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Published: March 11th 2014
I have become rather fond of penguins! Visiting much of the same colonies over the past few months, I have seen the penguins build their nests out of pebbles and watched as they laid their first egg. I have sat on the shores of distant beaches and perched myself high upon rocks and watched the penguins cherish and care for their eggs… I’ve witnessed new life as the chicks emerge from their shells as they hatch. I’ve seen the devotion and determination of penguin parents as they battle against the elements to feed and raise these chicks to adults, feeding them with regurgitated krill and fish. I’ve seen them swimming and hunting in the icy water. They swam under my boat and right up to the beach where I sat… I’ve witnessed that grand transformation as the chick moults from its warm, soft down to its adult plumage.
These birds are tough! They bring a new meaning to the word resilient! They are without a doubt one of the hardiest creatures on the planet, living in the coldest, windiest and harshest continent.
I don’t have favourite species though! I like the majesty of the mighty emperor penguin
and the splendidness of the king penguin. I like the funky hairdos of the rock-hopper and macaroni, the attitude of the adélie and the prim-and-properness of the policeman-like chinstrap… But for sheer quantity, the gentoos rule these parts! They’re almost everywhere, and in great numbers…
All penguins are smelly! And they are generally quite nasty to each other too. They fight lots. Peck, peck, peck! Squawk,squawk,squawk! Squabble, squabble, squabble!
“Hello Mr. Penguin Pants – you are one smelly little chica! In fact you are the smelliest, dirtiest, nastiest looking penguin I’ve ever seen!”
There was indeed an extremely smelly penguin at Barrientos Island, one of the Aitcho Islands of the South Shetlands. I could smell the penguin as it walked towards me, it smelled beautifully awful! I have no idea where this penguin had been, but clearly it had been somewhere silly. It was all bedraggled and guano-covered, and it waddled on by as penguins do and then splashed around in a mud pool. The penguin smelled of fur seal (possibly one of the smelliest of Antarctica’s inhabitants!) The smells of Antarctica cannot be captured on a camera and even if they could, you’d need a 64
gigabyte memory card to fully capture the odour! The colonies are definitely an olfactory overload, but I like the smell. It lingers on your clothes and boots, and every now and again I get a whiff of it whilst on board the ship… Antarctic perfume!
On this trip we had a glorious day of sunshine on Barrientos Island, where the penguins frolicked and entertained, followed by a day of rain where the penguins stood miserably on the shore. The next day varied from white-outs to blowing snow to amazing, dark, overcast skies where the penguins were barely visible. At Petermann Island we had fresh snow and high winds giving us the first glimpse of the coming Antarctic winter… It made for some spectacular scenes as snow-covered penguins huddled together to stay warm! They are as tough as they come! We also had our fair share of humpbacks and icebergs too, and some amazing skies.
Antarctica is a continent, a giant landmass covered in ice at the most southerly region of our planet. But it’s all about the water really! Once you get away from the coast and inland even a little bit, life essentially grinds to a halt!
Antarctica is all about the marine mammals (seals and whales) and the birdlife, including, of course, the penguins! It’s also about the krill, tiny crustaceans that live in the surface waters of this mighty region, and are the vital component of the entire ecosystem down here. All the wildlife depends on the krill and it is available to eat in huge proportions! Billions of tons of krill swim in these icy waters to provide food for pretty much everything else!
Penguins eat lots of krill and then regurgitate it directly down the throats of their young chicks - how delicious!
Enjoy the penguins!
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