Thursday, January 4, 2007

Penguins

Yesterday was the best day and the saddest day all in one. Pete, Lee and I were just getting our day started and it was gorgeous weather! The morning was pretty warm and a few streams started flowing, so we had a lot in our plans. As we turned to go down the lake, I noticed that what I thought to be a shimmery mirage on the ice was actually a little penguin! It was pretty far off but waddling towards us…my first emotion was excitement- I was afraid that I would leave Antarctica without seeing one! Then I realized that any penguin that had made it over the sea ice and 6 miles over land to end up at Lake Fryxell was doomed to become one of the mummified relics that we come across on our hikes. As we walked towards it, I noticed FIVE other penguins a few hundred yards away. They were all Adelies, known for being the small, playful species of penguin. It is very rare to see more than one stray penguin in the Dry Valleys. In this case it appeared that the small one I saw at first was the leader and had lead them all astray.


I knew that we wouldn’t be able to rescue them, and that the rules of the Antarctic Treaty forbid interfering with wildlife, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to feed them and corral them back to the open water (probably over 15 miles away)! We did notify the penguin researcher in McMurdo via radio, and he asked us to look to see if their wings were tagged and write down the numbers (they weren’t tagged). As we watched and took pictures and their personalities became more evident, it was harder and harder to come to grips with the fact that they were on their death march.


After a good photoshoot, we had to get on with our day. We left hoping that for some unknown reason they would turn around, but knew it wasn’t probable. When we returned to F6 for the evening, we saw that they were a mile further inland than when we saw them in the morning. Mummified penguins have been found all the way up past Lake Bonney which is 15 miles away. So it is feasible that they still have a long journey ahead of them. Thinking about it is heartbreaking!

2 comments:

jianantonic said...

How big were they? It's hard to tell from your pictures. Maybe they'll find their way...
:(

Happy New Year, btw :)

Emily said...

They were probably about 1.5-2 feet tall. Pretty small. They looked healthy when we saw so maybe if they decide to turn around they'll be able to make it back to the ocean.
Happy 2007 to you too!