Story and Photographs by Shane Ness
Perhaps the toughest creature on the planet and the only animal to breed during the Antarctic Winter, The Emperor Penguin is truly living on the edge.
I am off to visit Auster Rookery, which was discovered in August 1957 and named after an ANARE, Auster aircraft. Auster Rookery lies around 50km from the Australian, Mawson Station and it will take us over 2 hours, through a maze of giant ice bergs in our Hagglunds, over snow vehicle. On the way we see some weddel seals and a beautiful sunrise.
We camp the night at Macey Island, in the Macey Hut “Rodgers Lodge” no idea who Rodger is? After setting up the hut and a coffee to warm up, we jump back in the Hagg and continue our journey a further 10 km to the rookery.
In the distance I see the colony, the distinctive black line amongst the white sea ice and blue ice bergs. Emperor Penguins huddle together to stay warm throughout the toughest of antarctic winters. They battle the “Katabatic Winds” which blow off the plateau and blizzards that reach 200km/h.
It was one of those, I had to pinch myself moments, sitting there on the sea ice, in amongst giant ice bergs, with this penguin just chilling watching us. I think he was as interested in us, as we were of him.
In the huddle we could here the very faint chirp of emperor penguin chicks, we never saw one, they would be very protected from the cold by their fathers. This would mean that soon the females would return, and almost as soon as we thought that, in the distance we spotted two penguins making the journey back through the bergs. As they approached the huddle, all the penguins started squawking, you could feel the excitement in the males, then the females quickly disappeared into the huddle and vanished.
The harshness of the Antarctic winter and the incredible toughness of these birds amazes me. They survive in this extreme environment with no food for up to 120 days. During this time the males will lose about 40%, of their body weight, around 12kgs.
On the walk back to the Hagg I spot an egg, sitting there on the ice, frozen. I stark reminder of how tough it really is out here in the middle of the winter.
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