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26 October, 2003

A Sunday Outing to the Penguin Ranch

Today, we went as a group over to the Penguin Ranch. It is an hour and a half drive by pisten bully, over a recently flagged road. Not too many people get to come out here so I feel quite fortunate to be able to share some pictures. This year the ice is very thick close to town so they located the ranch at a thinner section far away. The penguin ranch is an area where young wandering penguins are kept for scientific study. They are essentially Penguin Napped using snowmobiles and Shepard hooks, or even sometimes flown in by helicopter in giant plastic garbage bins (they sit in the helicopter). Here they stay for a short while as scientists attach electronic recorders on their backs to sense physiology as they dive. There is a corral and two diving holes. There are no other holes close by so all the penguins must come up where they dive down, which makes studying them possible.

The emperor penguin can live at least 20 years. It is possible to see large colonies of penguins on the sea ice while flying over the coastline from as high as thirty thousand feet. They huddle together to stay warm. The females lay eggs in the winter which the males will then incubate while the female goes away for the next few months. Information can be found at this website:


Famous to one of Scott's expeditions is the first recovery of emperor eggs at Cape Crozier during a winter stay.

Watching these birds is very interesting, they seem to communicate largely by following what the other one does, and somehow one bird decides that it is time to do something. One penguin is very wary of the ice hole, and does not want to enter it all. He just looks in as the others go for feeding dives. Occasionally he falls in, but refuses to dive and scrambles back out of the hole like a child who is afraid of cold water. This penguin looks like it will be released soon.

The penguin ranch is located near the edge of the sea ice. I am standing on about 6 feet of ice which will all melt away in another month or two.

There are eight penguins so far at the ranch.

A view of the whole ranch, all the buildings are hauled out here and provide sleeping quarters and science rooms.

A narrow tube leads to an observation port beneath the sea ice.

It is very hard to get a good picture down here. The plastic tube is very moist and fogs the camera quickly. The penguins dive to considerable depths, it is thought as far as 500 meters. Their adaptations to this tremendous feat is what scientists are studying.

This penguin sits on his tail instead of his feet.

This guy seems to want to go fishing but is very scared of the hole for some reason. All the others dive in and he is left alone. Then he tries to go in and gets out right away, not even putting his head under water. He definitely has some issues with the hole.

A close up of an Emperor Penguin.

Sliding on their bellies the Emperor Penguin can move quite fast.

Huddling by the wall of snow.

Another shot from under the ice.

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