UAB in Antarctica
overview     crew     history     sights/sounds     related links crew journals    
crew journals
James McClintock, Ph.D.
Mission Co-Investigator

Adélie Penguins!

Journal By J McClintock

Posted On 5/5/2004 11:23:51 AM

Just yesterday while I was assisting the divers off of Hermit Island a “flock” of Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae for you scientific aficionados) erupted from the sea just a few feet from our zodiac’s bow with a most impressive display of “porpoising” behavior. This swimming technique allows them to make full use of their paddle-like wings, rhythmically launching themselves above and below the surface of the sea. As intermittent air is less of a barrier to penetrate than solid sea, this approach to travel boosts their speed considerably. Those competing in the butterfly stroke at the upcoming summer Olympics in Athens should take note!

Arriving in late October or early November, the Adélie Penguins spend their first days collecting stones to build their nests and go through their courtship behaviors. I will never forget my first visit to an Adélie Penguin rookery many years ago at Cape Royds, north of McMurdo Station on the Ross Sea. I arrived just in time for nest building and witnessed hundreds of nervous soon-to-be parent penguins comically stealing the stones from the nests of their neighbors to build for their own nests. I sat on the hillside and chuckled at this Charlie Chaplinesque scene below me.

By mid-November two eggs are laid and mom and dad take turns incubating these eggs for about 30-45 days until they hatch. Once hatched, the penguin chicks require the full attention of both parents, both for food and protection. A visit I made to nearby Torgersen Island a little over two years ago brought this home to me. Sitting upon strategically located rock perches all around the noisy penguin colony were Skuas, large predatory birds intent on swooping in and grabbing an unsuspecting chick. Parents had to be vigilant! After 41-64 days the young birds fledge (take on their adult feathers) and by mid-February they are at sea. This is good timing as their favorite food, krill (little shrimp-like animals), are often abundant at this time. The adult penguins are capable of diving to depths of up to 575 feet to feed, but likely they spend most of their time feeding in surface waters.

Adélie Penguins have a broad circumpolar distribution. This means that they can found all around the continent of Antarctica and have a population numbering about 2.5 million breeding pairs. Interestingly, their population numbers have decreased here on the Antarctic Peninsula, but simultaneously increased around the Ross Sea. Several years ago noted penguin biologist, Bill Frazier, told me that he thinks that increased snow fall here on the Antarctic Peninsula is contributing to this trend. With global warming causing temperatures to increase it now snows more here on the Peninsula than in years past (warmer air holds more moisture and thus increases snow fall). Nesting Adélie Penguins can be buried under the snow causing egg mortality.

No matter how many times I find myself offshore in a small boat or hiking the shoreline near Palmer Station, when I come upon Adélie Penguins (or they me), I delight in their “little man in evening dress” appearance and their graceful movements. They are after all, other than the Emperor Penguin, the only other truly “Antarctic” penguin. I know then that I am indeed in Antarctica and amongst its finest of denizens.


TitleFromClick here to change to descending sortDate Posted
Re: Adélie Penguins!Hycall Brooks5/11/2004 2:36:46 PM

Dr. McClintock, Do these penguins spend winter in another area? Do any ever dive near you when you are diving?

From J McClintock, Posted On 5/11/2004 2:36:46 PM

Hi Hycall - The Adelie penguins spend the winter at sea and may travel to other areas during this period. Some, however, do remain in the local area. For example, just the other day we saw a group go "shooting" by our boat, their speedy porpoising locomotion a real treat to watch! I believe it is pretty rare here near Palmer Station to see penguins while you are diving. However, when I used to dive near McMurdo Station on the Ross Sea, we used to encounger penguins when we dove off the edge of the sea ice. This is probably because the penguins tend to be concentrated on the ice edge where they can feed easily by making short trips to sea. I will always remember one day when we were surrounded by Emporer Penguins swimming by us underwater. They would zip by so fast you would have thought they were flying underwater. Well... I guess in a sense they were! I hope that you are enjoying your last days in class before the summer break. Cheers from Antarctica! Jim

Re: Adélie Penguins!Miss Caldwell's Class5/13/2004 1:39:21 PM

Hey Dr. McClintock! I'm sorry that our last group of questions got lost in cyberspace! We were all excited to write again though so it is not a big deal at all! We all enjoyed your journal entry about adelie penguins, as well as the pictures. You know we love those! We have been studying weather in science and continents in social studies, so we would love to know about the weather in Antarctica! Tim would like to know how cold it is in Antarctica. Chandler wants to know about thunderstorms being in Antarctica. They were all curious if any warm air would mix with all the cold air to produce natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Alexis wants to know if you have discovered anything new during this trip that you have never discovered before. Josh wants to know if you could show us pictures of the macaroni penguins ( we think that's what they are called). Alexis has one more question about finding cures for diseases. She wants to know if you have found any plants that could have chemicals to help stop diseases. Okay, I hope you're ready to answer all of these! As you can tell, our minds are all over the place with only 9 days left of school!! Thanks again!! Love, Miss Caldwell's Class

From J McClintock, Posted On 5/13/2004 1:39:21 PM

Hi Miss Caldwell and students! Great to hear from you again! I am delighted to be able to answer some more questions from such a great grouop of students. Tim - It can get really cold here in Antarctica. In fact the coldest temperature ever recorded on our planet was recorded in central Antarctica in the mid-winter. I believe it was -129 degrees F! Here at Palmer Station is does get nearly as cold. The coldest temperature ever recorded here is about -25 degrees F. Chandler - There are no thunderstorms here in Antarctica. The moisture level of the air is not high enough and there is not a big enough difference in the atmospheric air temperatures to generate thunderstorms. We do get snow storms though! Because there is no mixing of cold and warm air there are also no tornados or hurricanes. It is possible to have an earthquake, although even this is unlikely because the continent of Antarctica does not rub against any other big continental plates. Alexis - yes! That is the great thing about doing science. We are constantly learning and discovering new things. This trip we have been learning new things about how plants and animals defend themselves with toxic chemicals. So yes, we are learning new things that we never knew before. It is great fun! Josh - I wish I could show you a picture of a Macaroni Penguin, but you will have to wait until I come home and visit your class (I bet you will see one when I show my antarctic slide show next year when you are in fourth grade!). There are very few Macaroni Penguins here. When I saw them it was during an earlier trip that I made to a different region of Antarctica. Alexis - we have indeed found a few chemical in marine plants that are able to kill cancer cells. It is possible that someday they could be developed in to drugs. Many of the medicines that you use come from plants, so there is good reason to suspect that new chemicals will be found in marine plants that fight human diseases. Great questions everyone! I hope you enjoy the last 9 days of school! See you soon! Jim

Note: This forum is closed for posting.

The researchers completed their expedition in May 2004. Feel free to search this site for their archived journals and responses to questions.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham The UAB in Antarctica expedition is founded by The National Sciens Foundation
© 2004 University of Alabama at Birmingham. All rights reserved. About this site. Created by UAB Web Communications.