A reader recently pointed me to the Wild Light blog. There you can
find beautiful shots of birds, bees, ants, mosquitos, and other
insects, shot with a tight zoom. The details captured are fascinating.
Continuing our Gentoo penguin theme, check out this footage from
in Antarctica. This was filmed by tourists in mid-November 2008 who
happened to arrive at the Gentoo rookery site only to find it nearly deserted. As you'll see, they didn't leave disappointed. The
penguins arrived suddenly and en masse.
Hoping to learn more about this, I looked in some books on penguins,
and did some googling. Yet I found no mention of gentoos exhibiting
such mass behavior.
So I asked Dr. David Ainley of
who in turn referred me to Dr. Bill Fraser, president of the Polar
Oceans Research Group. Dr. Fraser's field team studies Gentoos as
well as the other members of their Pygoscelid genus, Adelie and Chinstrap penguins, at nearby
Both found the footage remarkable and highly unusual. Dr. Fraser
says that this year was a strange one for all 3 Pysgoscelid penguins.
He says his field team
recorded a nearly 100% increase in breeding
Gentoos at our research site, which is not too far from
where the video was taken. Particularly relevant, though, is
that peak nesting for Gentoo penguins occurred about 1 month
earlier (mid-November) than usual (early December), and although
my field team did not witness the arrival of the birds, they
made the comment that they were all "just suddenly there". So I
am going to speculate that the video may in fact be showing
the similar arrival of Gentoos on Cuverville to begin breeding given the
date and location.
Another hypothesis, offered by Dr. Ainley, is that
perhaps this colony was finding feeding conditions to be
difficult but then some conglomeration of foraging critters (whales,
seals, flighted birds, etc) in waters just offshore got their
attention and they all split for the ocean.
This might account for their mass return, although if this were the
case it have to be at the very beginning of the breeding season since
otherwise the rookery would not have been deserted.
Both of these men have studied penguins for decades, so I guess it
just goes to show you how much still remains unknowable about our world.