Saturday, April 09, 2011

Emperor Penguin visits Palmer Station...

Palmer Station was visited by an Emperor penguin the beginning of March, showing up in our backyard to maybe rest or to escape the clutches of a Leopard seal?  This particular penguin had what looked like wounds on the front and back like something large had punctured its torso.  We'll never know.  
The Emperor stuck around for a few days and then disappeared to continue on the journey that would take him where?  This piqued my curiosity about why an Emperor was so far North. 
I did some research and found some very interesting facts that I had known about and some that I had not.  Let me share with you what I found...
The Emperor as some of you know is the only penguin that "winter-over" on the continent to breed, incubate the eggs and hatch the chicks in the coldest months of the austral winter.
This life cycle is courtesy of Wikipedia and the National Science Foundation.

My discovery lead me to find that there was a colony of Emperors on Snow Hill Island on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.  "Was" being a key word here.  The British Antarctic Survey who began studying the Antarctic more than 60 years ago and is one of the leaders in Antarctic research reported that in 2009 they found the island empty of penguins.  
There is numerous speculations on why this is so.  These birds typically colonize on fast ice which is ice that is attached to the land and doesn't move during the Antarctic winter. The stability of this ice is ideal for the penguins to set up their breeding sites and it's not really understood from what I have read to indicate why they prefer ice over land.  It's fascinating though to realize that the fast ice in this area around the Antarctic peninsula has been retreating over the years.  If you have read more of my blog, you'll know that the Antarctic Peninsula is the fastest warming area in the world with average air temperatures rising more than 2.8 C annually.  

Here is a published research paper on the subject for those who are interested.

I found a very interesting website that talks about how satellite images have shown to find Emperor penguin colonies called "MARK of the PENGUINS".  By searching discolored ice caused by their poo.

Mark of the Penguin....

The map below is compliments of Wikipediaz: Sbruchet
This map shows where the penguin colonies are around the continent indicated by the green areas.  As the fast ice disappears, so are our penguin populations.  This is a fact that can be substantiated in many recent publications.  I'm not going to conjecture the reason, just the fact.  
Was our visiting Emperor searching for his birthplace?  Was he headed further south for another colony?  Was he lost?  
Where ever he was headed, I hope he found solid ice to make his winter stay comfortable and productive.