If you visit Antarctica you are going to see lots of penguins. However, the type of penguins you will see depends on where you go.
In February 2014, I visited the Antarctic Peninsula with Quark Expeditions on board Sea Spirit. I was on the Antarctic Explorer trip which meant I did not go south of the Antarctic circle. On this itinerary I was expecting to see Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Adelie penguins. Little did we know when we left Ushuaia that we had a surprise awaiting us on our first day of landings. This surprise took the form of an Emperor penguin on Deception Island.
We later learnt this sole Emperor penguin left Deception Island two days after our visit. It was a mark of how unexpected this visitor was that all the expedition guides on our trip who could come over to see this penguin did so with great enthusiasm.
In general, the penguin chicks we saw were around six weeks old when we visited. This enabled viewing of feeding behaviours, as shown in the following photo of Gentoo penguins.
Penguin behaviour around water
Watching the penguins near water was a fascinating experience. They look quite awkward approaching water, often stand and contemplate for a long period of time at the water line (see below a chinstrap penguin) before entering the water but once they enter they are very swift swimmers.
There are strict guidelines about approach distances in Antarctica but I found that if you chose a place to sit and observe by the water line penguins will emerge from the sea and walk right past you (this is permissible as you are not approaching them).
Groups of penguins versus lone penguins
Survival is much higher for penguins found in groups. Sometimes penguins are found huddled together and this huddling often occurs if a predator is nearby.
Do you tire of photographing penguins?
On our last landing of the trip one of the Expedition Guides commented that I was still photographing penguins. I immediately commented that you can’t take too many penguin photos. At that point I was taking photos that were showing different penguin behaviours. For me, each landing yielded plenty of opportunities and I made the most of the time available on land (usually about 2-2.5 hours on each landing).
This was my first trip to Antarctica and of course the travel season is short. However, it strikes me that if you are to go on repeat visits, doing so at different times of the year will reveal a whole lot of different behaviours.
Herein lies an important decision to make before visiting Antarctica – the question of what time of year do you most want to visit. It is worth spending time researching this and thinking about what stage of the penguin life cycle you most want to observe in what could be your only visit to this fascinating land.