Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

Emperor Penguins

I have now seen Emperor penguins on three different occasions. And, they have not lost their appeal.  But they are losing their feathers!!  I could sit and watch them for hours. 

The Emperors have moved away from the ice edge to moult.  This year, approximately 14 penguins chose Pegasus road as their moulting site.  The Emperor’s coat fades from dark black to brown starting in November before the yearly moult in Jan/Feb.  New feathers emerge before the old feathers are lost to help preserve heat.  The new feathers then push out the old ones.  It takes approximately 34 days for the entire process.  Then they emerge with the pristine tuxedo’s that we are all familiar with.

The first penguins I saw were the first three emperors to arrive near McMurdo.  A shuttle driver friend dropped me off and I spent 20 minutes alone, in complete silence, with these amazing animals!

They are just starting to lose their feathers.

The next time I had the opportunity to visit the penguins, I went with friends on a rec trip.  It was cold!  The number of penguins increased to 14 and they were all in different stages of moulting.  My favorite penguin was this guy:

Even his penguin friend looked frightened.  You can see the gorgeous black feathers emerging from under the old ones.  But, it does not look like a comfortable process.

T.J. and I visited the penguins one last time before he returned to Christchurch.  It was great to share the Antarctica penguin experience with him!

My favorite penguin from the prior visit was looking better, with only a few old feathers left to fall out.  Others were starting to change, though and looked draped in fur.

There are now piles of feathers everywhere!

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4 responses

  1. michele

    so cool! i love how funky they look with their old feathers. do they makes noise? do they just stand around looking at each other? do they play? do they act aggressive toward one another?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    • They are pretty chill when they are molting. They do interact a little bit with each other, but pretty much ignore us. When not moulting, I think they are more curious and would walk up to people to check them out. They have not made noise while I have been watching them.

      February 6, 2011 at 8:11 AM

  2. Deb

    What an amazing photo documentary you have of the penguins moulting. That photo of you and TJ and Penguins is going on my wall!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:30 PM

  3. Olivia

    Would you mind if we used the fourth photo from the top for a Save the Date card? We both love penguins. We didn’t see a copyright information on the photo but still wanted to check with you first. Thanks!

    July 26, 2014 at 6:08 PM

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