Halley Diary — September 2011

30 September, 2011 Halley

We are fortunate enough at Halley to have an Emperor Penguin colony at “Windy Bay”, about 20Km from base. Naturally everyone is keen to see them. So I thought I would use this September diary to share some of our experiences and images from our visits to the penguins.

I’ve been away for most of September. One of my roles as the Field Assistant is to take the staff on their winter trips, returning to base only at the end of each week. At Windy Bay we have a caboose (think small caravan) positioned a short walk from the ice shelf edge.

In April and May the penguins return from months at sea to form a breeding colony in the same place each year. During the cold and dark months of June and July the males alone incubate the eggs, which then start to hatch in August. The chicks only have about four months to eat, get fat, and fledge before the sea ice breaks up in December when they are all cast out to sea.

Even in temperatures well below −40°C they are able to maintain a constant body temperature of 38°C. Physiological adaptations alone are not sufficient, they also have behavioural adaptations. Many will know about the Emperors ability to look after their eggs and chicks by balancing them on their feet. The adults are also able to tip up their large feet, and rest their entire weight on a tripod of the heels and tail feathers, reducing contact with the icy surface.

If one of a breeding pair dies or is killed during the breeding season, the lone parent must abandon its egg or young and go back to the sea to feed. The good news is that most survive, fed continually by their parents.

Ian MacNab
Wintering Field Assistant