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5 March, 2001

Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis Adeliae)

When we went to look at the elephant seals I was surprised to see a group of Adelie penguins hanging out camouflaged against the rock and ice. They showed little fear of us, but we were careful to respect the wildlife protocol, staying a fair distance away. I enjoyed watching them interact with one one-another. Some had finished their molt and gleamed in the sunlight. The others looked disheveled and uncomfortable, similar to their neighbors down the beach, the elephant seals.

A French navel officer, Jules Dumont d'Urville, named these penguins in honor of his wife, Adelie, on his Antarctic voyage on the Zelee in 1837 (do an internet search to find out about his voyage). Most of the year they hang out on the ice pack feeding on krill (small shrimp), which are found in the waters beneath the ice. During the breeding season, from October to January, adults come ashore to court and nest, forming colonies ranging in size from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands. Adelies are small birds weighing 11 to 13.2 pounds. One to two eggs are laid on a mound of pebbles. These pebbles protect the eggs and chicks from freezing in the spring melt water. It takes two months for the chicks to grow from 2.5 ounces to 7 pounds. As they grow to adolescence they group together for warmth and defense in creches . These creches free up the parents to forage for food. This clustering together will continue throughout their lives, as grouping is there best line of defense against predators such as the leopard seal. Even so, less than 10 percent of the chicks make it through their first year.

Adelie penguins are well studied. An international group under the auspices of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) studies their numbers, diets and breeding success. I'm glad they are well studied because they are truly the most delightful critters I have had the pleasure of observing.

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