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Cross the Roughest Seas on the Planet to Hang Out With Penguins

Who can resist a penguin?

Each summer (or winter, for those of us in the north), millions of the cute mascots of the Antarctic welcome visitors into their home. Getting there from South America involves cruising across the notorious Drake Passage, the convergence of water where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. It’s affectionately called “Drake’s shake” due to the notoriously rough waters. But with a welcoming committee of tuxedo-feathered friends, it’s well worth the voyage.

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“Feed Me”

Penguin rookeries are full of squawking chicks. The whirring and whistling sound crescendos in waves from forte to fortissimo in the space of a couple of seconds. Adélie penguins usually lay two eggs, the chicks born a couple of days apart. The parents share the responsibilities of incubating the egg and feeding the chick for the first couple of months of their life. The pebble-lined nests are on higher ground, where there’s usually exposed rocks, often in sub-Antarctic areas like the Shetland and Sandwich islands.

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Date Night, Penguin Style

Not only do most penguin species mate for life, they never stop wooing each other. Pebbles are the currency of love. A male Adélie penguin will return from a day’s fishing and present his mate with the best pebble he can find to add to their nest. This sometimes leads to a lot of flipper slapping between penguins as pebble pinching is also rife in the south.

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A Little Bit of Self-Care

Finding a quiet moment isn’t easy for a Gentoo penguin. They need to preen themselves every day to oil their feathers as well as the skin on their legs and feet. Couples also spend time preening each other.

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Testing the Water

Slipping and sliding down icebergs is part of the fun of being a penguin. They torpedo into the water to hunt for fish and krill. They usually follow each other and stick together in the water to protect themselves from predators like leopard seals.

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The Race Is On

Penguins might look comical waddling on land and their wings aren’t suitable for flying, but when it comes to swimming, they soar through the water. Using a porpoise-like technique, their flippers can work independently to twist and turn to escape from predators. Gentoo penguins like these are the fastest and can reach speeds of up to 22mph underwater.

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The Early Bird

This is likely the first time this Chinstrap chick has put something in its beak. Nestled into mum for protection, the chick takes a look at the world while protectively waiting for the arrival of a baby brother or sister. It’s estimated there’s around 10 million of these delightful penguins in Antarctica and the surrounding sub-Antarctic islands.

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With a permanent ”smile” on the dial, Chinstrap penguins always look like they’re having fun. And when fresh snow is falling, sometimes simply sliding along, using their wings to propel them, is the way to go.

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A River of Penguins

Going ashore on the remote sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia is a memory to treasure. With the highest concentration of wildlife per square inch on the planet, it’s considered one of the ultimate Antarctic experiences. As the breeding ground for King penguins, this area is home to hundreds of thousands of glorious birds congregating along verdant valleys between glaciers. King penguins don’t build nests, but instead  incubate a single egg under a flap of skin on their feet, taking turns between the male and female. While one is on egg duty, the other is usually off fishing.

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”Can You Hear Me?”

It seems an impossible challenge, but King penguins recognise each other by sound. In human terms, it’s like calling a person’s name out across a crowded sports stadium.

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“Hey Dad, When Will I Look Just Like You?”

Unlike other penguins, King chicks look like a completely different species. Often called “the woolly penguin,” their fine down feathers eventually turn into sleek adult bodies (but not before going through an awkward adolescence when they have a mixture of feathers). Chicks hang out together for protection while their parents go fishing.

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The Standoff

King penguins aren’t the only creatures that live en masse on South Georgia during summer. After nearly being hunted to extinction, it’s estimated that one million Antarctic fur seals live around the island. Sometimes, the Kings draw a line in the sand with the feisty pups.

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“Hey, Which Way Did They Go?”

With double-jointed necks, the contortionists of the animal world can literally bend in any direction. A handy skill to scratch that difficult to get to spot and to check out what’s happening around them.

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