Saturday, December 22, 2007
Pictures from Antarctica
Here are some really amazing images from Antarctica.
There are more Adelie penguins than any other penguin species. They live in the deep south and as such frequently have to cross many kilometers of ice still bound to the continent or islands to reach land in the spring where they can build their nests. Sometimes they have to travel as much as 100 kilometers, though usually 20-40 is more usual. A long walk nevertheless.
This pair were early arrivals in spring at an Antarctic Island near the northern edge of their breeding range and only had about half a kilometer to waddle and "toboggan".
Tobogganing is a way of getting around where there is smooth snow or ice. The penguin lies on its stomach and propels itself along using its feet, an efficient use of energy and one where the penguin can easily keep up with a running man.
These Adélies have a problem, they went out fishing at high tide and now. some hours later have returned. In the meantime the tide has gone out. Still attached to the land is the "ice-foot" an ice step left behind as the tide rises and falls in the winter months to which the floating sea ice is loosely attached. When the sea ice breaks out, the ice-foot is left behind for a period of days to weeks before rising temperatures and the waves cause this to break off too.
So what was a short hop down for the penguins is now a step too high for them. I spent a couple of hours one afternoon watching and following an ever increasing number of penguins as they came back from their fishing trip. They wandered up and down the shore-line trying to find somewhere to get up, but to no avail. Eventually, the tide came back in and so they floated back up to the right level and were able to get back to their nests. The ice-foot broke off completely a few days later in a mild storm.