The Circle of Life: Antarctica Edition

The three Grosvenor Teacher Fellows on board (Peg Keiner, Director of Innovation at a school in Chicago, Kelly Meade, a high school science teacher in California, and I) were asked to write today’s Daily Expedition Report for the ship. Typically prepared by the onboard naturalists and photographers, these reports provide a brief overview of the day’s activities and new learning, along with accompanying photographs. In today’s report, I focused on behaviors of Adélie Penguins, Kelly wrote about the unique features of glaciovolcanic areas, and Peg explored the origins and evolution of the magnificent tabular icebergs that passed our ship in the Antarctic Sound. See an excerpt from my portion of the report below, along with our full 12-24 report on the Lindblad Expeditions website.

This morning, we awoke to brilliant sunshine in the bay surrounding Brown Bluff. Sparkling sea ice of all shapes and sizes decorated the waters, as if nature herself were preparing for Christmas. We spent an hour and a half ashore at Brown Bluff visiting a large colony of Adélie Penguins (estimated to consist of more than 20,000 birds). Both on land and from the zodiacs, we could see penguins everywhere – on the beach, carefully tending to nests and newly-hatched chicks, and dotting the steep rocks of the bluff. Adélie Penguins are fascinating little creatures, and the adults can be recognized by distinctive white patches around their eyes that contrast with their dark heads and bodies.

At just a few days old, this Adélie penguin chick is already acting on its instincts to collect stones for a nest.
Adélie penguins gather on the beach and prepare to enter the water in search of food.

They stick together, not necessarily out of affection for their neighbors, but rather as a means of protection. As a primary prey of leopard seals, these little birds gather in groups on the shore and dive in to search for food only when the group has grown large enough that any one penguin’s chances of becoming a seal’s next meal is fairly small. The seals observe the penguin colony’s habits and, when hunting, they hide behind icebergs ready to capture and eat the unluckiest of the bunch. This morning, we observed a successful seal in action, as we happened upon the hungry predator devouring a penguin that he had caught just off shore. 

A leopard seal leaps out from behind an iceberg and grabs an unlucky Adélie Penguin…
And a luckier Brown Skua gets the “leftovers” after the leopard seal finishes his meal.

Although it can be sad to see an animal become another creature’s dinner, observing this process was a powerful reminder of the interdependent relationship between the many species living in the rich, yet fragile ecosystem of Antarctica.

One Comment

  1. Karen Keeter

    Your stories and pictures are amazing! I can’t wait to see the rest of the pictures!
    Karen Keeter

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