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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Field Note: King Penguins Entering Surf

Published: October 22, 2021


By Mark Seth Lender


King penguins plunge single-file into the Antarctic. (Photo: (c) Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explore-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender muses on the constant danger penguins face from leopard seals and other predators when they venture out to feed at sea.

Penguins are eighty percent of the vertebrate biomass in the Antarctic. Consequently they make up the greater part of what gets eaten by aquatic predators and water is a place of danger. Of which king penguins are acutely aware. The idea that they are playful and happy is straight out of Hollywood. I have never seen a penguin of any species enter the sea without hesitation.

King penguins are big animals. Free of the constraints of aerodynamics they can afford to be. Adults weigh in at eighteen kilos and are a full meter in height. They make a particularly substantial meal for the things that eat them. Many of the king penguins I saw had scars, some of which could have been incidental. Others were from life-threatening encounters. These were rare. The power and speed of a leopard seal and their backward-curving dentition make escape the exception.

This story took place on the day I saw king penguins for the first time. There was a thin and saturating rain and the cloud cover thick almost to the point of darkness. All along the shore king penguins were casting lots.

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