides a sneak peek into National Geographic's Secrets of the Penguins, the second installment of the Secrets Of series. It will debut on Disney+ on Earth Day 2025. To learn more about the historic penguin leap, go to

Emperor Penguins

Emperor penguin jumping out of the water in Antarctica (Credit: Christopher Michel/ Antarctica,/ CC-BY-2.0/ Wikipedia Commons)

Emperor penguins are the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species. They can only be found on the sea ice surrounding Antarctica's coast. Scientists estimate that there are about 595,000 adult emperor penguins left in Antarctica. However, exact numbers have been hard to confirm. The 66 known colonies are scattered in remote areas— many of which remain unvisited. Due to threats from sea-ice loss caused by climate change, the flightless birds were added to the Endangered Species list in 2022.