Aug 22 2007



Penguin 134 saw the headline and just had to read the story. She’s a big fan of the British newspapers. Especially for some reason I can’t remember a fan of the Independent:

What can dying penguins tell us about the future of the planet?

It turns out there are a bunch of excerpts from a book by Meredith Hooper “The Ferocious Summer: Palmer’s penguins and the warnings of Antartica.”

You’d probably want to read an article called “What can dying people tell us about the future of the planet?”

Anyway here are some of Meredith Hooper diary entries:

2 January 2002
The night before arriving at Palmer, Bill gives me a briefing. Dr Bill Fraser is a seabird ecologist, one of an inner group of US scientists who have dedicated themselves to Antarctic research …

The news is shocking. The season, Bill says flatly, has gone to hell. Palmer’s Adélie penguins are in crisis, barely holding on. The weather has been relentless, dire. The seabird work is under real pressure. “We are arriving to a catastrophe, walking into a bitter scenario produced by climate change,” he says. “The Adélie penguins don’t have the capacity to survive the drastic changes that are occurring. There’s no doubt. ”

The real penguin losses in Antarctica are happening on the Antarctic Peninsula, where the greatest warming is occurring …


Michael Van Woert, 1998 NOAA

And some penguin-inspired poetry:

“There’s a revelling in the intense activity of a penguin summer. Its rhythm catches you up. It’s there in all the accounts – the early explorers, scientists, delighted visitors, dedicated penguin observers, everyone engrossed in the privilege of watching, the luck of being there. Becoming in a small way part of it, because they are tolerated. Stop watching, and you miss something. Keep watching and you begin to recognise the stages.


Adelie penguin & minke whale – Peter Rejcek, NSF

But this time there is so little noise. So little smell. Such small groups. So few chicks. An almost complete absence of guano, that starburst of pink radiating out from each nest, that signal of occupancy, of chicks at home, of regular feeding, of the need to feed, of rotation of parents with their full bellies coming back from the ocean. Some of the smaller colonies have only one successful nest with one chick, very occasionally two, under the one bird. Seeing the Adélies for myself is shocking. In my head are memories of busy, functioning penguin colonies. The din of living, the pervasive smell of food being crammed in and processed out. Of beaks snapping and clashing, of the haze of dust and feathers rising over massed nests …

Last time, each colony, each subset, seemed to me like a suburb, most households roughly similar. Now the rookery feels like an urban city in a war zone. Some colonies are reasonably active, some almost non-functioning. But in general the city is severely depleted. There appear to be very few “families,” lots of singles and childless partners.


Patrick Rowe, NSF

One leopard seal has been working the area periodically, another full-time. Pickings are easy at Torgersen, where birds have to stack in bottlenecks to come ashore. Beach access has been confined by snow to two narrow locations, and the water churns as a leopard thrashes a penguin out of its skin. Birds grab morsels. If the dead penguin is one of a functioning pair – this season that’s not just a loss, it’s a disaster.

There’s a small amount of pebble-carrying and nest-tidying, but very little. I see one pair attempting a fumbling copulation: beaks clacking, flippers waving, male attempting to balance on the female’s back. Many birds are sitting in the brooding position. But nothing is happening. What do birds do when the eggs have failed? Does the pair bonding remain? Does alternate feeding continue when there’s no need to relieve each other on the nest? I find just one empty egg on a rock; but no eggshells. I see dead penguins on the ground, bones and sinew, but the carcasses could belong to last year, or the year before. The skuas seem particularly confident. Where have all the penguins gone?”

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