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Jerry Shepard is the main protagonist of the 2006 Disney drama Eight Below. He is an outpost guide who leads his team of eight sled dogs on an Antarctic Mission. When brutal weather forces him to reluctantly abandons his dogsled team, Jerry is determined to do all he can to rescue his canine companions and bring them home.
In 1993, Jerry Shepard is a guide at an Antarctica research base under contract with the National Science Foundation. UCLA professor, Dr. Davis McClaren, arrives at the base. He presses Shepard to take him to Mount Melbourne to find a rare meteorite from Mercury. Because of the hazardous conditions of the ice, vehicles traveling to the mountain would likely be too heavy to stay on the surface. Shepard decides that the only way to get to Mount Melbourne is by dog sled.
Shepard and McClaren make it to Mount Melbourne, but are called back to base camp due to an approaching heavy storm. McClaren begs for more time, and Shepard gives him half a day, which is enough time to find a fragment of the meteorite. En route back to base, McClaren slips down an embankment, breaking his leg and falling into freezing water. Shepard uses the lead dog Maya to carry a rope to McClaren and pulls him out. The two battle hypothermia, frostbite and near whiteout conditions as the dogs lead them home. Once there, the entire human crew is immediately evacuated, while the dogs are left behind. Certain that their pilot will return within days for the dogs, Shepard tightens their collars to ensure they cannot get loose and run away. But because of the harsh weather conditions, no rescue can be attempted until the next spring - and by then the dogs will be dead.
Back at home, Shepard tries to secure a plane to return and save the dogs, but no one is willing to finance the risky expedition. Five months later, Shepard makes one last attempt to get back. McClaren realizes the magnitude of his ingratitude and uses the remaining balance of his grant money to finance a rescue mission. Shepard acknowledges that there is almost no chance that any of the dogs have survived this long, but he owes it to his team to go back for them.
After being left behind, the eight sled dogs – lead dog Maya, Old Jack, Shorty, Dewey, Truman, Shadow, Buck, and the young Max, wait in the freezing conditions for Shepard to return. After two weeks without eating, with their spirits dwindling, they sit on the line next to the base. Suddenly, a gull flies near, prompting the dogs into action, and they all begin to break free, one by one. Old Jack, too weak by now, remains attached, and Maya stays to try and free him while the others chase the flock of gulls that have landed nearby. Maya realizes Old Jack has given up, and she reluctantly leaves him behind when he shows no sign of wanting to leave the base. Maya joins up with the other dogs, and they all work together to attack the gulls and manage to kill a few, getting their first food in two weeks.
After nearly two months on their own, having kept their strength up and still traveling, the dogs rest on a slope one night under the southern lights. Fascinated by the display, they run about and play until Dewey slips and falls down an incline, lying injured at the bottom. The team rushes to his side and sleeps with him. In the morning they find he has died. Max, unwilling to leave him, stays behind momentarily while the others head on, and by the time Max heads in their direction, he has lost them.
Maya manages to lead the team to the Russian base, which is unsecured and full of food, while Max finds his way back to the American base, which is still locked and abandoned. Setting back out into the wilderness, Max soon finds and recognizes the embankment the dogs traveled through on their way back from Mount Melbourne, along with some equipment dropped during Doctor McClaren's accident. Exploring the area, Max finds the carcass of a dead orca, but is driven off by a leopard seal nesting inside the body. Maya and the team are nearby, and they hear Max and rejoin him. Having nearly ruined their attempts to catch the gulls back when they had first left the base, Max redeems himself by luring the leopard seal away from the orca so the dogs can eat. However, it doubles back and attacks Maya, who is badly injured when it claps its reptile-like maw onto her paw. In a rage, the other five dogs jump on the seal, tearing and slashing at its face and body. The seal, overwhelmed, quickly drags itself back through the ice into the water, swimming away, and the dogs turn back to the orca and feast. After they have eaten their fill, the team, now reunited, continue traveling. They are starving, freezing and exhausted, and eventually the injured Maya collapses into the snow to rest. The dogs lie down beside their leader as the snow piles up around them. They have been on their own for nearly six months.
Shepard makes it back to base with the others and is dismayed to find the body of Old Jack, still attached to the chain, and no sign of the other dogs. He hears the sound of barking and sees Max, Shorty, Truman, Shadow and Buck come over the horizon. After a joyous reunion, Shepard attempts to load the dogs into the snowmobile, but Max runs off, with Shepard in hot pursuit. Max leads him to Maya, lying in the snow – weak, but alive. With six of his eight sled dogs in tow, Shepard and his crew head back to civilization, with the last scene showing a grave for the two fallen dogs, Old Jack and Dewey.