Friday, 7 August 2009

P-P-P-Pick Up a P-P-P-Penguin!

  • “It’s practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry.” - Joe Moore.

Now, I have no idea who Joe Moore is, but he does have a point. I have my own version:

  • “You can never look at a penguin without smiling.”

Go on, look at this little guy and tell me that a smile did not materialise on your face.

So, I have a plan for making the world a happier, smilier place. Everyone needs a penguin. Just think of all those situations that make you angry, make you mad, make you want to punch someone in the face or poke them in the eye with a sharp stick. Now imagine that situation with a penguin. For example, I hate bad drivers. You know the ones that I am talking about. The ones that cut in front of you, that don’t signal, that sit in the overtaking lane, not overtaking. Now, in a normal situation, I might get a little flustered. I might even get a little annoyed and a few colourful words might escape my lips. But, if there were a penguin in the car, perhaps sticking his head out of the window, feeling the wind blowing through his feathers, well, all I would do then is smile and perhaps wave at the offending driver, in a happy, carefree way rather than in a one-fingered, offensive way. See, penguins could be the cure for road rage. They could work in any situation. Imagine traffic wardens if they walked around with penguins. We would all look forward to meeting one. What if we all had a penguin in our shopping carts? What fun shopping would be and we wouldn’t care if we had to wait at the checkout or if some old geezer cut in front of you with a trolley that obviously contained more than 15 items. So what, he has a penguin. Oh, and nobody likes a politician, right? What if there were a penguin party and each candidate campaigned with a penguin. I know where my vote would go. It might also work on a smaller scale too. Think of those bland, infuriating tax forms that you have to fill out every year. Wouldn’t that task be just a little less taxing if there were pictures of penguins strategically placed throughout the document? The possibilities are endless. Just think of your least favourite person, your most annoying chore or your most hated activity and now imagine it with a penguin. There, isn’t that better?

Magellanic penguins on Martillo Island, Argentina

So, just in case you haven’t got it yet, I love penguins and I am not talking about the chocolate biscuit variety. I was one very happy camper once we hit Southern Patagonia. We visited two penguin colonies, one in Chile (the Seno Otway Penguin Colony on the Strait of Magellan) and one in Argentina (Martillo Island in the Beagle Channel). The Seno Otway colony was exclusively magellanic penguins, while at Martillo Island we were also entertained by a small number of gentoo penguins. So, what is it about penguins that I find so endearing? Well, you just have to look at them - their cheeky little faces with their inquisitive expressions, the way that they cock their heads to one side to get a better look at you. I love their roundness and their simplicity. Penguins appear to be down-to-earth, uncomplicated animals. They stand around, surveying their surroundings with a little smirk on their faces as if they know something that you don’t. If they want to lie down, well, they just fall over where they are standing. If there happens to be another penguin there already, oh well, that just makes for a softer landing.

What you can’t see from still photos is the way they move around and their oh-so-endearing behaviour. On land, they are clumsy, ungainly and awkward. They waddle around, looking lost and forlorn, desperately seeking the company of other penguins. They really don’t like being left on their own, preferring to travel in little gaggles or groups – a waddle of penguins? If one decides to waddle off, the whole group has to follow. If one decides to stop, so do the rest. If one gets left behind, you can almost see the panic in its face as it hurries along, desperately trying to catch up, in a hoppy, jumpy sort of run.

When they know that they are being watched, you can almost see them trying to be graceful and poised. This invariably ends up with the penguin face-planting in the grass, picking itself up, shaking down its ruffled feathers and waddling off with its head held high, hoping that no one noticed its awkward clumsiness. Then there was the magellanic penguin that found itself in amongst the gentoos. I can just imagine the thoughts racing through its tiny little mind:

“Oh guano! These are the wrong penguins! OK, stay calm, take a deep breath, pretend nothing is wrong, all is well, no problems here, just strolling through, don’t mind me..............waddle away, waddle away!!!!!!”

His little head shot up, he looked worriedly from side to side, and he waddled as fast as a penguin can waddle. Not that the gentoos appeared to be any threat. In fact, they completely ignored the wayward intruder, too busy incubating their eggs to worry about a panicking penguin.

Now, me being a biologist and all, this post would not be complete without a few interesting little penguin facts. Did you know that............

The black and white colouring of penguins is used for camouflage. The white underbelly is hard to see by underwater predators looking up towards the water surface, while the black backs are hard to see by above water predators looking down on the penguins.

The largest living penguin is the emperor penguin, standing 3’ 7” tall. The smallest penguin is the little blue penguin (aka the fairy penguin), which is only 16” tall. There used to be penguins that were as tall as humans, living 35 million years ago in Peru. I am not so sure that they would be quite so cute..........I wonder what they ate?!

Penguins have the smallest eggs, compared to body weight, of all birds.

The word penguin may have originated from the Latin pinguis, meaning “fat”. Well, you would want a little extra insulation if you lived in such a cold climate, wouldn’t you?

There is a species of penguin called the macaroni penguin. Not an intellectually inspiring fact, I grant you, but the name made me chuckle.

The wings of penguins are very stiff and have evolved for flying underwater rather than in air. The fastest penguin recorded, a gentoo, made a top speed of around 30kph. Just to give you an idea of how fast this is, the Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps’ top speed is approximately 8kph. Go, penguin, go!

The deepest recorded dive for a penguin, the emperor penguin, is 565m, or 1,870ft! Now that is deep. As a scuba diver, the deepest that I have ever gone is around 50m. My husband, with all his fancy gas mixes, has made it to about 75m. The deepest ever scuba dive was to 318m and the deepest breath hold dive was to 214m. Makes the little old penguin look pretty good, doesn’t it?

Penguins can hold their breath for up to 22 minutes. Don’t try that at home!

You can get an idea of the age of a penguin by looking at their feet. Younger penguins have a blotched pattern on their feet, which fades as they age. A bird over 10 years will usually have all black feet.

This one must be getting on a bit, since his feet are all black.

This one is for EnglishMum - Gentoo penguins have pink poo. This is due to all the krill in their diet.

You have probably all heard about the homosexual penguins of Central Park Zoo. But did you know about the penguin prostitutes of the Antarctic? Apparently, some female penguins will sell sexual favours in return for rocks. Many penguins, such as the gentoos, use rocks to build their nests and these rocks are a precious commodity in penguin society. It appears that these promiscuous penguins do have a life partner, but will turn tricks on the side for extra rocks. The trusting mate appears to be completely ignorant of his partner’s indiscretions. This reminds me of a quote I once read:

“Penguins mate for life. That doesn't surprise me much because they all look alike. It's not like they're going to meet a really new, great looking penguin someday.” Author unknown.

Of course, not all penguins build their nests from rocks. Magellanic penguins nest in burrows or under dense bushes, collecting bedding material, such as dried grass, from the surrounding areas. Strikes me as being a wee bit more comfortable than a pile of rocks, but I guess if your home is the frozen wastes of Antarctica, you do not have a busting lot of choice.

I feel that it would be unfair of me to leave you with the impression that penguins are the bumbling buffoons of the bird world. We tend to only see penguins in our part of the world, the dry land part. It has to be said that penguins are not shining examples of life well adapted to terrestrial living. However, if you were to follow one into the aquatic realm, everything would change. Here, we can see the penguin at its finest, in all its streamlined glory. You would be able to see one torpedo though the water, leaving just a trail of bubbles. If you could keep up, you would witness its skill and grace, how it can fly through the water, changing direction with a flick of a wing and a turn of the head. On land, a penguin is clumsy and ungainly, a little on the chubby side with short stubby legs. But underwater, a penguin is an aquatic work of art. Wings that are useless on land propel the penguin through the water with the agility and grace of a bird of prey on the wing. The sleek, smooth body cuts through the water with effortless ease, whirling and twirling, twisting and turning, so stiff and reserved on land, so free and liberated beneath the waves. It is so easy to forget that the penguin, in its watery element, is a beautiful, elegant and mesmerizing sight when you only ever see them blundering around on land.

Having said all of that, I am going to leave you with a couple of photos of just one of the many penguins that made me laugh while visiting the Martillo Island penguin colony.

“I can fly!” ............................................ “No, I can’t...........”

Is it possible that a penguin might be able to fly?

Well the BBC seem to think so............

By the way, for all you non-British types, the title of the post is based on a now quite old advert for a chocolate biscuit with the unlikely name of a Penguin.


Cortes said...

Great photos and a story that made me laugh. I agree that the penguins are cute, from a distance, but from up close, it is a face only a mother could love!

The one with the black feet seems to be walking on water! I did not know they could do that.

Thanks for another wonderful posting!

Baino said...

I remember Penguin biscuits! Great post. I guess camouflage is why great white sharks are whit undereath and black on top too! We have loads fairy penguins but political correctness has seen them renamed "Little Penguins" apparently the gay association didn't work well. Loved the pics as usual although there's a big problem with your face. Need to get that looked at right away!

Sistertex said...

I agree with you, Penguins always bring a smile to my face when I'm watching them. I love them too. You filled me in nicely...all sorts of things I didn't know about them. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading and you photos are fantastic!

The video was great too, never heard of Penquin cookies. Very very nice.

Don't Bug Me! said...

Cortes: Up close, they might be a bit stinky, but they are just as lovable!

Baino: I remember seeing the fairy penguins when I was in South Australia - the first penguins that I had ever seen in the wild. Cute then and cute still. I hate political correctness, so I shall continue to call them fairy penguins.
I find the face looks much better that way!

Sistertex: Thank you! How is the new addition to the family doing?

Kate said...

That was amazing - the photos, the facts and the fun!!

I'm up for it - where do I get my Penguin for the car? I could have the greyhound's head out one side and the Penguin the other.

It would certainly make me smile..
What a lovely post!

jay said...

I feel the same about greyhounds - how can you not smile when you see one?

Love the photos, and the facts are pretty cool. You are funny, too!

"a waddle of penguins?"

"Oh, guano!"


They're cute. And I love the factoids about the camouflage and the stiffness of the wings. They aren't as fast as greyhounds though. Or (to my mind) half as cute!

Don't Bug Me! said...

Kate: A penguin AND a dog - now that would surely lead to world peace!

Jay: I am glad someone got my guano joke.

Sistertex said...

There is something waiting for you to pick up at:


MYM said...

Love it! And the photos are fantastic. Yes - penguins for everyone! I have a few on my blog ;)

Don't Bug Me! said...

Hi Drowsey! I tried to get your penguin widget on my blog, just for this post, but I couldn't get it to work properly - I could only get 5 penguins and they kept buggering off the side!?!

Carolina said...

A Priceless Piece of Penguin Paraphernalia. Enjoyed it thoroughly and looooove the Pictures!

I know a penguinjoke:
Once there was a guy driving in his car, minding his own business, when suddenly he saw a penguin standing on the hard shoulder.
'I can't leave that penguin standing there', he thinks. 'What if something happens to it.'
So he hits the breaks, picks up the penguin, puts it on the backseat of his car and drives to the nearest petrol station.
'I just found a penguin', he says to the petrol station guy. 'It was standing on the hard shoulder. What do you think I should do with it?'
'You could take it to the zoo', petrol station guy says.

The next day the same man enters the petrol station. 'Ah', petrol station guy asks, 'what did you do with the penguin?'
'I took your advice', guy answers. 'I took it to the zoo. It seemed to enjoy it very much, so today I am taking it to the cinema!'

carole said...

DBM, do you need someone to carry your pack on your next expedition? I'm first in line!

Don't Bug Me! said...

Carolina: Very funny! I shall have to try and remember that one.

Carol: As it happens, I do need someone to carry my luggage - how are you with camera gear? Mr. DBM has proclaimed that he never wants to travel again, so the position is open. I am thinking of Venezuela next summer. What do you think? Also, I need to take my Mum somewhere in BC/Alaska or elsewhere to see grizzly bears next summer - do you have any suggestions?

Carole said...

Oh, Venezuela sounds wonderful! Camera gear? Well, I could carry it for ya, though I don't think I'd know how to use it. I have a simple digital camera I use, and living in the Yukon, it's really, really hard to screw up on photographs. The scenery is so breathtaking here. However, I've never travelled the world, and no doubt many places could compete with the Yukon.

As for seeing grizzlies, there isn't a shortage here. If you plan on visiting for more that a week, you'll probably see grizzlies at some point. Of course, sticking around salmon-filled rivers (such as in Haines, AK) will guarantee a good view. Mind you, if the salmon runs keep being as dismal as they were this year, I fear our poor grizzlies will suffer a great deal.

There are also many outfitters in Alaska and the Yukon that would be happy to take your money for a wilderness experience in the North. But if you want to do it on your own, Moon's idea of Hyder, AK is a good one. There is plenty of bear-viewing there.

I don't know how old your mum is or her health condition, but if you make it up here, it would be a shame not to hike the Chilkoot Trail. I haven't done it yet, but my husband and I are planning for it next spring.

By the way, it's such a privilege to see the world vicariously through your lens. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Yes, those penguins made me smile.

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