Despite the sleep-inducing effect of Dr Christina’s seasick pills, the heavy pitching, rolling and figure-eights kept me awake most of the night. Our ship arrived at the mouth of The Beagle Channel after noon and dropped anchor. We were advised that the Captain had sped across Drake’s Passage to keep the ship ahead of a second storm. All that remained of our expedition was a slow-paced chug towards the Ushuaia’s home port. With the storm well behind us, we enjoyed a gorgeous, sunny day on deck and it was a real pleasure to sit in the sun admiring the very green hills around the mouth of the Beagle Channel. Trailing our ship are various species of Albatross, the large seafaring birds Famous for their size and elegance in flight and assorted large Petrels too.
The optional lecture that was offered to help us pass the time was provided by expedition guide Lida, a biologist stations in Ushuaia, was titled How do Scientists Know What They Know? Introduced with background on research bases I shared elsewhere, the lecture focused on penguin research. One neat fact, even though we see them as all wearing the same mass-produced tux specific to their species, penguins have eyes that can see the markings on their neighbor’s chest that the human eye cannot observe. It’s how they distinguish one another.
At 4 p.m., the passengers and expedition crew met in the lounge for the formal presentation of the official Ship’s Log and a disembarking briefing. We were pleased to also view a video as produced by the expedition team – but not specific to our trip so I didn’t both buying a copy.
Then at 6 p.m., the Captain again hosted a champagne reception and presented each passenger with their expedition certificates, after which we all moved to the dining room for a fancy feast of lobster bisque & filet mignon. The last activity was the collection of our passports, now with an Antarctic stamp!!!
Specifically, what is up with research in to the Adelie Penguin population, which is in decline as the balance of sea ice vs sea access changes? (If ice & icebergs close-up water holes they starve).
Flipper bands are put on chicks to identify which colony and when the chick was born. It may be 2-4 years until the penguin is spotted again at the birth colony because the juveniles stay in the sea until breeding maturity. Adelie can dive as deep as 170m and they can stay under for as long as 5 minutes. They can migrate over 1200km from the breeding colony to their winter feeding grounds. A few penguins turn up in other-than-birth colonies but that is very uncommon and science cannot yet tell us why.
Adelie penguins can live 20 years, and like many birds, they will mate for life. However, given their intelligence level equates to that of a chicken, they are impatient and will quickly move on to find another partner...leading to fights if/when the original mate shows up late. Likewise, grieving parents who have lost their sole chick of the year, likely to poor chick handling skills (eggs & chicks are carried on the male’s feet as you may recall) in the cold weather or to a predator, have been seen trying to steal chicks from others. Fights for chicks can be fierce and fractious.
Parents regurgitate to feed their chicks, and the guano is studied to determine what and how much is consumed; pink/orange = krill diet; silver = fish diet. Any penguin that takes it fill of krill will not only poop pink all over the landscape, sooner or later it will throw up a heap of green goo, which is to purge their stomach lining once it is saturated with fluoride from the krill. So yes, penguin colonies are colourful AND stinky.
How much do chicks eat? Colonies are corralled to leave one opening with a weight bridge and can learn how much the departing empty parent weighs vs upon its return with food for the chick. It takes about 30kg of parent-puke to raise an Adelie chick from 2kg to 95kg in the season.