Meet the Penguins

Yesterday, while we were out searching for krill with Dr. Kim Bernard, we saw lots of gentoo penguins, quite a few Adelies, and several chinstraps. They were doing the same thing we were—looking for krill—although I think they were better than us at finding them. They were certainly better at catching them.

Penguins are a big part of project CONVERGE because, ultimately, we want to know whether tides and convergence zones help to bring krill together into patches that penguins use as feeding grounds. To do that, there’s a whole penguin team of four people that spend all day, every day studying where penguins go, how they raise their chicks, and what they eat.

We went out with the team today and got an introduction to the three penguin species that live in the Palmer Station area. Click through the slideshow to meet the penguins and the penguin scientists, too:

A Home Beneath the GlacierLoner in the CrowdFashion Forward PenguinLast but not LeastAssessing the AdeliesHigh-Tech Penguin ResearchHungry Mouths to FeedGentoo FamilyA Jumping-Off Point
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  1. Evan from HAS January 11, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    (No,im not a teacher,im a student at Hillside Avenue School.)

    Im loving the picture and blog posts,it is one of the homeworks i enjoy doing for homework.

    Thank you for posting blogs!

    • Mike from HAS January 11, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

      Yeah what cameras do you use

    • Hugh Powell January 11, 2015 at 8:09 pm #

      Hi Mike – Chris Linder uses Nikon D810, D800E, and D750 cameras. Thanks! – Hugh

    • Yamilex Rivera January 23, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

      hey this is same re from Rivera middle school what are all the type of penguin that seen and what was the best penguin

    • Hugh Powell January 24, 2015 at 10:34 am #

      Hi Yamilex -So far on this expedition we’ve seen Adelie, gentoo, and chinstrap penguins, plus Magellanic and rockhopper penguins while we were still sailing through Tierra del Fuego in South America. Everybody probably has a different idea about what’s the best penguin. For example, Donna Fraser of the penguin team thinks gentoos are the best penguin—she has her computer set up to play a gentoo penguin call when she gets a new email. However, I still have a soft spot for the Adelies. What’s your favorite? Thanks for asking – Hugh

  2. Dom from has January 11, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    Cool photos did u touch a penguin

    • Hugh Powell January 13, 2015 at 9:34 am #

      Hi Dom, Chris and I have not touched any penguins—that’s against the rules of the Antarctic Conservation Act. The scientists who work on the penguin team get special permits that allow them to catch and release penguins in order to do their research. Penguins are very curious and sometimes come up to us for a closer look. But we don’t touch them. Thanks for asking, Hugh

  3. Linda Librizzi January 12, 2015 at 2:52 pm #

    How long does it take an Adelie penguin to make a nest?
    What is the nest made of?

    • Hugh Powell January 13, 2015 at 9:39 am #

      Hi Linda, Adelie penguins make their nests out of little rocks. They spend a couple of weeks at the beginning of the season gathering rocks and building them into a pile at their nest site. The pile helps the egg and chick stay above the level of snow and meltwater. Rocks can be hard to find around colonies, especially in years like this one with deep snow, and so male Adelies seem to be constantly in search of rocks to add to their nests, even after their mates have laid eggs and begun incubating. Shawn Farry, the leader of the penguin field team, told me that he has sometimes seen male Adelies gathering rocks, carrying them to the nest, and piling them on the back of the female as she incubates—that’s how strong the habit of nest building is! Thanks for asking – Hugh

  4. Linda Librizzi January 12, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    Why do the Adelies depend more on the sea ice?
    Why does one species eat more than another?

    • Hugh Powell January 13, 2015 at 10:40 am #

      Hi Linda, Adelie penguins breed farther south than pretty much any other bird (they are possibly tied with emperor penguins, south polar skuas, and snow petrels). The way they survive is by being really good at living on sea ice and foraging underneath sea ice. They’ve evolved with sea ice as an integral part of their life. By comparison, gentoo penguins evolved farther north and are more used to rocky beaches and open water. So as sea ice conditions change around Palmer station, it’s becoming less suitable for Adelies and more suitable for gentoos – which is why Adelies are disappearing from Palmer. The two species are pretty similar in size and shape, but gentoos are a little bigger than Adelie penguins, and that means they eat a little more than Adelies. Thanks for asking – Hugh

  5. Danielle January 13, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    The baby penguin is really cute – when do the feathers become black and white?

    • Hugh Powell January 14, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

      Hi Danielle – the penguin chicks will molt into their neat black-and-white feathers at the end of their breeding season in February. By the end of this month, we may see some that are starting to lose their downy feathers and showing black and white underneath – so stay tuned! Thanks, Hugh

  6. Bryannah January 13, 2015 at 5:54 pm #

    About how many Adélie Penguins make up a colony?
    Why do Adélie Penguins breed and raise their young farther South than any other penguin?
    What is an Adélie Penguins diet?
    What is the Adélie Penguins behavior, are they social?

    • Hugh Powell January 14, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi Bryannah – these are great questions- you should be a penguin ecologist! Adelie colonies can be all different sizes, from just a few nests all the way to the largest colonies in the world, such as Cape Crozier in the Ross Sea, that have about 150,000 breeding pairs of penguins. The local conditions determine how big colonies are, including the extent of bare, rocky land suitable for nests, as well as how much food is in the waters surrounding the colony. The biggest Adelie colonies around Palmer Station today have about 1,000 breeding pairs. It’s hard to say exactly why Adelie penguins breed so far south—it’s kind of like asking why humans live in the temperate zone and the tropics. They evolved there and are adapted to thrive in those conditions. Adelies around Palmer Station eat almost entirely krill, although in other parts of Antarctica they also eat small fish called Antarctic silverfish. Finally, Adelies are social in the sense that they live together in busy colonies and they often travel in groups to forage. But they aren’t very cooperative. Each member of a pair helps its mate, but beyond that Adelie penguins are mostly concerned with doing what they need to do in order to survive and raise their own families. Thanks for asking, and I hope this helps – Hugh

  7. Camila January 14, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    Why do penguins live in extremely cold enviorments?
    Do they seem to enjoy living there?

    -Camila from LMS

    • Hugh Powell January 15, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

      Hi Camila – Not all penguins live in extremely cold environments. There’s even a species that lives on the Galapagos Islands, which is almost right on the equator. In fact, most penguin species live in what’s called the subantarctic region, which refers to areas north of the Antarctic continent, such as islands and the tips of South America, South Africa, and New Zealand. But the reason there are so many penguins around the Antarctic peninsula is the same reason there’s so many whales and so much krill here. In summer, there’s so much sunlight and so many nutrients in the water that the phytoplankton make tons of food for marine animals. Penguins evolved to take advantage of these conditions, and part of that evolution meant adapting to tolerate the cold environment. I don’t know if the penguins actually enjoy living here—but they certainly are at home in these temperatures, and would start to overheat if the temperature rose much above freezing.

    • Camila January 16, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

      Thank you Mr. Powell!

  8. Bryannah January 14, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    Thank you Mr. Powell, this will help me a lot when I am conducting my science fair project.

  9. Elizabeth school 28 January 16, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

    How long does it take for a chick to be able to glide around on their, without their parent’s help.

    • Hugh Powell January 17, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

      Hi Elizabeth – it takes Adelie chicks approximately 2 months to go from hatching to swimming about on their own. After 3 to 4 weeks as chicks, they are big enough to stand on their own while their parents leave them alone to go out and look for food. During this time they band together with other chicks in a big group called a creche. Thanks for asking – Hugh

  10. Gennesy January 16, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    how do they tell which penguin is which, if they all seem to live crowdedly, how do they notice that?

    • Hugh Powell January 16, 2015 at 7:14 pm #

      Hi Gennesy – I’m not sure if you’re asking how the researchers know which is which, or how the other penguins know. I think that penguins are more tuned in to who’s who and can tell each other apart either by sight or by voice. The researchers are careful to mark the nests of any penguins they put transmitters on, so that they can be sure to find them again. It’s very difficult to tell penguins apart, especially in a big colony. Sometimes if you take your eye off a penguin for just a few seconds it can take a long time to find it again. Some penguin researchers also put numbered bands on the penguins’ flippers to study them, but the Palmer Station penguin team does not. Thanks for asking – Hugh

  11. Ms. Rizzo January 16, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    Hi Hugh,

    My students were excited to hear that you are studying several groups of penguins, including the Gentoo. Most have never heard of that species. Looking forward to future posts.

  12. Lauren January 16, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    Hello. I am one of Mrs. Hester Fearon’s 8th grade students and there are a few questions that I wanted to know about penguins. Do penguins have feathers or fur and if they do not then how do they stay warm in the really harsh weather conditions? The last question I wanted to know is how and when do penguins sleep? I really appreciate that you are keeping in touch and letting us see what is going on in Antarctica. I really like going over all of your posts in class with Mrs. Hester Fearon. It is so interesting and the science fair is going to be really fun. Thank you so much for doing this! 🙂

    • Hugh Powell January 16, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

      Hi Lauren – Penguins are birds, so they have feathers and not fur. They are unusual among birds in that they do not have down feathers—that’s the way most birds stay warm. Instead, penguins have very short feathers that lie close to the skin. Underneath the skin they have a layer of fat or blubber, and that’s what insulates them against the cold and helps keep them warm. Since it’s light 24 hours a day here, penguins don’t sleep for long stretches at a time. But you do see them with their eyes closed, napping at their colonies or at the water’s edge from time to time. Thanks for reading and I’m glad you’re having fun with this expedition. – Hugh

  13. Gail January 20, 2015 at 10:37 am #

    Hi I am one of Mrs.Hester Fearon’s 8th grade students. I would like to know how the penguins survive in extremely cold weathers and why?

    • Hugh Powell January 22, 2015 at 9:44 am #

      Hi Gail – Penguins survive in cold weather thanks to a number of evolutionary adaptations that they’ve acquired over a couple of million years. The main adaptation is their body size: they are tubby and round, with a layer of blubber beneath the skin that helps insulate them against cold water. They also have short legs that don’t lose heat as quickly as long, skinny legs would. They also have blood vessels in their extremities that lie right next to each other so that the warm blood going out to their flippers and feet warms up the cold blood coming back into their core. Your question about why is harder to answer – they evolved in this environment, so to them it’s normal. They would probably wonder how we survive in the incredibly hot environment of North America and why we don’t move to a comfortable climate like Antarctica! Thanks for asking – Hugh

  14. Jacob Cardenas January 23, 2015 at 12:14 am #

    Hello, I’m one of Ms.Hester-Fearon’s students and I would like to ask one question. If the penguins are very good at finding krill, can you use them as a guide to find more krill for your experiment of listening for the krill’s echoes? Thank you, this is very interesting! 🙂

    • Hugh Powell January 26, 2015 at 9:19 pm #

      Hi Jacob – Great idea! That’s actually one of the ideas the Project CONVERGE team had as well. One thing they can do with their sampling program is look at the tracks from the penguin tags, and then program the gliders to go to where the penguins have been foraging. The one thing that’s not perfect is that the gliders are a lot slower than the penguins and they’re not as good at swimming in shallow, rocky water. So it can be hard to follow the penguins if they forage near islands or if they move quickly from feeding place to feeding place. Great question, thanks for asking! – Hugh

  15. Joshua love January 23, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    Hi I’m Joshua from Rivera middle school and I would like to know we’re are Rare penguins found?

    • Hugh Powell January 24, 2015 at 10:42 am #

      Hi Joshua, Interesting question – I’m not sure what you mean by rare penguins… Even really unusual penguins like emperors and Adelies are still pretty numerous when you go to their colonies. In other words, they’re only rare in places where you’re not likely to find them, so it’s hard to say where that is. However, if you’re asking about penguins that have low total population sizes, then these five species are listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature: African penguin, Galapagos penguin, erect-crested penguin, yellow-eyed penguin, and northern rockhopper penguin. These are found at the tip of South Africa, on the Galapagos Islands, islands off New Zealand, New Zealand’s South Island, and islands in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean, respectively. Thanks for your question – Hugh

  16. Elijah January 28, 2015 at 4:25 pm #

    Hi my name is Elijah. How are rare penguins found?

    • Hugh Powell February 2, 2015 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Elijah – Finding anything rare is usually a mixture of luck and paying attention. It’s always a good idea to be observant and look for unexpected things in the environment around you—that’s how you discover new things. Thanks for asking – Hugh

  17. Brady January 28, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    Hey guys, I wanted to know how fast do penguins swim?

    • Hugh Powell February 2, 2015 at 11:40 am #

      Hi Brady – Adelie penguins can swim about 5 miles per hour, which is probably slightly faster than you can walk (but slower than you can run). Thanks – Hugh

  18. Antonio January 28, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

    Hello I’m Antonio and i wanted to know what is the hardest part in finding penguins.

    • Hugh Powell February 2, 2015 at 11:38 am #

      Hi Antonio – I think the hardest part about finding penguins is getting to where they live. They only live in the southern hemisphere, and the penguins we’re studying live only at the very tip of South America and in Antarctica and its surrounding islands. To find Adelie penguins, we had to fly to Punta Arenas, Chile, get on a ship for 5 days, sail 700 miles south, and land at Palmer Station. From there, the penguins were pretty easy to find—hundreds of them on nearby islands, groups of them swimming in the water, and a few even standing on the rocks by the station. Thanks for asking – Hugh