Few birds make headlines the way the Adélie does. Part of this is surely their appeal. Boldly patterned and neatly attired, being both petite and a little plump, and with an obviously curious nature, one cannot help but admire them. Surely this is a contributing factor to it being among the best-studied birds in all the world.
In his recounting of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole (1910-1913), Apsley Cherry-Garrard wrote, “Whatever a penguin does has individuality, and he lays bare his whole life for all to see.” He went on to note how a penguin is “quaint in all that he does … fighting against bigger odds than any other bird, and fighting always with the most gallant pluck.”
Of the world’s 18 penguin species, the Adélie is one of just two, along with the fabled Emperor, that makes its home on the Antarctic continent. In 2014, NASA satellite imagery helped scientists pinpoint a whole new colony, and a 2015 expedition to the site in the Danger Islands yielded news that an unknown supercolony of over 1.5 million Adélies was flourishing. One wonders how 1.5 million penguins might go unnoticed, but this is Antarctica we are talking about here. Even among researchers who work in the region, the Danger Islands are known as isolated and tough to access. But these Adélies made news not just for the sheer size of the colony, but more for the mess they made. “NASA satellite images of poop lead researchers to penguin ‘supercolony’” read one headline from USA Today. Yes, the Adélies had given a lot of editors a lot of material (if you will) to work with, and they did not disappoint. The pinkish guano of this mega-colony was visible from space, and this is hardly the first or last time the Adélie would make news.
George Murray Levick was also on Scott’s 1910 Expedition, and described some rather unusual sexual habits of the Adélies. The behavior documented, deemed far too racy for the times to be circulated, led to a headline in a 2012 article in The Week that read, “Shock at sexually ‘depraved’ penguins led to 100-year censorship.” It was hard to know whether to be horrified or impressed. In 2002, renowned seabird biologist David Ainley titled a new book, “The Adélie Penguin: Bellwether of Climate Change”. Living on, and at the edges, of the world’s highest, driest, coldest, most remote continent, the species has proven a fascinating subject for this reason, and yet for so many more. And even before we all enjoyed Morgan Freeman and March of the Penguins, there was Werner Herzog’s film, Encounters at the End of the Earth, where he disdainfully stated that he did not wish to make another film about “fluffy penguins”. And he has a point. There is, after all, a lot more to see on and en route to the ice continent.
The ice itself is fascinating. From the electric blue crevasses that fracture the glaciers on spectacular South Georgia Island to the massive tabular bergs floating off the continent itself, the scenescapes are beyond intense. Some such bergs are dotted with flocks of Chinstrap Penguins, or have Snow Petrels in front of them, tracing urgent arcs through the frigid air. Others feature loafing Leopard Seals smiling with sinister grins, or echo the breathy surfacing of Minke Whales as they break the rigid stillness.Our first exclusive charter to Antarctica sets sail in a couple of weeks. That one sold out soon after we opened registration, but there are still spots left for the Antarctica 2020 cruise. Aboard our incomparable ship the RCGS Resolute, we are thrilled to staff a fantastic team.
Sign up today and join Holly Faithfull, George Armistead, Clayton Burne, Adam Walleyn, Penny Robartes, Jeff & Liz Gordon, and Alvaro Jaramillo for a truly unique Antarctic experience.