26 Oct 2018

Expedition To Emperor Penguins by Maureen


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Wow. Our group is SOOOOOOOO lucky to be here for a third spectacular day. Same weather as we’ve had the other two days: clear and crisp and “warm.” Today, my group is the last to get out to the colony. We all kind of liked the relaxed speed of breakfast and getting all our gear on.

The penguins had moved overnight and we were kind of back to our set-up that we had the first day, just a little different. However today, the penguins’ behavior was different. I think we habituated them over the last couple days because today they were very brave and many of us had penguins practically sitting at our feet. We were all in heaven

I started out my morning sitting in front of a sub-colony that had some pretty cute chicks who were all lined up in a row. I’m so glad I sat down there. These chicks got brave and made their way close the small group of photographers and observers, but then an adult managed to call them back to the main group. I moved about 30 feet away to get a different vantage point. This same group of brave chicks made their way again towards our human group, this time ignoring the calls from the adult. And out from this group, 2 VERY brave chicks decided to make their way in amongst us. It was so surreal. I had put my camera down to take all this in. I had a penguin chick just feet from my feet. I was trying to be so still so as not to scare them. There was a photographer lady right next to me who managed to get herself in an odd position to photograph the chicks, then when she put her camera down, she was kind of stuck there, also afraid to move. And these little chicks just looked around, poked around, one started calling and it was so neat to see the little one’s breath puff out a little steam each time. And then they wandered even further into our group and was able to move and take some photos of my fellow chick-onlookers which I’ll send them. Eventually, after the chicks made their rounds through our group, they went back to the safety of their colony. And all of us onlookers were just awestruck and commenting about HOW COOL THAT WAS!

I eventually moved to another sub-colony section and ended up face-to-face with a curious adult penguin this time. WOW. What a day for meeting penguins. This one also made the rounds amongst our group. I think we were all glowing.

I planted myself between two sub-colonies and spent the rest of the day watching individuals and groups of penguins vacillate, the adults usually tobogganing across the snow, the chicks usually forming groups and then spreading into a single-file line and then back into a group, needing to confer with each other that they’re on the right path. What a pleasant afternoon...

Top photo: me with penguin chicks, trying to stay super still
Middle photo: more chicks
Bottom photo: more penguins

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Tonight, after we all returned to the ship, the crew arranged a BBQ outside on deck. Lovely idea and a grand tradition, but it’s tough to eat outside in below freezing conditions, trying to hold a metal fork and still have full use of those numb fingers. After dinner though, we all met in the lecture room for a bit of bad news: storms are coming.

Our Expedition Leader explained that there are two storms forming in the Drake Passage. Since we all know from experience that our ship is not built for the crossing, the EL and captain consulted the weather maps and decided that we needed to start making our way through back through the ice tonight with a plan to depart from King George Island (at the tip of the Peninsula) by the morning of the 28th in order to try to get ahead of the first Drake storm and reach sheltered waters near Argentina by the second Drake storm. Aw man. There was a collective groan from our group, both because we were leaving the penguins early and entering rough seas which we had just spent 3 days suffering through.

To make up for the bad news, here are some nice photos.

Top and middle photos: sunsets from Antarctica
Bottom photo: more cute penguins