Posts Tagged ‘penguins’

Audited by Emperors

September 23, 2009

I made a comment in a previous post about gangs of ne’er-do-well Adelie penguins vandalizing our site. That was, of course, a joke; there are no roving gangs of Adelie penguins out here. There are roving gangs of Emperor penguins.

From Penguin Day

The Emperors are here to inspect our work.

Backing up a bit: yesterday dawned cold and cloudy, perfect for taking measurements, so we headed out to the study site and got there around 1:00pm. The ice surface has been changing a lot in the past week or so. The snow crust is becoming thinner, probably eroded by high winds. Wandering away from our camp a ways, we found that the bare blue ice we’ve been hoping to find ever since we got here had finally begun to emerge from beneath its snowy blanket. As we explored we noticed a number of distinctive black-and-white forms in the distance.

From Penguin Day

Bare blue ice has never been so exciting. That's my boot for scale.

We selected a good site and set up our instrument, and soon acquired company in the form of fifteen Emperor penguins who sauntered up to watch. Apparently this phenomenon is fairly common: small groups of non-breeding individuals will break off from the main colony and wander aimlessly for large distances, stopping to inspect anything that catches their interest. (This is also exactly what the penguins say about scientists.)

From Penguin Day

An attentive audience of Emperor penguins watches Rich take albedo measurements.

Evidently the penguins decided our scientific endeavours were worthy of closer investigation, because when we set up the instrument at our original, carefully-groomed site for comparison measurements, we had a devil of a time keeping the entire group from marching directly across it.

From Penguin Day

Rich tries to convince the penguins to move slightly further away.

By keeping myself between the penguins and the study site, I managed to avert their repeated efforts to get penguin prints (and penguin excreta) all over our nice clean ice. Fortunately they tend to follow each other, so by discouraging the foremost penguin I could get the others to bypass the site as well. The penguins took it all with good humor and hung around for a while after we were done taking measurements.

From Penguin Day

Rich and Steve take measurements; meanwhile, the penguins stop their advance on our site to pose for a group photo.

Around six o’clock we retired to our hut to make dinner and bed down for the night. I don’t think I have told you about the ice hut we recently acquired (I’ve been shockingly lax about updating this week, for which I apologize.) The hut sleeps five in reasonable comfort and makes a good staging area for equipment during the day:

From Penguin Day

Our home away from home.

It’s also heated and equipped with solar panels for electricity. Evidently the penguins thought it was pretty nifty too, because shortly after dinner we heard their distinctive trumpeting just outside the door. We thought they might come in for cocoa, but they just wanted to get out of the wind. For obvious reasons, the side of the hut that’s out of the wind is also the side of the hut where we set up our pee bucket toilet facilities, so for most of the night any of us who went out to answer a call of nature found ourselves doing so in front of fifteen interested penguins.

Meghan, the wilderness safety person who came out to the hut to ensure we didn’t do ourselves an injury somehow, says that she heard the penguins near the hut until the wee hours of the morning; then they marched around it, perhaps to see if any of us were interested in joining them, and struck off into the night.

More photos at my Picasa album; this time I added the link under the pictures. I haven’t included the link to the album on previous posts, but a lot of them have additional photos on Picasa as well.