penguins doing cute things

As promised, here are several cute photos of penguins.

 

all fluffed out

 

I’m on a boat

 

a delicious home-cooked meal

 

note that the middle one is drooling a tiny bit

 

O RLY?

 

trying to lick elbow

 

group huddle

 

fashionable hat?

 

400m butterfly

 

foreground: carryin’ pebbles.  background:  nuzzlin’.

 

approaching spherical dimensions

 

trying to touch his toes

 

imitating me

 

typical teenager

 

as usual, the last one picked for soccer matches

penguins

For those of you in-the-know about penguins, or those of you who are just curious and actually read this blog, lemme clarify my last post:

There are Adelie penguins at more southern latitudes on other parts of this continent, but the colony on Charcot Island is farther south than any colonies we’ve found on the West Antarctic Peninsula (the chunk of Antarctica that juts up towards South America). This is the first time we’ve even been able to come so far south with our ship in the pack ice, since the extent of winter ice is decreasing each year, so there may very well be small Adelie colonies further south on the Peninsula that we simply haven’t seen yet. Perhaps even more important, though, is that the ecosystem is different here, and more rapidly changing than elsewhere in Antarctica. Adelie populations further north on the Peninsula are declining. Other kinds of penguins — Gentoos and Chinstraps — are moving in, since they’re more of a “sub-polar” species.

Cute pictures of penguins are on their way — I promise! I’ll post many more photos when I’m back on land with no limitations on my internet connection.

snow at Charcot

The further south you go, the easier it is to find uncharted islands and shores still untouched by human feet. Yesterday we took two Zodiacs and landed on Charcot island, making me one of about fifteen people to ever set foot there, and one of maybe six since the early 1900s. I suppose that’s no more a claim to fame than “Eater of One of the Twenty Largest Burritos on Record” or something else along those lines, but nevertheless I feel pretty cool about it.

We also took a large plush shark named Big-Big to Charcot Island. “Shark-oh” puns abound!

Two years ago our group discovered a very small colony of Adelie penguins on Charcot, and this colony was the reason for our return. “Whoop-dee-doo, more penguins in Antarctica,” you say. But listen, the discovery is exciting for two reasons.

First: the beach at Charcot is basically a sheer cliff, making it pretty difficult terrain for stubby penguin legs. It’s impressive that they manage to hop out of the water and onto this island at all, let alone hike 100 feet up the cliff every day to reach the nook they call home.

Second: this is a lot further south than other Adelie colonies. Usually they’re more of a “sub-polar” species.

The mountaineering feats of these little guys are totally awesome, but the fact that Adelie penguins are so far south is disturbing. The life cycle of Adelies is linked to sea ice, but with winters that get warmer each year, there are fewer and fewer places along the Antarctic Peninsula that even get solid sea ice.

Navigating through icebergs and broken-up pack ice was spectacular, and getting stuck in a snowstorm on the island felt a little more like the Real Antarctic Experience I’d always imagined. But keep in mind that this is the southernmost point on our research trip, and we’ve just now reached a latitude that actually deserves to be called “The Frozen South.” It’s scary how quickly the poles are receding.

penguins on the pitch

I should mention that the soccer game against the British took place on the runway of their airstrip. Imagine the ragtag team of American scientists and sailors skidding all over the loose-gravel runway, icebergs in the distance. Then imagine three penguins waddling into the middle of our game like a couple of miniature Charlie Chaplains, and the same ragtag team now shuffling around with arms outstretched to imitate the penguins’ “aggressive” stance, attempting to herd the little stubby-legged birds off the field in time for a plane to land.

“Totally surreal” would be the only appropriate way to summarize our visit with the British. Earlier that day, before the soccer game, a few of us drove in a Sno-Cat (picture Hummer-meets-snowmobile, if you’ve never seen a Sno-Cat) up a glacier to a nearby mountain pass with views of ocean in one direction and the iceberg-littered bay in the other. And that evening, the British hosted a party for us. Outside the Party Garage they’d parked the Bar-dozer: a front-end loader whose bucket had been filled with snow and packed with beverages.

Poor me. I really hate my job.