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097 About Kings and Emperors – Penguins of the Antarctic

28 . 04 . 2020

Contributors


Henry Páll Wulff
Expedition Guide, Naturalist
Chris Marquardt
Photographer, Author, Podcaster, Traveler, Educator

Henry Páll Wulff

Expedition Guide, Naturalist

Chris Marquardt

Photographer, Author, Podcaster, Traveler, Educator

Notes

If you think of the Antarctic, you almost inevitably think of what is probably the most symbolic animal in the south - penguins. Living almost exclusively south of the equator - the Galapagos penguin is found on the edge to the Northern Hemisphere - those curious fellas might look a bit awkward when they waddle around on land. But as soon as you experience them in water you realise, those aquatic flightless birds are perfectly adapted for a life in the ocean. They have evolved into the most efficient swimmers and divers of all birds and some species spend 75% of their time at sea — the most of any birds.

As the coldest, driest, and windiest place on Earth, Antarctica is mostly a huge, lifeless desert. Its largest land animal is a wingless midge, Belgica antarctica, whose adults live about a week and we talked about already in a bit more detail in Episode 84. But most people wonder, why’s the midge the largest land animal of Antarctica? Shouldn’t it be the penguin? Here starts the first misconception. Even though most people will experience penguins on land, mainly during their breeding season, they are no land animals. And although they cannot fly, they are birds. Penguins are the most common birds in the Antarctic. Living in colonies with populations larger than some cities, and surviving in the harshest of conditions, it is no wonder that penguins are seen as the emblem of Antarctica. However, of the 17 different species of penguin, only two (Emperor and Adélie) make the Antarctic continent their true home, although others (Gentoo, Chinstrap and Macaroni) breed on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, where conditions are less harsh. King penguins and Magellanic penguins only breed on the warmer more northerly subantarctic islands or the southernmost tip of the Americas.

But the real home of all penguins is the cooler waters of the Southern Hemisphere. In the whole of Antarctica, the ocean is the really productive, biodiverse realm. There are loads of species and very high abundance in places. And that’s where penguins find their food. Antarctic waters brim with krill, a tiny crustacean that feeds large whales, including blue, humpback, and minke whales, as well as penguins. Penguin wings are stiff, short flippers to propel them underwater — they literally fly through the sea. Their legs are set far back in the body, and together with the tail form an underwater rudder to their perfectly streamlined bodies. Their cruising speed in water is about 10km per hour. To catch their breath and to save energy while swimming, they leap clear of the water every few meters.

They are excellent divers, descending to depths of over 250 meters, though most of their dives will be in the top 10 meters. Unlike flying birds, their bones are dense to make diving easier. Underwater they are every bit as fearsome to their prey as lions are to theirs!

Although no one knows for sure where the name ‘penguin’ comes from, there are a few theories about it. It could come from the Welsh ‘pen gwyn’, which means ‘white head’, or from the Latin ‘pinguis’, referring to the fat or blubber of the bird. The name penguin was first given to another type of bird, the auk (also a large, flightless, black and white bird). However, it seems it’s quite a task to pronounce the word itself, even for skilled actors and speakers like Benedict Cumberbatch.

096 Deception Island

14 . 04 . 2020

Contributors


Henry Páll Wulff
Expedition Guide, Naturalist
Chris Marquardt
Photographer, Author, Podcaster, Traveler, Educator

Henry Páll Wulff

Expedition Guide, Naturalist

Chris Marquardt

Photographer, Author, Podcaster, Traveler, Educator

Notes

» Donate here! - The Coronavirus crisis has had (and continues to have) a significant impact on our income. To help us keep the lights on, we're asking you to support us, if you can. THANKS to Katie for the support and thanks to everyone else who supports us in these tough times.

Today's episode takes us on a small tour to what is probably the most exciting geological feature on the edge of the South Shetland Islands offshore the Antarctic Peninsula and one of the most incredible islands on the planet - the active volcano Deception Island. Named by American sealer Nathaniel Palmer on account of its outward deceptive appearance as a normal island, Deception Island reveals itself rather to be a ring around a flooded caldera once, the narrow entrance of Neptune's Bellows is passed. Being a focal point of the early sealing and whaling industry in the Southern Ocean, Deception Island served also as the basis for Robert Wilkins' first Antarctic flight in 1928. But first and foremost, Deception Island is an active volcano, the flooded caldera of which enables us today to sail into the most protected natural harbour in the Antarctic. Deception Island is one of the most active volcanoes in Antarctica, with more than 20 explosive eruptive events registered over the past two centuries. Recent eruptions (1967, 1969, and 1970) and the volcanic unrest episodes that happened in 1992, 1999, and 2014–2015 demonstrate that the occurrence of future volcanic activity is still valid. The ring-shaped island is the exposed portion of an active shield volcano 30 km (17 miles) in diameter, produced more than 10,000 years ago by an explosive eruption, that is responsible for the largest known eruption in the Antarctic area. The active volcano is home to a wide variety of wildlife, the density of it in some parts being literally staggering. Deception Island on the map

095 Iceberg A-68a

07 . 04 . 2020

Contributors


Henry Páll Wulff
Expedition Guide, Naturalist
Chris Marquardt
Photographer, Author, Podcaster, Traveler, Educator

Henry Páll Wulff

Expedition Guide, Naturalist

Chris Marquardt

Photographer, Author, Podcaster, Traveler, Educator

Notes

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In March, Henry had the chance to make a rare encounter: At the edge of the Weddell Sea, in Powell Basin, the world's largest existing iceberg presented a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With a surface area of 5,800 square kilometres, twice the size of Luxembourg, larger than Delaware and weighing one trillion tonnes, it is one of the largest recorded icebergs, the largest being B-15 which measured 11,000 square kilometres before breaking up. The calving of A-68 reduced the overall size of the Larsen C shelf by 12 percent. With a speed of currently up to 5 nautical miles per day the iceberg is moving away from the Antarctic Peninsula into the warmer waters of the South Atlantic.

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