With our bags and ourselves on the ship, we heaved a big sigh. We'd arrived! We had a few hours downtime consisting of lunch and some unpacking, and then it was right in to our first excursion. During lunch the ship had repositioned to an isolated part of King George Island where there was a thriving Gentoo colony, and a visit to the colony was our first outing.
Rachel and I got ready for the excursion with our base thermal layer, a fleece thermal layer on that, jeans, and a waterproof pant shell, along with our expedition jackets. Waterproof gloves over medium-weight glove liners, glacier glasses, wind-shielding snow hats, wellington waterproof boots, plenty of sunscreen on our 2% that wasn't already hidden from the elements, and we put our cameras, lenses, and binoculars into the Aquaknot dry-bag. We were ready to go on our first adventure!
As we'd learn quickly over the next few days, four layers of leggings was definitely overkill, and as time went on we'd get more cavalier about how much we needed to coddle our cameras and equipment, but on this, our first excursion, it was like walking on the moon: you're not sure exactly what you're going to need, and it's better to have too much than too little.
We met up in the 'mud room' at the stern of the ship where we donned our lifejackets and learned the proper way to enter and exit the zodiacs (always have a hand free for the 'zodiac grip') and the proper way to sanitize our boots and gear between landings to minimize the risk of spreading contagion from one penguin colony to another. A few minutes more and both zodiacs were full of Foxes with Rob and Tim at the tillers and we were off to visit the penguins!
We'd learn a lot more about penguins in the coming days, but there are a few things right off the bat: A clean penguin is a happy penguin. Summer is nesting season for the penguins, and so one mate has to sit on the nest while the other goes out and spend a whole day gathering food for themselves and for the chicks. The difference between a dirty penguin and a clean penguin is that the former has been sitting on the nest all day, has regurgitated much of her food for the chicks, and hasn't eaten all day, while the clean penguin is fat with krill and squid, ready to spend a day on the nest with the chicks.
Coming back from a feeding foray, penguins will pop out from the water and straight on to their feet, surprising the unwary. Antarctic wildlife regulations dictate that humans shouldn't approach closer than 15 feet to a penguin, but if you're standing still and they approach you it's okay (unless they're clearly approaching you because they're trying to get someplace and you're in their way, in which case the penguin gets the right of way. After all, it's their road). Standing on the beach and having a penguin pop up beside you is a bit of a surprise, and almost as surprising is how little notice they take of people for the most part.
When a penguin pops out of the water, he'll frequently extend his wings and either flap or just stand there with wings extended. Unlike most times when the underside of the wing is white, when they're coming back from a stint of feeding the underwing will be much pinker. Despite swimming through freezing water (often literally), the penguins generate a lot of heat, and the blood vessels under their wings are close to the skin surface, so the wings are used like heat radiators to cool the bird down. After all, it's not easy to eat for three!
All-told we spent about an hour walking the beach alongside the colony. It was a great taste of things to come, and an excellent run-through for how to handle our equipment and ourselves in this environment. After we got back, we got a full ship's tour, safety briefings, a wonderful dinner, and an early bed. Good thing, too, as we were going to need as much time to try and sleep as possible.
Read the next chapter: Day 2: Chicken
Table of Contents:
Introduction: Telling the Story posted Jan 10, 2009
Day 0: Positioning posted Jan 12, 2009
Leaving, on a jet plane posted Jan 12, 2009
Day 1: The Herc posted Jan 15, 2009
» Day 1: Penguino posted Jan 16, 2009
Day 2: Chicken posted Jan 17, 2009
Day 2: Leopard posted Jan 19, 2009
Day 2: Snow Day posted Jan 22, 2009
Day 2: Shipwreck posted Jan 26, 2009
Day 2: Totally Tabular posted Jan 27, 2009
Day 3: Gentoo Cute posted Jan 29, 2009
Day 3: Lichen Shag Glacier posted Feb 3, 2009
Day 3: Palmer Station Visit posted Feb 9, 2009
Day 4: Icy Penguins posted Feb 11, 2009
Day 4: Adelie Awesome posted Feb 15, 2009
Day 4: Leopard Seal Attack posted Feb 17, 2009
Day 4: Kayak posted Feb 19, 2009
Day 4: Vernadsky Station Visit posted Feb 23, 2009
Day 4: Vernadsky Sunset posted Feb 25, 2009
Day 5: Antarctic Circle posted Feb 27, 2009
Day 5: Polar Plunge posted Mar 5, 2009
Day 5: Mouth of The Gullet posted Mar 13, 2009
Day 5: Ice Camping posted Mar 18, 2009
Day 6: Flamingos on Ice posted Mar 20, 2009
Day 6: Mountain Climbing posted Mar 24, 2009
Day 6: Ice Textures posted Mar 26, 2009
Day 6: Antarctic New Years posted Apr 2, 2009
Day 7: Crystal Sound Icebreaker posted Apr 9, 2009
Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 1 posted Apr 17, 2009
Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 2 posted Apr 21, 2009
Day 8: Bird Watching in the Fish Islands posted Apr 23, 2009
Day 8: Icee Day - Part 1 posted May 5, 2009
Day 8: Icee Day - Part 2 posted May 11, 2009
Day 9: Port Lockroy - Base A posted May 20, 2009
Bonus Chapter: Baby Penguins! posted May 21, 2009
Day 9: Antarctic Humpback Whales posted June 3, 2009
Day 9: Dallmann Butt Sliding posted June 11, 2009
Day 10: Birthday Whales posted June 23, 2009
Day 10: Hannah Point Part 1: The Birds posted July 15, 2009
Day 10: Hannah Point Part 2: Elephant Seals posted July 22, 2009
Day 10: Deception Island - Part 1: Walking on the Moon posted Dec 11, 2009
Day 10: Deception Island - Part 2: The Martian Chronicles of Oz posted Dec 15, 2009
Day 11: Emperor Penguins posted Jan 8, 2010
Day 12: Black and White and Pink All Over posted Aug 4, 2011
More chapters posted every few days...
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