Roxanne Streeter-Evans - January 19, 1995

    I'm at the U.S. research base named McMurdo Station and there are about 1200 people here during summer - a very large, permanent camp or "town".

Most of the season (it's summer down here now) the sea ice near town is frozen approximately 7 to 10 feet thick so the penguins do not come near McMurdo. They stay out near the sea ice edge where there is open water to swim in.

Near the end of the summer the sea ice begins to break up and huge icebergs float out to sea, leaving open water near McMurdo. At this time penguins begin to come wandering into town in small groups.

While on a walk yesterday, I saw six small Adelie penguins out on the ice. They saw me too, and being curious creatures, decided to come in for a closer look. I watched them waddle along, sometimes dropping onto their bellies to scoot, like little sleds, across the ice. On their approach, they came to a small ice ledge and, one by one, stretched their neck down to take a closer look and then leaped off the ledge onto the ice below. The very last little Adelie was afraid to make the leap and he/she paced back and forth, peering over the ledge, pacing, waddling, and scooting back and forth. The others didn't notice that the little Adelie was still stuck up on the ledge and they continued to come toward me to see what kind of red-feathered penguin I might be (my parka is red). The little Adelie on the ledge let out a cry and the others stopped and looked back. They waited, and waited... while the little Adelie paced back and forth and cried until, finally, the little Adelie stretched his neck down toward the ice below, crouched down, and made a giant hop down, then scuttled as fast as he could to catch up with his buddies.

Antarctica, and all living things here, are protected under the International Antarctic Treaty which states that, in general terms, if you get close enough to an animal to disturb it, you are too close. There are fines imposed for willfully breaking treaty regulations. Antarctica has been recognized as a multinational place of research and preservation. However, if you sit very still and don't disturb them, penguins will come close to you to have a look at you. They are very curious creatures and will crane their necks up, down, and around to give you a very thorough investigation. They don't appear to be afraid of humans, which is probably because they are protected here and have not been harassed or threatened by humans.

I was asked, "Have you ever hugged a penguin? What do they do when you hug them?" I have never hugged a penguin, although I think they are adorable to watch and to photograph. Penguins in Antarctica are wild creatures and need to be protected as such.

Roxanne Streeter-Evans
NASA Science Internet
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

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