Posts Tagged ‘Gentoo penguins’

Stromness – A Playground for Antarctic Fur Seals

February 27th, 2010 at 9:52 am (AST) by Jake Richter

February 24, 2010 – After our interesting morning with reindeer in Jason Harbour, we moved on to Fortuna Bay, where a couple of dozen hardy souls were dropped off to walk the last four miles of Ernest Shackleton’s incredible trip across South Georgia. The hike was a one-way trip, ending at Stromness, the next bay over to the east of Fortuna Bay.

It was snowing, it was cold, and we just were not feeling quite ambitious enough for such exertion so we instead opted to take the ship over to Stromness.

The former whaling station at Stromness

The former whaling station at Stromness

Stromness was a major whaling station on South Georgia, and the relics of the whaling station are still present on shore, but due to asbestos and a lack of structural integrity, humans are no longer allowed to get close to the structures there.

When we arrived at Stromness, Captain Kruse surprised us by running the National Geographic Explorer aground into the soft sand near the beach. This made for a very short trip to shore by Zodiac. The other surprise awaiting us were hundreds of fur seals on the beach, and more particularly, in the water. In fact, one particular area of the surf we could see from our balcony was literally alive with Antarctic fur seals, playing in the water.

Masses of fur seals observe us and the ship with only minor curiosity

Masses of fur seals observe us and the ship with only minor curiosity

It was snowing and raining quite strongly, but we needed to check out these fur seals for ourselves.

The seas are alive with the sounds of playing fur seals

The seas are alive with the sounds of playing fur seals

Once on land we discovered the fur seals were not particularly interested in us, and even the few older male fur seals didn’t waste energy on trying to intimidate us with growling and charging like we had experienced elsewhere on this trip.

Fur seals like body surfing as much as we do, but also in really cold water

Fur seals like body surfing as much as we do, but also in really cold water

Most of the fur seals were young pups – thoroughly adorable and curious, and readily approached us to check us out (and then ignore us when we proved to not be interesting enough).

Bas checks out his temporary fur seal pup companion while Linda videos him

Bas checks out his temporary fur seal pup companion while Linda videos him

Other critters were present too, including some elephant seals – one of whom came close enough to decide we were not something it wanted to spend more time with.

An elephant seal juvenile came in for a look at us, but ended up leaving again

An elephant seal juvenile came in for a look at us, but ended up leaving again

We also found two species of penguins – Gentoos and Kings. Watching the interchange between the seal fur pups and penguins was comical, with the fur seal pups being playful and the penguins being a bit disconcerted and huffy about the whole thing.

This Gentoo penguin appeared a little out of place when it came out of the water and found itself surrounded by curious fur seal pups

This Gentoo penguin appeared a little out of place when it came out of the water and found itself surrounded by curious fur seal pups

We spent a couple of hours on shore, completely soaked, but also very happy we had visited, and even happier we had not done the long hike.

Our King penguin greeting committee wishes us a good journey to our next stop in South Georgia

Our King penguin greeting committee wishes us a good journey to our next stop in South Georgia

More photos and larger version of those above can be found on my Flickr pages.

 

Port Lockroy, Southern-Most Post Office, Feb. 15,2010

February 23rd, 2010 at 11:53 am (AST) by Krystyana Richter

On this day, we met our first gentoos and saw krill, which is one of the most important food sources for the wildlife in Antarctica.

Regurgitated Krill

Regurgitated Krill

We arrived in Port Lockroy in the morning waiting for officials to board from the base only to find that they thought we were coming in the afternoon. The internet is very unreliable and so they did not get the email saying we were arriving early.

At the beginning of our journey, everyone wrote down their names on one of six pages indicating what group we would be in. This is because of a 100 person limit onshore; you could be on a zodiac or kayaking without breaking this limit because you are technically not on shore. In this case, groups 1 & 2 stayed on board, groups 3 & 4 went to Jougla (think French), and groups 5 & 6 went to Lockroy. The groups rotated places every hour and 15 minutes (mind you, this is not very precise, because people stay longer in some locations and lose track of time quite easily).

We had been waiting to see the penguins after watching a leopard seal chase some zodiacs. Almost the minute we set course for Jougla, my dad asked how you would pronounce the name, turns out there is tons of mispronunciations from other languages and Lockroy is actually a mangling of a French name by the English.

Penguin watching the strange blue penguins

Penguin watching the strange blue penguins

I stepped on shore and was amazed to find that the gentoo penguins were absolutely everywhere and if we were supposed keep 15 feet away from these penguins we would be in the water. The penguins walked along the same paths us humans were using and the penguins had right of way. If you were in the way the penguin would not even look at you and either brush right past your legs or just waddled off onto another path. The rocks that we stood on were slimy with penguin poop and so keeping one’s balance with penguins in every direction was a challenge.

The chicks were at a stage where they chase adults to feed them and humans seemed easier to catch, they would squawk until they lost their patience and then looked for their next victim. The penguins had the tendency to be right behind you, so we had to watch where we walked more so than we had to with the Adelie penguins.

gentoo penguin feeding chick

gentoo penguin feeding chick

Man cornered by two gentoo chicks

Man cornered by two gentoo chicks

Feed baby penguin!

Feed baby penguin!

Port Lockroy was once a place where Norwegian whalers would anchor and they did so from 1911-31. What is left from those days are whale skeletons above and below (David Cothran, the trip’s undersea specialist had been diving there and took video, which included the video of whales’ skeletons). These date from before the whalers learned how to get oil from the bones and so they just left the rest of the whale to drift or sink after they were done.

Someone, who had a lot of time on their hands, put together a makeshift whale skeleton (makeshift because the bones are mostly from different whales, like one is blue, sperm, or right whale and some are in the wrong position) from all the bones lying around. This skeleton had penguins wandering through the bones and one was even trying to use it a windbreaker.

Makeshift whale skeleton and the human comparison

Makeshift whale skeleton and the human comparison

Antarctic blue eyed shags were nesting nearby the gentoo colony and they did not seem bothered in the least by the other being present, unless they came too close to the other’s nest.

Pair of Antarctic blue eyed shags

Pair of Antarctic blue eyed shags

On a lonely little hill, there was an adult gentoo on a nest that contained a small chick and an egg. Many photos were taken but the likely hood that the chick would survive is very low, because it is too late in the season.

Adult gentoo, baby, and egg

Adult gentoo, baby, and egg

After taking many photos of a Jougla and its inhabitants, I found myself near the landing station without a clue where the rest of my family was. I guessed my mom and brother had gone off to Lockroy and that my dad was somewhere on Jougla and he would take his time getting to Lockroy. So, I headed off to the Lockroy base to see the very small museum.

The signs that indicate that you are in Port Lockroy

The signs that indicate that you are in Port Lockroy

I walked through the museum rapidly and bumped into my brother, who then brought me over to my mom. They had been sitting on the porch outside of the museum and were being entertained by the poop and vomit eating snowy sheathbills and their chicks that had a particular interest in the poop-laden bottoms of our muck boots.

Snowy sheathbill chick and bottom of muck boot

Snowy sheathbill chick and bottom of muck boot

People that arrived from a yacht had caught the interest of some gentoo chicks and the chicks started trying to tunnel, headfirst, between the legs of one of the men. My mom’s theory is these penguins like the color orange because the boots the man was wearing were bright orange.

Penguin chick tunneling between legs

Penguin chick tunneling between legs

At the end of our visit of Port Lockroy, we finally found my dad.

For more photos go to Flickr.

 

A Bit of Penguin Bathroom Humor

February 17th, 2010 at 3:04 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Okay, so it’s actually not humor, but instead a fact of life. Penguins eat. Penguins digest. Penguins poop.

Penguin poop is called guano, just like the poop of other birds, and because penguins nest in large groups known as colonies, their guano tends to be rather concentrated in those areas. It is also quite smelly, with a strong, earthy barnyard sort of odor. But you get used to it after a while. Really. Just don’t get it on your clothes.

Gentoo penguin chicks on guano-stained rocks with a glacier in the background

Gentoo penguin chicks on guano-stained rocks with a glacier in the background

One of the major staples of penguin diet in the Antarctic is krill, a creature which looks like a shrimp but is in a different family. Krill, in addition to feeding whales and seals, is also quite pink, which results in some penguin guano being pink too, as can be seen in the above picture.

Green-colored penguin guano is a sign that a penguin is molting (and thus staying out of the ocean and not feeding on krill).

One of the more interesting aspects of how penguins defecate is that it is a fast, quick, wet stream of gooey guano. In an area not already heavy with guano, this style of pooping results in long narrow streaks of guano decorating the ground as seen in the photo below:

These white streaks are penguin guano - in other words, penguin poop

These white streaks are penguin guano - in other words, penguin poop

And, to make the whole penguin poop story complete, below is a short video clip of how this all works.

 

Antarctic Impressions

February 17th, 2010 at 2:56 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

In all the writing I’m doing, I realized yesterday that most of the writing has been Antarctic “facts”, like the history of the Antarctic continent, the behavior of penguins, and ecological factors. I think I have been remiss in sharing my impressions of Antarctica and our journey so far, which has involved two days on the open sea, and another three and a half off the Antarctic Peninsula.

You may have heard this before, but let me state it for the record: Antarctica is unbelievably real and heart-achingly beautiful.

The land is covered by a glacier, icebergs float in the water, and a penguin porpoises in the foreground

The land is covered by a glacier, icebergs float in the water, and a penguin porpoises in the foreground

For example, yesterday evening, after returning to the National Geographic Explorer from several hours on land at Cuverville Island, home to one of the largest colonies of Gentoo penguins, all I could do is sigh, wistfully, as I stood our on the balcony of our stateroom, looking at the vista in the bay in which the ship was anchored.

A lone Gentoo penguin leaps out of the water with icebergs in the background

A lone Gentoo penguin leaps out of the water with icebergs in the background

Glacial ice forms these amazing blue-green icebergs

Glacial ice forms these amazing blue-green icebergs

In my immediate view was land covered with eons old glacial ice. I also saw a number of ice bergs of varying size formed from calving glaciers, almost shining blue from the purity of the ice. In the water were countless Gentoo penguins, porpoising out of the water in a sort of carefree exuberance.

A group of Gentoo penguins porpoising from the water on their way back to the colony

A group of Gentoo penguins porpoising from the water on their way back to the colony

I could not tear myself away from the view, and just waited for yet another group of penguins to play their aquatic game of leap frog merely dozens of feet away. And I kept sighing, and mumbling to myself about how stunningly beautiful it all was.

A group of penguins on an iceberg as we leave Cuverville Island

A group of penguins on an iceberg as we leave Cuverville Island

However, our ship ultimately did have to leave the bay, and thus our view changed, with icebergs and glaciers slowly getting smaller in the distance. A humpback whale surfaced about 400 yards behind us in the ship’s wake, occasionally blowing out mists of air propelled moisture. But even the whale got smaller as we kept on course. And still I kept sighing.

We see a humpback whale from our balcony as its flukes come out of the water to propel it to the deep

We see a humpback whale from our balcony as its flukes come out of the water to propel it to the deep

Dinner was a the time to recap our day and guess at what new things we would experience and encounter the following day. But as it turned out we didn’t even have to wait that long.

After our meal, Bas and I went up to the bridge to get log readings for his science project. The bridge was mostly dark with two crew on duty. It was after sunset, but there was a beautiful soft ambient glow emanating from the overcast heavens above, reflecting on relatively calm ocean waters below.

As I watched the seas ahead of us, two dark shapes appeared, bobbing above and under the water. I watched for a minute or two as they got closer and found they were seals of some sort, frolicking about, even at night.

Another sigh. Nature’s beauty and serendipity just wouldn’t go away. Nor did I want it to.

And then several more, larger but more distant, shapes appeared ahead of the ship. We finally got close enough to determine they were humpback whales. I stood rapt, just watching as their huge but sleek bodies emerged out of the ocean. First the back of the head, then a blow of moisture which quickly dissipated, then the stunted dorsal fin on the curved back that is the trademark of a humpback whale, and then it would disappear entirely below the frigid water, only to repeat it all over again a minute later – sometimes close and sometimes far from where it last dove underwater.

As we passed the whales, Bas and I rushed to port to catch one last glimpse of our leviathan companions, and were rewarded with seeing one of the whales surface, and then bring its tail completely out of the water to give itself the extra push it needed to descend deep into the depths. Almost as if it was waving good bye to us.

Sigh.

Every day so far has been filled with wonder, excitement, and appreciation for the privilege of being able to visit Antarctica before it change much further.

And we can’t even imagine what the following day may hold, as plans are fluid, and opportunities are seized as they appear. And here we are, ready for more of nature’s beauty.

 

The Dulcet Tones of Gentoo Penguins

February 17th, 2010 at 10:50 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We’ve had very little Internet access, but here’s a new sensory experience. I recorded about a half minute of the sounds of a Gentoo penguin colony on Cuverville Island on the Antarctic Peninsula yesterday. Press the play button (sideways triangle) on the player below to start the sounds.

Gentoo Penguin Colony Sounds

Here’s a photo of the area I recorded the sound:

A small part of the Gentoo penguin colony on Cuverville Island

A small part of the Gentoo penguin colony on Cuverville Island