Views: 2003129.11.2009 17:37:39
About Penguins in general, but mainly about King penguins.

I will write three more articles, hopefully. Each one dedicated to one kind of penguin that we took photos of on the Falkland Islands.
I have no ambition in writing a scientific compilation. I’d like to pass on a few findings, which I have collected during preparations and photographing penguins on the Falklands.

What a stupid name, a penguin.
Tučňák patagonský. Dvoření. Volunteer Point. Falklandské ostrovy. 2009.

The Czech etymology of the name is quite clear “tucnak” – a fat man. The English one goes from either welsh pen (head) and gwyn (white) or, and I think that’s more obvious from latin pinguis (fat).
Well, we wouldn’t surely have gone to Falklands, almost at the world’s end, because of some fat, condemnable creature, which should had been nowadays for those reasons completely “out of fashion”.

Well we went. Mainly.

There are five species of penguin, living on the Falkland Islands. They are: King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus), Rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome), and rarely Macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus).

King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus), Rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome), a vzácně Macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus).

A penguin is a bird, obviously. I wouldn’t go to the details, everyone knows that and who doesn’t will not read this anyway.

So maybe we can say that it is a bird, which seeks water with temperatures between 20 and 4 degrees centigrade, and so it lives on the area behind the 45th parallel of latitude. Four species can be found on the antarctic ice up to the 60th parallel.

The Colonies
Penguin colonies are usually huge and although they may seem homogenous from the outside, they are quite busy. Penguins come and go, feed the young, bicker, even fight. All the time you can hear a distinct cry from tens of throats. Because they live and care for the younglings in pairs, it is necessary to find the partner or offspring once they return from the hunt. One can say that it is quite complicated even in smaller colonies, such as the one at Volunteer Point, not to mention a colony with for example 100.000 birds.
A penguin surprisingly orientates by voice and hearing. They can hear similar frequencies as humans (30 – 12.500 Hz), but they can also distinguish 15 milliseconds, so they hear small differences in longitude of each sequence of calling and its amplitude. A voice of each individual has unique little differences from voices of the others and because of those differences they are able to tell one from another and find the right penguin. I knew of this fact before and so I tried to identify voices of particular penguins. Two, three, maybe five I would have recognized, but they had distinctly higher or lower pitch, all of the others sounded exactly the same to me.
Tučňák patagonský. Páření. Volunteer Point. Falklandské ostrovy. 2009.

Sight is also very important, especially while hunting. A penguin is slightly farsighted under the water and shortsighted on the ground. Its eyes are more adapted for seeing underwater anyway. Penguins see better in blue and green-blue part of the spectrum, light of 500 nm and more (red) they cannot see at all, they don’t need it much underwater, after all. Shades of yellow are quite important for some of the species when choosing a partner, for example for King penguin and Emperor penguin.

A colony is a typical "characteristic" of penguins, especially The Penguins of all penguins: Emperor penguin and King penguin. One of the reasons why they form colonies is protection against cold. Penguins are warm-blooded, of course. They have blood temperature similar to humans, 35 - 45°C. If the temperature of the surroundings drops below -10°C the penguins will change their social behavior. They start to form "triplets" face to face, which group together and eventually they form very dense formation and so protect the center of each "particle". This process enables them to survive even in an extreme cold. A "dense" anti-cold colony like this counts about 200 - 300 individuals when they aren't nesting and 5 - 6 thousand when it's a nesting season.
Tučňák patagonský. Péče o vejce. Volunteer Point. Falklandské ostrovy. 2009.

The -10°C temperature I've mentioned, might seem not that low. One recalls the pictures of the Emperor penguins' males standing in a blizzard, slowly walking around a spiral, so each of them must endure the threateningly low temperatures only a little while, and also it protects remains of one's body heat, hidden from the wind, warmed up by the others.

In these ponderings we must include so called "windchill". That is a temperature which you feel on the outside of your body while certain surrounding temperature and wind speed. It is naturally more unfriendly with decreasing temperature and increasing wind speed. For example: windchill when temperature is -10°C and wind 20 kmph is -23°C, when the wind is 40 kmph it is then -31°C. We felt the windchill too, even if there was antarctic summer. With the wind of 20 kmph (common on the Falklands) and temperature 10°C the windchill is 3°C, with the wind of 40 kmph and the same temperature it's -1°C. That's quite cold to lay down on the beach whole day. Gloves were very important part of our equipment.

Penguin food contains mainly small fish, shellfish and cephalopods, that's why it is necessary for a penguin to be a good diver. The air is important for a bird under water, of course. The penguins can use 50 per cent of the oxygen from an air they've inhaled, in contrast of the mammals who can use only 15 per cent of the oxygen, in general. The penguin method of coping with the nitrogen in blood after diving is what every diver would be jealous of. Of course, species differ. For your idea - a normal penguin-dive lasts around 2 minutes and is not deeper than 50 meters. The King penguins excel in this field. Observations showed that on the hunt lasting a week in the ocean, they cover over 400km by the speed of 8 - 10 kmph, and do more than 800 dives to an average depth of 55 meters. The ultimate depth, measured with the King penguin is over 300 meters, they say.
Tučňák patagonský. Péče o mládě. Volunteer Point. Falklandské ostrovy. 2009

King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
King penguin is the second biggest penguin after Emperor penguin. It's 85 to 95 cm high with the weight of 11 to 16 kg, adults can weigh up to 20 kg out of the nesting season.

They nest twice in three years (a cycle being 14 - 16 months) and although they're birds, they don't build a nest. They keep their small - one square meter territories inside the colony while nesting, and they are quite bad tempered if some other penguin crosses its boundary. Similar to the Emperor penguin this one too warms its eggs in a collop, laid on its legs. After laying a first egg they often mate again because the first egg is just "on trial" and only from the second egg the offspring will hatch in some 20 days.

Every 4 or 6 days the parents feed the hatch with predigested food. This at sight repulsive stiff hash is so good for the hatch that the original "nestling" grows to a big brown ball, called the "oakum boy" by the locals. "Oakum" is eventually heavier than a parent, but before it happens, its threatened by Giant Petrels and Seahawks. It also happens that parents die on a hunt and then the hatch is condemned to starvation for no other adult from the colony would share their food with it.

The Voluteer Point Colony
The Falkland Islands are the northernmost nesting place of the King penguin, so there aren't very many of them. The biggest colony at the Volunteer Point counts roughly 1000 pairs. The whole peninsula, Volunteer Point included, is a 15 thousand-hectare private farm with approximately 15 thousand sheep, by the way. Other places on the Falklands are seldom inhabited by the King penguin. The rest of the world's population, about 1.2 million individuals we can find in South Georgia, Crozette Islands and the Cergulens.

The thousand pairs at Volunteer Point produce about 200 hatches a year. The colony grows slowly now, after 100 years 30 penguins returned in 1971 to that habitat. Maybe for that reason there is a warden house one kilometer away from the colony, and Derek checks the colony to prevent anything bad to happen to it. We lived at Derek's and his wife Trudy's for four days. Derek was an enthusiastic photographer, well, he uses Canon, but nevertheless the same hobby caused mutual understanding. It brought more to us than to him, but then even him won't forget us, I think.

He can't have nutters around every day.

Bohdan Němec, Stanley and Pilsen, February 2009

Translation from czech original version by Tereza Němcová: gwareth@seznam.cz
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