When people hear that you’re going to Antarctica, they immediately ask if you’re going to see penguins (and, of course, whether you can bring one back for them!).  For those of us who aren’t biologists, though, seeing a penguin is relatively rare.  Folks can go many ice seasons and never see one.  Penguins are strictly protected by the Antarctic treaty: we aren’t permitted to approach them closely enough to influence their behavior, and the penguin rookeries are mostly off-limits to non-specialists.  Small Adelie penguins are sometimes seen by McMurdo late in the season when the sea ice breaks up, but large emperor penguins are rare sights indeed.  If you are lucky enough to see one, though, it can be a lot of fun.  Penguins are curious birds and have no natural predators on land, so they’re perfectly happy to investigate humans and their artifacts.

So yesterday (Saturday) on the shuttle van ride home, we stopped short when we saw an emperor penguin scooting along parallel to the roadway, heading vaguely toward LDB!  The little guy was far from the sea ice where he makes his home, but he seemed fat and healthy and can make it back if he heads in the right direction.  I couldn’t get a decent picture with my phone from the car, but it was great to finally see one in the wild.  The folks in the next shuttle had an even better experience: the penguin (since christened “George”) strolled up to them standing by the shuttle!  It then proceeded to hang out by LDB for much of the night, which was great for the night crew.  I was very happy to have seen a penguin… but disappointed to have missed the more close-up fun later that evening.

Sunday was supposed to be a day off for some of us, but suddenly turned into a launch attempt day for ANITA (as I write this, it’s on the pad ready to go).  I managed to catch a ride out with some CSBF folks on the last shuttle before they closed the road to LDB.  A bit later we heard the call that George was back, so everyone dropped what they were doing and came running:

When the word "penguin" spreads, everyone comes running!

When the word “penguin” spreads, everyone comes running!  George is the black and white spot in the center of the photo.

Our friend was there, strolling around behind the high bays by the launch pad.  He alternated between scooting on his belly, waddling on his feet, and giving an occasional loud “caw” to the sky.  I uploaded a quick video showing these three modes of operation:

He was cute and pudgy, awkward and yet elegant.  Everyone found themselves smiling and occasionally giggling, from the new folks like me to the experienced balloonists.  It was a magical sort of moment.

Our visitor for the day.

Our visitor for the day.

By the ice block stack behind the ANITA high bay.

By the ice block stack behind the ANITA high bay.

A lineup of excited photographers

A lineup of excited photographers: Ed, Bill, Anne, Johanna, Ziggy, etc.

I didn’t bring a fancy camera on this trip, and frankly I don’t know how to use one (I should learn for next time!), so others took far better pictures than I did.  Here are a couple that my colleague Ed Young took and passed along, including one of me and our visitor.

Among the flags and cones (courtesy of Ed Young).

Among the flags and cones (courtesy of Ed Young).

Me with our penguin visitor (courtesy of Ed Young).

Me with our penguin visitor (courtesy of Ed Young).

One thought on “Penguin!

  1. Pingback: Adelie Penguin! | Jeff Filippini

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