The Adelie Penguins of Cape Royds, Part 1

Spectrum's Glenn Zorpette reports from Antarctica

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This is part of the series:
Antarctica: Life on the Ice

Transcript: The Adelie Penguins of Cape Royds, Part 1

[penguin sounds]

Glenn Zorpette: Here on Cape Royds in Antarctica, you are treated to one of the most poignant scenes this planet can offer: the sight of 4000 Adélie penguins scattered over rocky hills and also on chunks of white sea ice floating in a dark blue sea. And then there’s the noise.

Jean Pennycook: The penguins are very noisy at night, so we live about a quarter mile away so we can have some peace at night.

Glenn Zorpette: Jean Pennycook is an education and outreach specialist here in Antarctica. For the past four years, she’s focused on the Adélies.

Jean Pennycook: The Adélies are highly animated, they’re constantly busy, fussing with rocks, and cleaning up their areas, and building their nest, and stealing rocks from their neighbors, and stealing food, and pecking at each other, and gacking, and arguing over territory, so they’re constantly busy and active, and they’re fun to watch.

Glenn Zorpette: Do you have any funny stories about the penguins or anything that’s happened that was memorable or special for you?

Jean Pennycook: I have one of those almost every day. This is an extraordinary place, and the drama—the penguin drama I call it, in the colony is every day, the dynamics between the birds, between…the birds and the seals, the birds and the weather.

Glenn Zorpette: Parenting is just one of these dynamics. Adélie penguins are strictly monogamous. For a single season, anyway.

Jean Pennycook: Because it takes two to raise a chick. And if one bird dies or doesn’t come back to the nest, that nest will absolutely be lost.

Glenn Zorpette: An unattended egg will either freeze in the frigid temperatures or get eaten by a type of huge, nasty seabird called a skua. So the two parents take turns sitting on the egg. The chicks had already hatched by the time I visited, in mid-January.

Jean Pennycook: These chicks need to get to what we call fledging weight and maturity, before the ice closes in the winter. They need to get to their adult plumage so they’ll be able to swim.

Glenn Zorpette: Swimming for these young penguins means finding food in the open water. The Adélies depend on sea ice as a platform for jumping into and out of the water. It’s crucial to their survival.

Jean Pennycook: These birds are what we call ice obligates, which means they live on the ice, their food is underneath the ice, and this is where they live.

[penguin sounds]

Glenn Zorpette: Because of the connection between the Adélies and the ice, these penguins have something to tell us about our changing climate. We’ll get back to the Adélies later in the hour.

[penguin sounds]