28 January, 1998
Hello! Today was an unusual day on the Nathaniel B. Palmer -- I had some free time after I finished working! We had a pretty slow schedule during the day. We took a lot of seismic data and a lot of Multibeam and Bathy-2000 data. We didn't do any cores while I was on watch, and we didn't pull the deep tow -- so that gave all of us quite a bit of time to work on other things when we weren't writing information in the log book. I was able to do the rest of my laundry, answer all of my email, and get three sets of ping editing completed during my shift. That meant that I had some extra time this evening to practice my flute. In the past, I've practiced my flute in the office next to the helicopter pad. When I went there tonight, the door was taped shut with duct tape and there was a sign posted that said "Wet Paint." I had a hard time finding another good place to practice. Due to the fact that the ship operates 24 hours a day, there are always people sleeping on the first, second, and third decks. The fourth deck had someone watching a movie in the lounge. The fifth deck is the bridge (where they drive the ship). So, I hunted around on the main deck (where all of our labs are), and found a place -- in the darkroom. It was away from everybody else, and noisy enough inside that I didn't disturb anybody. In fact, Tony even brought a pair of boots in (it doubles as a "mud room") and he didn't know I was playing until he opened the door!
I also spent about an hour outside -- just watching the scenery. It was unbelievable. I really don't know how to describe it . . . but I'll try. The sun was low in the sky. It was shining on the mountains, and some of the snow was a brilliant yellow as it reflected the sunlight. You could also see the white glaciers and the black rocks of the mountains . . . and I was glued to the front of the ship watching! The sea was perfectly calm . . . much calmer than most lakes. Large icebergs floated by with penguins standing on them catching a ride. At one point, I could even hear the penguins "talking" back and forth to each other. I took about half a roll of pictures, but I don't think anything could totally capture the moment!
The only penguins I've seen so far are Adelie penguins. As I mentioned yesterday, they are the most common penguin in Antarctica. Although there are seventeen species of penguins, only about half actually live in Antarctica or in the sub-Antarctic islands. Besides the common Adelie penguin, another famous type of penguin is the Emperor penguin. Emperors are the largest penguins in the world. They can stand over 3 feet tall and can weigh up to 100 pounds. They can travel along the surface of the water at about five miles an hour, and they can dive down to almost 900 feet below the surface. They eat mostly fish (95%) and squid (3%). The also eat some crustaceans such as krill.
Emperor penguins are the only Antarctic bird that breeds in the winter. The arrive on "fast ice" in March or April. (What do you suppose is meant by the term "fast ice?") After a prolonged courtship ritual, a single egg is laid in May or early June. This egg is incubated on the feet of the male penguin for warmth and protection. The eggs are also protected from the extreme cold because they are covered by a fold of the parent's abdominal skin. The male birds huddle together to help reduce heat loss, and they take turns as to who has to stand on the outside of the group (where the wind is the strongest). During this time, the females are out at sea eating and getting fat. Incubation lasts about 66 days, and the mother penguin returns about the time the chick emerges. Even though it is totally dark, the parents are able to find each other by cawing (each pair has their own special "song").
Once the females return, the chick is kept warm by the mother and the father penguin goes off to sea to fatten up. He is very hungry because he hasn't eaten in about 4 months! After the male returns again, the parents take turns feeding and taking care of the chick. When the chick is 5-6 months old, it becomes independent. By now it is the Antarctic spring and the chicks are ready to get food on their own. Some emperor penguins have lived to be 50 years old, but the mortality rate among chicks is high due to the harsh conditions.
Yesterday's question asked "What type of penguin is the most northerly species?" There is one species of penguin that actually lives in the northern hemisphere! It's called the Galapagos penguin, and they are found on the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Many people are surprised that there are no penguins in the Arctic. By the way -- do you know what you call a group of penguins? In the water, they are called a flight or a squadron. On the land (or ice), they are called a mob!
Well, it's about time for the mail to be sent off. Keep sending me your questions -- I'm having a lot of fun answering them (and getting the mail)! I'll be sending some more pictures out in a couple of days, and I'm still open to suggestions if you would like to see something in parcticular! Until tomorrow . . .
Contact the TEA in the field at .
If you cannot connect through your browser, copy the TEA's e-mail address in the "To:" line of your favorite e-mail package.