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Penguin Awareness Day at the #FalklandSci Symposium

No one attending the #FalklandSci symposium expected the locals to be so well dressed. (Photo by Andrew Howley)
No one attending the #FalklandSci symposium expected the locals to be so well dressed. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Illustration of a king penguin sitting on an eggThe world’s northernmost colony of king penguins has something to celebrate this week, as Tuesday marks Penguin Awareness Day and these well dressed seabirds play host to an international group of scientists gathered to discuss the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)’s rich potential for new research.

To welcome their guests, including National Geographic grantees Scott Baker and Steve Campana, the birds went wild with squawking, flapping, yodeling, and even sizeable hops that could almost pass for flying. (OK, as wild animals, they do all these things regardless of the presence of any humans.)

Hailing from countries up and down the Americas, these experts in life on land and sea, geology, oceanography, and information systems are taking part in the Falkland Islands Science Symposium, investigating opportunities for collaboration between themselves, the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), and other groups in the region.

Before the talks began though, the delegates piled into Land Rovers and headed out from the main town of Stanley up to Volunteer Point, to see the penguins.

On the journey to see the penguin colonies at Volunteer Point, this is about as major as a road gets. On the hillsides, rocks, broken and carried by nature's icy hands, form the Falklands' characteristic  countless "stone runs." (Photo by Andrew Howley)
On the journey to see the penguin colonies at Volunteer Point, this is about as major as a road gets. On the hillsides, rocks, broken and carried by nature’s icy hands, form the Falklands’ characteristic countless “stone runs.” (Photo by Andrew Howley)

That About Penguins of Which You Should Be Aware

Illustration of a Magellanic penguin

The Falkland Islands are home to breeding colonies of five species of penguin. At our destination, there were three: king, gentoo, and Magellanic.

The Magellanic couples would leave one parent with the chicks in a small burrow dug into the sand on the beach, while the other headed for the waves to pick up some fish. Upon returning, the adults would sing out in unison a song that sounded like a kid blowing on a New Year’s noisemaker. Then they’d pause, maybe dip their heads, and start up with verse two.

This strange sound leads some to call them “jackass penguins,” though that is a term specifically for a similar but distinct African species. One noticeable difference: African penguins have one black stripe on their necks, Magellanics have two (as seen in the figure at right).

 

This young gentoo may look like a tough chick but really she was just waiting for her parents to return and regurgitate her next meal. (Photo by Andrew Howley)
This young gentoo may look like a tough chick but really she was just waiting for her parents to return and regurgitate her next meal. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

The kings mostly stood around like royalty. They are slightly smaller than their imperial cousins, but they have larger patches of golden feathers on their heads and necks, which contrast nicely against their blue-steel colored coats, giving them an elegant appearance among the rest of the black and white suits.

While small groups of kings waddled back and forth to the water or off to find a place to chill out far from the crowd, hundreds of individuals sat huddled in a mass on a dirt section by the hills, cradling eggs on their feet and squawking at any wanderer who passed by putting itself on display. Varying states of molting made some young kings appear to have elaborate or particularly Mr. T-like hairdos.

Among thousands of penguins of three different species (and two dozen or so researchers from the #FalklandSci symposium) this one still managed to get away for some alone time and ... reflection. (Photo by Andrew Howley)
Among thousands of penguins of three different species (and two dozen or so researchers from the #FalklandSci symposium) this Magellanic penguin still managed to get away for some alone time and … reflection. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

The most entertaining of all though were the gentoo penguins. Their young were still covered in down and looked like plush dolls positioned on the hills to ensure that visitors develop an irrepressible desire to buy penguin souvenirs. Their bright white eyebrows and orange-sherbert feet don’t hurt either.

They also put on the best show. Those gentoo parents returning from the sea to healthy, growing chicks were instantly bombarded by a flurry of flapping and screaming. Once they’d bent down their heads, opened wide, and regurgitated fish into the gaping mouths of their offspring, they would try to wrap up and move along. The chicks would chase them down till they relented and served up seconds of the day’s catch.

This repeating cycle meant that at any given moment, you could see several hilarious games of tag being carried out over the hills.

Alfred leapt, and for one brief, shining moment, all things were possible. (Photo by Andrew Howley)
Alfred the Gentoo Penguin leapt, and for one brief, shining moment, all things were possible. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

After a few hours of observations of the penguins, the team headed back to town, where locals knew well that Penguin Awareness Day was on the horizon (yes, they really did). An appreciation of the penguins’ cuteness was fairly unanimous, as was respect for the adaptability of these seabirds.

On island groups like this, diversity and adaptability are useful for penguins, farmers, and scientists alike. As researchers develop ideas for new projects and collaboration at the #FalklandSci symposium, a good appreciation of the virtues of penguinhood could help guide them to success.

A small band of king penguins head off towards the grassy hills inland, like polar explorers in reverse. (Photo by  Andrew Howley)
A small band of king penguins head off towards the grassy hills inland, like polar explorers in reverse. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Follow the Falkland Islands Science Symposium on Twitter at #FalklandSci

 

More for Penguin Awareness Day

“Emperor Penguins” From the November, 2012 National Geographic Magazine

“King Penguins” From the September, 2009 Issue

Gentoo Penguin Fact Sheet

Comments

  1. Scott Baker
    Newport, Oregon
    January 28, 2015, 8:37 pm

    Thanks for the great coverage of the wildlife and the recent Science Symposium in the Falkland Islands.

  2. Olga Susana Mayo
    Lima - Peru (South America)
    January 22, 2015, 5:57 pm

    Nature in your country has provided you with these beautiful & amazing creatures and you look after them properly – congratulations – I might come to visit the Malvinas/Falklands one day… (in the summer time, of course !!!)