Antarctic Penguins

"They are extraordinarily like children, these little people of the Antarctic world, either like children, or like old men, full of their own importance and late for dinner, in their black tail-coats and white shirt-fronts — and rather portly withal."    — Cherry-Garrard about penguins.
On this page:

Note 1: If you have Internet Explorer 4.0 or above, pass the mouse over the pictures to hear the penguins. Ooops, no sorry, with your browser it won't work. You should get IE to hear the penguins&nbsp;!!!<BR>

Note 2: There's been a disturbing trend as of 2006: teachers asking their pupils to interview me (and maybe others) about penguins. What would you do if you received 30 interview requests on the same day ?!? So if you have questions that are not covered in the Penguin FAQ, I'll do my best to answer them. Otherwise I'll just set my filters to SPAM this form of abuse.

Note 4: Hey, the 2011 giftmas season is upon us, so why not this tongue in cheek Buy at Amazon.com'cute' book with a pretty penguin on the cover ?.



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One of the earliest Adelie penguins to arrive in spring, while there is still sea-ice. The first ones gather all the pebbles they can find to build their nests. They can end up with a pile 50cm high ! Those who come later just steal from their pile, usually while the owner is fighting another thieve on the other side. Sound effect: adult adelie penguin.

Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)

Right: One of the earliest Adelie penguins to arrive in spring, while there is still sea-ice. The first ones gather all the pebbles they can find to build their nests. They can end up with a pile 50cm high ! Those who come later just steal from their pile, usually while the owner is fighting another thieve on the other side. Sound effect: adult adelie penguin. Image available as a free wallpaper


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Adelie penguin standing on his nest. Sound effect: adelie penguin chick.

Left: Adelie penguin standing on his nest. Sound effect: adelie penguin chick. Image available as a free wallpaper

Overview

Size: 75 cm
Weight: 3 to 6.5 kg
Distribution: continent and Antarctic islands
Reproduction areas on the archipelago: all the main islands

The Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is the most common of all penguins in Antarctica. They nest near the shore in groups of 6 to 100s called rookeries. There are tens of thousands of them in the vicinity of Dumont d'Urville, even under the buildings of the station ! They get used to humans pretty quickly.


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Sequence showing an adult feeding his chick by regurgitation.

Left: Sequence showing an adult feeding his chick by regurgitation.

Biology

Arrival: October
Egg laying: November
Hatching: December
Departure of chicks: February
Food: almost only krill
Distribution at sea: stays near the ice
Particularity: very territorial, although living in extended colonies of up to tens of thousands of breeding pairs. Complex behavior.


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A small rookery of only 3 breeding pairs situated on the Nunatak. In those small rookeries, eggs and chicks are exposed to attacks by skuas and giant petrels. Sound effect: adult adelie penguin.

Right: A small rookery of only 3 breeding pairs situated on the Nunatak. In those small rookeries, eggs and chicks are exposed to attacks by skuas and giant petrels. Sound effect: adult adelie penguin. Image available as a free wallpaper

Protection

World population: estimated to 2 million breeding pairs. See here for more info.
Archipelago's population: 29 182 breeding pairs in 1984, 30 369 in 1990.
Threats: none. Population in slight increase (1% a year) almost everywhere, but colonies near bases tend to be stable or decrease (McMurdo).
Care: do not cross colonies. Do not capture them nor their chicks.


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A flying penguin ! An Adelie penguin jumps out of the water onto the ice to join a group. Sound effect: adult adelie penguin.
Research

Study of the 3000 breeding pairs dislodged by the construction of the airstrip. 2000 penguins were tagged in 1989~91 and are being followed.

Left: A flying penguin ! An Adelie penguin jumps out of the water onto the ice to join a group. Sound effect: adult adelie penguin.


You can purchase pictures of penguins on a CD, for any use, royalty-free; or you can purchase posters of penguins.



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Emperor penguins arriving in a single column in autumn, on a barely frozen ocean.

Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)

Right: Emperor penguins arriving in a single column in autumn, on a barely frozen ocean. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation


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Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes Forsteri) chick asking for food. It starts by going 'Piu!', 'Piu!' with a head motion from front to back. Then when the adult looks down, the chick touches its beak which triggers a feeding reflex. Sound effect: emperor penguin chick.
Overview

Size: 120 cm.
Weight: 20 to 45 kg.
Distribution: Antarctic coasts.
Reproduction areas on the archipelago: one single colony on the ice-shelf between Carrel Island and the nunatak.


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A young emperor losing his down feathers in spring. In about a week he will take to the ocean and won't come back for a few years. After they loose their down their collar has got only a black and white color. After a year it turns yellow and goes to darker orange as the penguin ages. Sound effect: emperor penguin chick.

Left: Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes Forsteri) chick asking for food. It starts by going 'Piu!', 'Piu!' with a head motion from front to back. Then when the adult looks down, the chick touches its beak which triggers a feeding reflex. Sound effect: emperor penguin chick.

Right: A young emperor losing his down feathers in spring. In about a week he will take to the ocean and won't come back for a few years. After they loose their down their collar has got only a black and white color. After a year it turns yellow and goes to darker orange as the penguin ages. Sound effect: emperor penguin chick.


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When the temperature is high, the penguins spread over the ice but always remain near each other. There are about 3000 breeding pairs in DdU's rookery, most of them with a chick. They are noisy and smelly !. Sound effect: male emperor penguin.

Left: When the temperature is high, the penguins spread over the ice but always remain near each other. There are about 3000 breeding pairs in DdU's rookery, most of them with a chick. They are noisy and smelly !. Sound effect: male emperor penguin. Image available as a free wallpaper

Biology

Arrival: April
Egg laying: May
Hatching: July, 62~66 days of incubation at 31°C in an environment that can go down to -60°C.
Departure of chicks: December-January
Food: squid and fish
Distribution at sea: stays near the ice
Particularity: after the laying, males take care of the sitting. During their 4 months fasting they loose half their weight (20kg). In order to minimize heat loss, the males gather together in 'turtles' that can be as dense as 10 individuals/m² during storms. After August, both partners take care of the only chick, recognized by its voice, taking turns at sea every 2 weeks (or more if the sea-ice is very extended).
They breed during Antarctica's harshest season, so that when their young become independent, five months later, the climate will be more favorable. Emperors are the most unfaithful of all penguins: 78 percent of mating pairs go their separate ways after only one year !


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An incredible picture of flying penguins ! Well, actually they are just emperor penguins underwater. I took about 4 rolls of pictures in order to have barely 2 or 3 decent pictures, and I froze my hands big time. I put my camera in a homemade plastic bag with a piece of glass up front and held it underwater while laying on sea-ice. After this experience I designed an infrared trigger that'd work underwater and fixed the camera on a pole.

Right: An incredible picture of flying penguins ! Well, actually they are just emperor penguins underwater. I took about 4 rolls of pictures in order to have barely 2 or 3 decent pictures, and I froze my hands big time. I put my camera in a homemade plastic bag with a piece of glass up front and held it underwater while laying on sea-ice. After this experience I designed an infrared trigger that'd work underwater and fixed the camera on a pole. Image available as a free wallpaper

When underwater, emperor penguins are really fast, up to 60 km/h. The deepest dives recorded are 16 minutes at 534m for a male, and 15 minutes at 477m for a female (source Kooyman & Kooyman, 1995). The average dive is 5 to 6 minutes around 100m. Depth and duration of a dive vary from place to place and availability of surface food. When they come to the surface to breathe, they perform a quick succession of leaps out of the water without slowing down their swimming, also known as 'porpoising' (after the dolphins).



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An Emperor penguin chick noisily requesting his dinner. Sound effect: female emperor penguin.

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Breeding pair of emperor penguins with their chicks warmly stuck under their belly. After I took this picture, the right chick started beaking the left one. Nasty little bugger ! Sound effect: male emperor penguin.

Left: An Emperor penguin chick noisily requesting his dinner. Sound effect: female emperor penguin. Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilationPurchase the large-sized poster of this image

Right: Breeding pair of emperor penguins with their chicks warmly stuck under their belly. After I took this picture, the right chick started beaking the left one. Nasty little bugger ! Sound effect: male emperor penguin. Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilationPurchase the large-sized poster of this image

Protection

World population: 150 000 breeding pairs in 25 known colonies (probably more). Stable. See here for more info.
Archipelago's population: 3000 breeding pairs, but there used to be 7000 in the '60s.
Threats: The cause of the population decline is unknown, but probably due to multiple causes. Since 1984 the colony is stable at 2800-3500 breeding pairs.
Care: this specie is not shy, but when they are in 'turtle', panic movements can lead to the loss of hundreds of eggs.



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An exceptional picture of two emperor penguins mating.
Research

This is the only colony in Antarctica located near a base, so most of the research ever done on Emperor penguins was done here (esp in ethology and physiology). Since 1986 no more tags are put on them, but those remaining are still controlled.


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Capture of an emperor penguin for biology studies on fat metabolism and cold weather adaptation.

Left: An exceptional picture of two emperor penguins mating.

Penguins mate only once a year, and it lasts less than 10 seconds. They mate in autumn, shortly before the coldest time of the year. Since there are more females than males, the lonely females try to interfere with couples in the process of mating. Male and females look exactly alike, with a slight average weight difference, and higher voice pitch for the females. But during mating season you can sometimes tell the females by the muddy footprints on their lower back... ;-)

Penguin movie The movie Buy at Amazon.comMarch of the Penguins has done a killing on US screens and DVD rentals ! And not only that, but it won a well deserved Oscar at the 78th Academy Awards for best documentary.

It was filmed at Dumont d'Urville during the winter 2003 by a crew of two only. I've also met the director in DdU many years before, just when I was about to start my first winterover and he was finishing his. Although I have nothing to do with the movie, I've been answering a lot of mail about it since the movie came out, your messages are welcome, just make sure you read the Penguin FAQ first.

The DVD contains extensive extra footage showing all the difficulties involved in filming during the Antarctic winter.

Would you like an anecdote about Luc Jacquet, the director of the movie ? During the 2003-2004 summer campaign at Dumont d'Urville he was there to wrap up the filming of the movie. Workers from Cap Prud'homme, an advanced camp 10km away from where the Traverses to Dome C start off, had left a box at the bar with written in big: "Property of Prud'Homme. Don't Open!". Knowing their rough reputation. the box stayed untouched for a few weeks, but this being the bar and main meeting place on the station, finally someone was curious enough to open the box. That person was Luc. And the content of the box was a rigged red smoke flare that went off immediately, turning the entire room red, and particularly the curious perpetrator...

Right: Capture of an emperor penguin for biology studies on fat metabolism and cold weather adaptation. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

When the chicks are a little older, sometimes both parents are absent feeding at sea and they leave them with the groups. Other penguins don't feed them, but in case of bad weather they all group together, forming what is called a 'turtle' to withstand the wind better. Sometimes when the weather is bad, the chicks will wander away from the group, lost with the poor visibility, and fall into the small crevasses forming between the fixed land-ice and the tide-moved sea-ice. Several times when going to see the penguins after lunch, we would find a bunch of them a meter deep in an ice crack, unable to climb out, cold from the wind. The official position was to 'let nature takes it course', meaning let them there to die. But even the most die hard biologist would take pity of those cute sorry furry things, grab them out and bring them back to the group.

After we found some quite far from the group in a mean storm, shaking from the cold, we put them under our jacket while walking to the rookery, and they snuggled with the head right under the armpit (probably for the realistic 'nature smell' !), inducing giggles. When reunited with the other penguins, they would run after us and I'm pretty sure we could hear 'Mommy! Mommy!' or something quite close to that effect ! What breaks your heart is when you pull them out, bring them back to the group and they turn around and run right back inside the crack. OK, some maybe some didn't come from the brightest eggs in the rookery.

From my site you can purchase royalty-free pictures of penguins on a CD for any use; or also purchase posters of penguins.



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Penguins have even been awarded a statue in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania ! Lots of Antarctic activity happens there since Australia and France use Hobart as a starting base for Antarctic expeditions.

Right: Penguins have even been awarded a statue in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania ! Lots of Antarctic activity happens there since Australia and France use Hobart as a starting base for Antarctic expeditions.

Thanks for making this page the most popular one of my site (about 600 hits/day). There are more pictures and a lot more facts about penguins on the Penguin FAQ page and my 3-D page but you need specialRed-cyan glasses. I also have pictures of the little blue fairy penguin and the yellow-eyed penguins on my Tasmanian page, but I don't know those two species very well and just saw them like an average tourist. And here's a strange video.

I also have some cartoons of penguins drawn by somebody at DdU and also some pictures of the other birds and animals seen around the base. And finally there's a whole lot more high resolution pictures of penguins for sale in my Antarctic Archive CD.

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