Goan to Antarctica....

Goan scientist Helga do Rosario Gomes is en route to the icy continent, and is keeping her blog of the journey...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

There's a penguin on the portside

And then it happens -- bridge calls to say that there is a penguin on the portside. You can well imagine the ensuing chaos. Not only because of the immediacy of the situation but also because many are still unsure about the exact location of portside and starboard side and don't want to look dumb. (Photo: Adelie penguins hooting as our ship goes by.)

It's a wonder I wasn't injured in the stampede that followed. I made it to the heated bridge and there on what I always thought to be the STARBOARD side was the Emperor Penguin sitting all alone and surveying his icy domain.

In the afternoon sunlight his breast gleamed like the best of pearls. He stood about four feet, watching the large orange ship approaching him with the dignity of a Chieftain until it barreled towards him when he lost all poise, plunked himself on his bulging belly and slid off on the ice, his fat feet propelling him forward.

After that there were plenty of penguin sightings but no one was jaded yet.

Even more fun than the regal Emperors are the Adelie penguins which are much smaller than the Emperors. Wearing what look like black capes with cowls they waddle long distances on their little legs aided by occasional belly sliding.

A leisurely walk on the deck can find them scrambling away from the ship, their wings at odd angles to help them keep balance - their gait Chaplainesque. From a distance you can see long lines of these hooded creatures traversing vast distances to spots that look just like the ones they left behind.

But perhaps just to us humans in our expensive UV blocking sun glasses? Do the penguins have a purpose and does the leader of the pack know what he/she is doing? Well the answer to the first question is krill, a shrimp like organism and the sushi of penguins, fresh, nutritious and loaded with protein. They dive into the cold waters to feed on the plentiful of krill and small fish available during this time of the year.

The second question is for you to answer perhaps with the help of an incident that I witnessed from my cabin porthole. I woke up one morning to see a long line of Adelies waddling towards a thin stream of open water. The line was long and attracted a few stragglers with nothing to do but literally 'chill' on their floes. (Photo shows penguins marching towards the ship.)

I stood waiting for the inevitable mass dive into the water which can be quite amusing, but when the leader reached the edge of the stream, he slumped on the ice and went to sleep. The rest of the convey stood in line quizzically surveying the situation and then in one sweep of a unilateral decision went to sleep too.


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