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7 November, 2004

Have you seen any polar bears, penguins, or seals?

A curious difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic is that you can find polar bears in the Arctic, but not Antarctica. You will find penguins in Antarctica, but not in the Arctic! Interesting!

Penguins are a type of bird that has evolved to live on land and ice. When they swim, they look almost as if they are flying through the water! Cool! There are 17 species of penguins in the world, but only four species live in Antarctica. It is still a little early in the summer to see penguins at McMurdo, but we hope to see two kinds - emperor penguins and Adelie penguins. Emperor penguins are the largest of all penguins and they are very colorful! They are about 1 meter (about 3 feet) tall, although some get even taller. In the picture, you can see the beautiful orange and yellow band of feathers around the emperor penguins' necks. Adelie penguins are the smallest of the Antarctic penguins and they are back and white, they have no other colors when they are full grown. They are really cute and very curious...sometimes they just walk up to you and look like they are trying to figure out what you are!

There are several types of seals in Antarctica but in the McMurdo area we see one kind of seal a lot, the Weddell seal. This is the season when seals give birth to new "pups." The scientists tell me the number of newborn pups is much lower that in previous years in the McMurdo area. In some years, as many as 500-600 pups are born in this area. This year, so far only about 100 have been born. The scientists have some theories about why this is happening and they plan to investigate further. I have been lucky to see some of these pups with their moms while driving on the sea ice.

1: Weddell seal and new-born pup

2: Emperor penguins

3: Adelie penguins are really cute!

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