They appear to be such innocent, beguiling creatures. So adorable. So darn cute.
Well, from previous experience, I already know they attack. The Adelie penguins that came at me en masse while I took photos around the Aurora Australis will forever be a disturbing highlight of my life. Now I know penguins can lull you into suicidal behaviour.
My friend Sharon and I found ourselves in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego thwarted by boat scheduling difficulties in a last minute attempt to scoot over to the Chilean Antarctic territory of Isla Navarino.
Our Antarctic cravings would have to be satisfied elsewhere. Plan B would have us spying on penguins hanging out on an island a kilometre or two north of the most southerly part of Chile.
As we hurtled out of town in the mini-bus, Sharon was wondering whether the penguins were worth it. The suspension on the bus was clearly shot and the driver was far too comfortable on the road.
I noticed from the back window seat that our vehicle was being overtaken on the double yellow lines, so clearly everyone’s confidence was high.
After a fascinating trip to a remote museum to see the work volunteers are doing on the bones of locally washed up sea mammals like whales, seals and dolphins, we were in a zodiac rocketing over waves towards our little penguin friends.
The boat repeatedly smacked hard against the waves.
Our bodies weren’t thrown around, but the jarring motion was intense. Grimacing too hard could cause jaw damage. In one case, a woman’s head was donged against the canopy. This appeared to be an urgent mission to penguin land.
Again, the tour guide was great. She had lots of great information about the local colony along with the usual information of not approaching the penguins and letting them come to you.. if they want to.
This was a magellanic penguin colony that only formed over the past few decades.
It is the most southerly place to find magellanic penguins. Gentoo penguins had arrived fairly recently and the guide seemed most surprised to see two king penguins there that day.
I was surprised too to see the kings. I though that was not something I would see in Tierra del Fuego. It can be good to be wrong.
They like this particular island between Argentinia’s Tierra del Fuego and Chile’s Isla Navarino because it is spongy to walk on and it has easy access to the Altantic Ocean.
The penguin fledglings ambling around at this time of year are quite large and independent, although skua birds appeared still keen to pick them off.
I admit I could have been dressed better, but I survived.
The things you do for penguins.
They pecked away at any other sort of penguin that came near. The kings are similar to the Antarctic emperor penguin, but with different patterns and they are not quite as big.
The gentoos were also fighting amongst themselves. These two appeared to be squabbling over who could stand on this geometric block of concrete.
.. and at last, just as we were to be sent back to on our bone jarring journey home, I had time to pull out the penguin toy I have been carrying these past six weeks from Sydney.
I did not have much time for the birds to waddle up and bond with it, but they were clearly interested. Just as they were about nest, or do whatever to the toy, we had to go.
I carefully slid my hand over to the stuffed version, grabbed it and returned to the zodiac exclaiming, “it is not a real one” and they said “I know.”