elephant seals produce pups on the beaches and then come into heat again and
mate within 18 days of giving birth. They wean the pups after 23 days and keep
the new egg hibernating in their interior plumbing before developing, the
embryo living inside them for a year minus eight days."
feathers, about 70 to a square inch, and layers of subcutaneous fat insulate
them. The salt they take into their bodies with their fishy food they expel
through their nostrils or beaks. They flush their blood into their feet and the
inner sides of their flippers to expel heat."
Of all the sights
on the trip the penguins, of which we saw five species, gave the most pleasure
and received the most shutter clicks. In two to four-hour visits to various
penguin establishments we were happy to find that the birds—mothers or fathers
sitting with the chicks on their nests—were not disconcerted by us. Among the
most gregarious of birds—starlings are another example—penguins build their
nests just out of pecking reach of each other so that we needed to tread
carefully not to invade their private premises. Seated, impassive, one could
observe the few-weeks-to-few-months-old chicks sneak away from their parents'
protective skirts to explore for a few yards while the elders were gossiping
over the back fence. An unexpected noise would send them scuttering back, each
unerringly to his respective home. In two endeavors humans seem to be like
penguins—in their concern for the young and in having fun.
penguins there were exceptions to standard operational procedures. One
Magellanic penguin mother had hatched two eggs and then apparently later, a
third, the last chick being only half the size of his elder brothers. When the
two bigger children begged food she regurgitated tidbits into her mouth to give
them. But when the smallest fuzz-coated baby emerged from the family dugout
asking for food the mother gave him a vicious peck and seemed to push him away
with her flipper. She was exceptional. Few penguins incubate more than two
eggs, and the parents rarely fail to guard their eggs and chicks with care. The
parents take turns diving into the sea for food and also share the job of nest
We soon developed
favorites among the different species. Some preferred the rock hoppers, with
their fierce yellow eyebrows, red eyes and astonishing capacity to hop from
slippery sea-washed rocks up steep hillsides to their nests. Some liked the
25-inch-tall Adélies, with their solid-black heads, white eye rings and
constant conversation. Others felt more kinship with the chin straps we found
at the Russian Bellingshausen station, perhaps because one of the birds had
deserted his brothers and moved in with the people. My favorites were the
Magellanic penguins, with their striped chests and pink pince-nez. They live in
burrows but sit outside on their front porches much of the time. As we
out-sized penguins approached them they gave us flirtatious welcomes, bowing
and waving their heads from side to side. In a settlement of at least 5,000 of
them I noticed that exercise time for the youngsters came about 4 o'clock in
the afternoon. The parents would waken the chicks, who obediently stood up and
began waving their flippers back and forth.
humans, penguins have a tough time distinguishing between sexes. Seeing a
likely prospect, a male bird picks up a pebble and drops it near a bird who
interests him. If the receiving bird is female and also interested, she picks
up the pebble and stuffs it between her feet. If the recipient is another male,
he ignores the pebble. It becomes a matter of try, try again.
The trip was not
devoted entirely to birdlife, however. Having caught fish in the Caribbean, the
Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific and the Bering Sea, I hoped eagerly and
vocally to take one from the waters surrounding the seventh continent.
very few fish here," George Grice told me. "There are rock cod. But I
don't know where."
I had to try it
anyway, so I scrounged up some makeshift tackle and went down to the lowest
stern deck. I fished at changing depths and with changing bait. Nothing nibbled
in more than two hours. That evening I reported my failure to Captain Gjesdal
at the bar.
live in water that is 2° below zero centigrade," said he. "You couldn't