Happy World Penguin Day! Don't Let Them Bite You
Frozen Planet began airing on Discovery Channel on March 18. In this ultimate portrait of animals in the frozen zones of the Arctic and the Antarctic, we get to see, up close, the animals that live in this habitat like we have never seen them before. The stars of the show are the animals, like the Adelie penguins in Cape Crozier, Antarctica (seen here). The following is a look at some of our favorite images from the series, which you can see every Sunday at 8 e/p from March 18 until April 15.
FROZEN PLANET VIDEOS: On the Discovery Channel
Great Grey 'Ghost' Owl
One of the largest owls in the world with a wingspan of between four and five feet, it is often referred to as the Great Grey Ghost or Phantom of the North because it is so reclusive.
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Unlike dark-eyed nocturnal owls, the Great Grey Owl has distinctive piercing eyes, which may be an adaptation to hunting by day.
Emperor Penguin, Ross Sea, Antarctica
During the winter months in Antarctica, male emperor penguins keeps their eggs warm. They remain alone for the six months of winter without feeding, waiting for the return of the sun and their female partners, who have been gone, feeding.
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During the depths of winter, they have to endure temperatures of minus 60 degrees Centigrade.
Sea Lion and Gentoo Penguin
A sea lion chases a Gentoo penguin onto land - both are like fish out of water and the sea lion struggles to make a kill.
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The fully-grown Gentoo penguin has no natural predators living on land, though birds will occasionally steal eggs from their nests.
Grey Wolf, Ellesmere Island, Canada
Young pups born into the High Arctic packs have a precarious life ahead of them if they are to grow to a size big enough to survive the next winter.
BRIEF: Grey Wolf Removed from Endangered Species List
Snowy Owl, Artic
Each snowy owl chick eats two lemmings a day, so the parents are kept very busy. During nesting season, predators abound as the owls are stuck on the ground to tend the eggs. Both the male and female dive-bomb predators until the chicks are able to fly and they can all escape the ground.
A beluga whale enjoys a body scrub. It uses the gravel on the beach as a loofah to scrape off old skin as it molts.
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Polar Bears, Hudson Bay, Canada
Frozen Planet captured a surprisingly playful and sociable side of polar bears.
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In the 1970s there were an estimated 5,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic. Since conservation began 46 years ago, the current population is estimated to be 20,000 to 25,000.
Musk Ox, Canadian Arctic
Musk ox are Arctic residents and are uniquely adapted to withstand the ferocious Arctic winters with a double layer of fur.
Arctic Wolf Chasing Buffalo
An Arctic wolf chases after a herd of wood buffalo, Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada.
Polar Bear Cubs
A pair of two-day old polar bear cubs. At this age they weigh less than a kilo so by weight are less than 280 times smaller than their mother.
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Over the next 12 to 18 weeks, the bears will nurse. After three or four months, they will leave the den where they were born to learn survival and hunting skills from their mother.
Grey Wolf Watches Crew
The crew filming "Frozen Planet" at Karrak Lake, Barrenlands, Canadian Arctic, encountered some incredible things. As the midnight sun glows on the horizon, a lone Arctic wolf spots the crew and eyes them curiously. After spotting them on the horizon, this wolf traveled over 6 miles to see humans, a species it was unlikely to have encountered before. "Completely naive and unafraid, he sniffed around our feet as our hearts pounded. He then gave us this quizzical last look and headed back across the horizon," crewmembers said.
Least Weasel, Finland
The least weasel is the smallest carnivore in the world; the very smallest are found in the High Arctic (weighing an ounce, average body length of about 5 inches). They stay active throughout the winter despite extreme temperatures that can drop below minus 50 degrees Centigrade. These tiny mammals are voracious hunters, tracking down voles, mice and shrews that live in icy corridors below the snow. Their slim-line bodies allow them to hunt in tunnels the same width as their prey. The snow acts as an insulator, keeping the "subnivean" world at an almost constant minus one degree, so despite their tiny bodies, these little mammals, both predator and prey, can live comfortably even in the coldest months.
Dolgan Hunter With Reindeer
A member of the Dolgan tribe rounds up his reindeer. The Dolgan live in the most northerly mainland region of the Arctic, the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia. Siberia is also the coldest region of the Arctic, where temperatures often reach minus 60 degrees Centigrade. The lasso was first invented in Central Asia and came north centuries ago with the Dolgan's ancestors. The best lassooes are made from walrus or bearded sealskin, which the Dolgan traditionally obtain in the summer, when they bring their herds to the coast and trade with the coastal hunters.
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A penguin almost killed me once.
OK, that’s a slight exaggeration.
OK, calling it a slight exaggeration is a massive understatement.
I was on the rear deck of a ship in the Southern Ocean and was helping to tie down the vessel’s helicopter in anticipation of some incoming inclement weather. The ship was already starting to roll a little, and just as it was rocking in my direction, an ice floe came into view with a solitary Adelie penguin perched upon it.
“Look!” exclaimed the person next to me. “A penguin!” At which moment she involuntarily let go of the strap she was holding on to, and the helicopter started to slide ominously toward the edge, with me in its path.
The penguin shook itself in a cute penguin-y kind of way. I squawked in a mildly fearful kind of way; within a couple of seconds normal service had been resumed, the helicopter had been secured and the penguin had continued to drift away to tend to its penguin business.
OK, so I way oversold the whole penguin-killing-me thing. But there are only so many ways to grab a reader’s attention, and that one seemed a sure bet because if there’s one thing everyone knows penguins don’t do, it’s kill people. (Well, apart from this one.) They swim, they eat fish and krill, and, in the case of male emperor penguins, they look after the young for weeks on end while Mom is out catching food. Plus, of course, they have this habit of walking bipedally and lugubriously, which makes it really hard not to be anthropomorphic when looking at them. Perhaps that’s why everybody loves penguins. (Well, apart from this guy.) ‘March of the Penguins‘ won an Academy Award. Britons were recently glued to their TVs, watching a BBC up-close-and-personal penguin documentary series called ‘Spy in the Huddle.’ Mr. Popper liked penguins so much he wound up with 10 of them. Then of course there’s Happy Feet. And Opus. And Pingu.
Penguins, of course, are commonly associated with the Antarctic, but in fact only two species – Adelie and emperor – breed on the continent of Antarctica. Gentoo and chinstrap penguins live on the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula and environs, while king, rockhopper, macaroni and royal penguins are denizens of subantarctic islands such as South Georgia. There are even penguins farther north: South America, New Zealand, South Africa, even the Galapagos. (But only the Southern Hemisphere: there was an attempt to introduce penguins to Norway’s Lofoten Islands in the 1930s, but by 1949 they had all disappeared.)
Although all 17 penguins species are protected, several are threatened to varying degrees by such threats as habitat loss, climate change, and overfishing – with particular concern of late being expressed for the possible impact on Antarctic and subantarctic penguins of a combination of climate change and expanded krill fishing. Though for the Adelie penguins on Beaufort Island at least, climate change may come with some benefits.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “What penguins need is a day of their very own. A day to raise awareness of penguin problems and celebrate penguinness.” And guess what? There is one. And it’s today! Yes, April 25 is World Penguin Day – so determined when scientists at McMurdo Station in Antarctica noticed that was the date on which Adelie penguins returned after spending months at sea – and to mark the occasion, the Pew Charitable Trusts invite you to participate in a Twitter chat with penguin experts at 11AM ET.
They’ll talk about penguin biology and behavior as well as penguin conservation, and in particular the push to establish marine reserves in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica; and conservation in particular will also be a big theme of an event in Washington, D.C., on Thursday – free and open to the public – which will include the premiere of a video about an environmental disaster that killed thousands of rockhopper penguins, as well as a panel discussion on penguin conversation. We’ll be there, and blogging the proceedings.
Happy World Penguin Day!
IMAGE: An Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) pecks at a camera lens while sitting on a nest in Petermann Island, Antarctica. (Paul Souders/Corbis)