The Antarctica Files: Penguin Madness!

Before were allowed to do ANYTHING on Antarctica, we had a lecture on what we could and could not do while we were visiting. Even though everyone was ecologically conscientious, there were tons of things we had to do that none of us would have thought of on our own. We had to vacuum our jackets/pants/hats/bags/etc, so we wouldnt accidentally introduce an invasive plant or other organism. We had to decon our boots before and after every outing, so we wouldnt contaminate an island then spread that contamination everywhere.

Even something like filling in the holes in the snow, if you step off a trail and go waist deep– cause while we would laugh at that (‘lol ur stuck in the snow!’), a penguin might toddle over and fall in your boot hole… and be trapped. We all gasped in horror when they said that one, cause none of us would have thought of that.

There was also the matter of how to approach the animals we would encounter. Yes, there were penguins EVERYWHERE (even in my raccoon wounds!), but you couldnt just walk right up to them and start snuggling. You can crouch ~15 feet away. Now, since we had sparkly cameras and pretty colored clothes, the penguins would inevitably approach us.

The problem is, apparently, there are lots of people who really love penguins. They REALLY LOVE PENGUINS. And when presented with many penguins, in real life, like, right there, they FREAK OUT. They go nuts, rush the colony of penguins, screaming, and all hell breaks loose. ‘Penguin Madness’. Apparently this happens often enough that the tour guides actually stood between us and the penguins the first time we landed, LOL!

Happily, this particular kind of madness wasnt a problem for me. There were plenty of times when I was just wandering around, minding my own business, and a bunch of penguins would get real close and do something real cute :)

WARNING: There is nothing to hear on these videos except insanely loud wind. I suggest muting your computer before watching!

Here are some Gentoos leaving the water:

Here are some penguins getting into the water (they just fall over into the water. they just fall over. its hysterical. and their little TAILS!)

Here are some more Gentoos doing a courtship dance (SUPER CUTE!!!!):

And here are some Chinstraps just wandering by!

I mean, they were just everywhere. All the time.

One day, we were sitting at lunch, and one of the guys in our posse was real quiet.

Person 1: Whats the matter, Person 2?
Person 2: … …… If I see another penguin, Im going to shoot myself.
Whole Table: … LOL!!!!

The opposite of ‘Penguin Madness’. ‘Penguin Overload’. LOL!!!

Comments

  1. #1 Jabfish
    January 11, 2011

    When I was in Antarctica, a friend of mine was wearing black boots with a red toe. One of the Gentoos was feeling rather amorous and started doing the penguin mating dance for her boot!

  2. #2 patrick
    January 11, 2011

    What’s all the red stuff on the ground in the last video? Kelp or something?

  3. #3 BeamStalk
    January 11, 2011

    I spy Walrus in background of Gentoo mating dance vid.

  4. #4 Anon
    January 11, 2011

    @Patrick; Penguins eat krill, which is reddish. So it’s probably penguin crap.

  5. #5 The Curmudgeon
    January 11, 2011

    You haven’t lived until you’ve dined on penguin stew!

  6. #6 Optimus Primate
    January 11, 2011

    Cutest. Thing. Ever.

  7. #7 natural cynic
    January 11, 2011

    @3: I spy Walrus in background of Gentoo mating dance vid.
    It might be one of the ones that BP rescued from the Gulf oil spill. It’s a leopard seal, an elephant seal or a rock.

  8. #8 Caudoviral
    January 11, 2011

    That mating dance video is amazing! I now want to change my field of study to penguin social behaviour (and adorableness <_<).

  9. #9 Ian Musgrave
    January 11, 2011

    Man, I can’t tell you how envious I am of you.

  10. #10 Chris
    January 11, 2011

    Okay, while I officially hate you now I have one question:

    What kind of dinosaur did those little penguin dudes descend from?

    Really! That is the idiotic thought that swept through my wine infused brain. And, yeah… I envy you.

  11. #11 Tom O'B
    January 12, 2011

    Did you forget about that incredible penguin SMELL. Penguin Processed Fish == OMG, get up wind.

  12. #12 pipsqueak
    January 12, 2011

    Those mammals ain’t walruses for the same reason you won’t see any polar bears on the Antarctic Peninsula. My guess is weddell or crabeater seals (too skinny for an elly, and the wrong shape for a leopard) but it’s a bit hard to tell from the video.

    And yes, the red stuff is kelp (Durvillaea antarctica?). Penguin poo, whilst also reddish, tends to be more splatty and less prone to waving in the wind.

    Also, huzzah! for hanging out with the pengies.

  13. #13 BeamStalk
    January 12, 2011

    @7 – I thought it might be a seal after I posted, but just went with it.

    @12 – I couldn’t remember if they were Arctic animals only or not and too lazy to look it up :P

  14. #14 Jerry Coyne
    January 12, 2011

    I have to admit that I’m one of those who suffer from Penguin Madness. Sadly, I’ve never been to Antarctica, though I’ve seen the rather dispirited penguins of the Galapagos.

    One of my friend’s fathers (now deceased) was on an expedition to the South Pole in the early 20th century. Due to a lack of food, they had to shoot and eat penguins. He told me that it were the most disgusting meat he’d ever had: “It tasted like chicken–suffused with fish oil!”

  15. #15 Prometheus
    January 12, 2011

    I wouldn’t be able to resist the desire to announce,”I’m Bruce Wayne. Take me to your leader.”

    A friend of my family had a pet penguin. TomO’B does not exaggerate the smell. The penguin’s name was (appropriately) ‘Skank’ and the novelty wore off fast. We learned to avoid it lest we reek like the dumpster behind a sushi bar for the rest of the day.

    “Hey kids! Wanna see the penguin?”

    “Ummmmm no, that’s okay. Got any legos?”

  16. #16 pam || @nerdseyeview
    January 12, 2011

    I’m off to Antarctica next month — I’m REALLY enjoying reading your stories from your trip. Especially this one. Thank you for making me laugh.

    Penguins. Irresistible.

  17. #17 windy
    January 12, 2011

    I was hanging with penguins on a sunny beach across the ‘pond’ at about the same time! But it isn’t the same experience, somehow.

    What kind of dinosaur did those little penguin dudes descend from?

    Same as other birds. Atm it’s a little unclear where they belong in the bird family tree, the most recent hypothesis groups them with (surprise!) many other ‘Water birds’.

  18. #18 pipsqueak
    January 12, 2011

    @14 – I’m told it’s one of the toughest meats around, because of the amount of myoglobin (the protein that makes turkey meat dark) they need for their big dives. Apparently the sealers used to marinate them in red wine for a week to try to soften them up. I imagine the chicks would be somewhat more appetising, but that’s not saying very much.

    This next bit’s from experience: they smell OK when it’s -5. What’s not so cool is getting penguin poo on your clothes and then going somewhere warm. Mmm hmmm.

  19. #19 Andrew
    January 13, 2011

    I bet you were all very disappointed when you were told you weren’t allowed to take them home.

  20. #20 The MadPanda, FCD
    January 13, 2011

    Thanks for the videos! My little Cub has been sitting on my knee and giggling with delight at what she no doubt believes is a live action version of Happy Feet without music and dialogue.

    I’d heard that penguins regard us as interesting rather than frightening (apparently they wonder what the funny colored giant penguins are going to do) but I hadn’t heard of Penguin Madness. Iiiiiinteresting. :) It brings to mind the image of penguins in little lab coats making their own observations…

    The MadPanda, FCD

  21. #21 pipsqueak
    January 13, 2011

    MadPanda @20. The results of several studies of penguins’ responses to humans are pretty mixed. I’m most familiar with the literature for Adelie penguins, and it seems to come down to what the humans are doing, how habituated the penguins are to humans, how close the humans are to the birds and a bunch of other factors that haven’t been thrashed out, including some apparent local variations in the the penguins’ personalities.

    Adelies are occasionally happy (other species are much more curious) to come and investigate a person sitting on the beach, but they also show pretty strong stress signals when people get too close to colonies. Heart-rate monitoring suggests that in at least some cases, humans are more frightening than helicopters. Attempts to link human disturbance with long-term impacts (e.g. breeding success and mortality) have had quite patchy results, and I suspect the human impacts have sometimes been overwhelmed by environmental factors. So, human visitation has been linked to lower breeding success at some sites, while building a runway through a colony has been linked to population increase elsewhere.

    Talking to researchers from different parts of Antarctica, the general nature of any species of penguin can seem to be entirely different. So, researchers from the peninsula tell me that Gentoo penguins are super-friendly and curious. In contrast, I’ve only met them on an Australian sub-Antarctic island, where they are one of the most timid bird species I’ve met.

    I hope that doesn’t bust your mental image too much.

    BTW – the cub might enjoy the results of a google image search for ‘penguin slap gif’ ;)

  22. #22 The MadPanda, FCD
    January 13, 2011

    Thanks, pipsqueak. She does enjoy a good bit of slapstick.

    And no, it doesn’t bust my mental image too much. I’d be more surprised if my (unofficial and inexpert) sources had gotten it all right without benefit of research! :-)

    The MadPanda, FCD

  23. #23 William Wallace
    January 17, 2011

    Then you have Researchers killing the penguins:

    After more than 10 years of studying the birds, the researchers arrived at the conclusion that although the tags may have been detrimental to the health of the penguins, they still believe climate change is very real. They simply think “[they] need a better method to study it.”

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