Penguins rank high in most everyone's vote for the cutest animals on earth. Penguin lives have been chronicled in movies such the "March of the Penguins" and "Happy Feet". The best way to get a true appreciation of penguins is to take a cruise to Antarctica. This challenging environment and the constant struggle of penguins to live and reproduce is touching and impressive.
When visiting Antarctica, most travelers see thousands of penguins of three different species-- Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap.
The Emperor penguins made famous in the "March of the Penguins" movie are only found far south in Antarctic (not sub-Antarctic) waters. They breed on sea ice, and lay their eggs and rear their young chicks inland many miles away from the sea. Therefore, cruise ships visiting Antarctica will only see Emperor penguins by chance and in the sea.
Even with no Emperors, all penguins are very cute and guaranteed to make you smile! It's time for you to plan a cruise to Antarctica.
Penguins and Hurtigruten Midnatsol in Antarctica
These Chinstrap penguins seem very excited to see the Hurtigruten Midnatsol cruise ship anchoring off their island. It's a good thing they don't charge tourists to take their photo.
Gentoo Penguins Greet Hanseatic Cruise Ship to Antarctica
Like the Chinstraps in the previous photo, these Gentoo penguins seem to be greeting the Hanseatic cruise ship as she floats in Paradise Bay in Antarctica.
Penguins Move like Tiny Torpedoes in the Water
A group of penguins in the water is called a "raft". This raft is moving across the water like a bunch of tiny torpedoes.
Thousands of Adelie Baby Penguin Chicks on Paulet Island in Antarctica
These brown, downy baby Adelie penguin chicks look almost like rocks on the beach of Paulet Island in the Weddell Sea of Antarctica. They also look a little like furry footballs!
This photo was taken in late January, and the baby chicks were old enough to be left alone while both parents went to sea to catch food for them. That's why you see mostly "kindergarten-aged" penguin chicks waiting for their parents to return. These penguin chicks were also big enough to require feedings from both parents to keep them satisfied.
Adelie penguins lay two eggs in a rocky nest near the shore above the level of melt water. The parents incubate the penguin eggs for 34 days, with the chicks hatching in late December. The baby chicks lose their down about two months after hatching, and the parents abandon them and go to sea to molt their feathers. This abandonment forces the babies to enter the water and feed themselves.
The circle of life and food chain is so evident in the Antarctic. Only about 60 percent of baby penguins live long enough to have their first swim. Even then, many are eaten by leopard seals or killer whales as soon as they enter the water. However, this cycle is just part of nature.
Adelie Penguin Baby Chick and Adult in Antarctica
Watching the habits of penguins is a favorite past time of cruise ship passengers. Although this adult penguin seems to be ignoring its chick, penguin parents often seem to be giving their baby chicks loving attention, grooming or feeding them.
Baby Penguin Chick Chasing Parent for Food in Antarctica
Many baby penguin chicks spend a lot of time chasing their parents (or other adult penguins) across the rocks. Although all those baby penguins might look alike to us, the parents can recognize their young and will only feed their own chicks. We saw many adults being chased by several chicks at a time, but the babies not belonging to the adults would eventually quit the chase, allowing the parent to then feed the chosen one.
Some penguin pairs breed two chicks. A naturalist guide explained that this "chase" also helped the strongest chick to get most of the food--sad, but survival of the fittest at work.
Gentoo Penguins at Paradise Bay in Antarctica
Paradise Bay is on the continent of Antarctica and is home to a large colony of Gentoo penguins. Note the white swash of feathers over each eye, the distinguishing characteristic of the Gentoos. The baby Gentoos were a soft, downy gray rather than the dark brown of the Adelie penguin chicks.
Adult Penguin Calling Baby Chicks in Antarctica
Can't you just almost hear this penguin calling its chick? We loved listening to their calls, but none of us will miss the smell of thousands of penguins!
Penguin Choral Group in Antarctica
The previous photo had a soloist singing for its chick. This group of penguins (called a waddle on land) seems to be singing, but they are actually alerting others of danger nearby the nests. This danger could be birds flying over trying to steal the eggs.
Gentoo Penguins and Fur Seal at Yankee Harbor on Greenwich Island in Antarctica
This photo shows the size of the penguins when compared with the fur seal and also how white their bellies are. Since penguins spend so much time in the water, their coloring is much like many fish--white bellies and black backs.
When swimming, the white belly protects them from predators who are lurking below and looking up at the sky (and the white penguin bellies). The white belly also makes them less visible to their prey such as krill and small fish.
The dark back of the penguin serves the same purpose. Predators looking down will not be able to distinguish the penguin from the bottom of the ocean.
Someone Has to Go First
These penguins seem to be having a discussion about either how cold the water is or who is going into the water first.
Penguin Enters the Antarctica Waters in Search of a Swim and Some Food
Penguins look very clumsy and funny when on land, but they are like small missiles when they get into the water. Some penguins dive as deep as 300 feet in search of food and can "cruise" along at about five miles per hour. The penguins look much like tiny dolphins when they are in the water, porpoising along beside the cruise ship.
So, Who Picked this Route to Go to the Beach?
If penguins could talk, one (probably the female) would be saying, "Are you sure this is a shortcut to the beach?"
Two Penguins Discussing Which Way to Go
Have you ever had a discussion with your mate or friend about which way to go? It seems like the penguin on the left is either pointing the direction or berating its mate.
Keep Right Except to Pass on the Penguin Highway
Penguins built narrow trails in the snow between their roosting/nesting areas and the sea. These two are moving fairly quickly, but it seems like maybe the one in the rear would like to pass.
Penguins Heading up the Hill to their Nesting Area
Penguins often nest high above the sea, necessitating a long walk back and forth between the two places they spend most of their time.
Penguin Walking Toward the Sea
This penguin is using one of the penguin highways to get to the sea so he can feed.
Gentoo Penguin in Antarctica
Although penguins are usually seen in waddles or rafts, sometimes they stand alone like they are meditating or just getting away from the crowd.
"Headless" Penguin in Antarctica
Penguins often look headless since they can twist their necks out of sight.
Lonely Penguin on Iceberg
This little guy is taking a rest on a small iceberg in Antarctica.
Lonely Penguin at Paradise Bay in Antarctica
Doesn't this little penguin look lonely? Don't worry, there are hundreds of his fellow colony members just out of sight of the camera.
Gentoo Penguin in Antarctica
The water was so calm in this harbor that the penguin's reflection is almost perfect.
Nesting Gentoo Penguins in Antarctica
Penguins often use small rocks to make their nests, just like these gentoos have done.