A daily penguin

Or do I mean Adelie penguin?

When we reached Antarctica’s land mass we were disembarking the Vavilov at about 5.30am, into the zodiacs for our first sortie. Sitting in my study today I am trying to recapture the sense of awe. It was as near to silence as I have been, broken only by the occasional lapping of the water and the intermittent quiet chug of the outboard as we shifted position. The simple word is vast but it is more than that. This image is one of the first I took from the zodiac. I have played around with it to make the detail easier to see and I have cleaned up a few lens or sensor spots. It is much bluer than I remember. Is the camera wrong or my memory? I don’t think it matters. A photograph is open to interpretation anyway. My final cut will probably be in monochrome. Distance is easy to judge whilst the mother ship is in sight. Once it is hidden it is extremely difficult. Icebergs that looked small at one point turned out to be massive when approached at close quarters. Not too close though because falling ice can create problems for a small rubber zodiac. Vast and empty.

First view - AntarcticaOr maybe like this? Slightly less intense blue tones.First view - AntarcticaThen a few specks appear. We head quietly towards them. Chinstrap Penguins. Wonderfully entertaining birds but not what we were looking for. Suddenly a sharp-eyed German birder spots one Adelie penguin. Just one. All alone. We had no idea how close we would get. I invoke my standard operating procedures. Start taking record shots. If you get close you can always delete them later. Keep taking images at regular intervals. We do get close. This close:


This was shot with a 70-200mm lens on a full frame sensor. Thank goodness for image stabilisation. Who is watching whom? We saw very few Adelies on our trip. I am not sure why but we had to change itinerary a couple of times to avoid pack ice and bad weather.This one was good enough for me. I would like to have reached out and shaken it by the flipper. Not allowed of course. Penguins may (and do) approach you. You may not approach within 5m of the penguins. And of course we were in an inflatable boat. So we settled for exchanging a knowing glance. I should have tried to show him his picture on the camera’s LCD or asked him to take a selfie. Suffice it to say I think he or she (I didn’t check) knew it was truly a case of a ship passing in the morning, a one-off.

I think if you go to Antarctica you are never the same again. It changes your understanding of what is at stake for the world. You grasp that it is worth fighting for. You also come away knowing how insignificant we are out of our natural environment. You learn about silence, scale and solitude. There is nothing quite like sitting in a small zodiac and have a Humpback Whale swim underneath you.



We are still contemplating a return trip. The cost however is high, especially flying from Hong Kong. There is no easy way to get there. Door to door almost 40 hours.  Perhaps if we win the Mark 6 jackpot. In the meantime I think the memory of the Adelie is good enough to be BAD.

16 thoughts on “A daily penguin

  1. We also would like to go back but yes, winning Euromillion would be helpful 😉
    On my crappy laptop screen I would go for the second version of the ice landscape, it looks a bit more subtle. And of course, I love the Adelie. It is a very nice pose and I like that it is not a portrait and shows more of the world he is living in.
    The humbpack though would have scared me so close – but yes, water is surely NOT my element…

    • It is unique, Hilary. We have been watching a programme on HK TV about what they call “naam gegg” (Antarctica in Cantonese) and it showed many of the places we went to. It is giving us itchy feet again.

  2. What an amazing experience you had. Thanks for sharing the experience in words and photos. I have been near humpback whales in a small boat, but never experienced the vast iciness of Antarctica. Thanks for bringing them both close.

  3. How wonderful to have been there – your last paragraph sums it up so well. I’d love to experience that silence, too. Like the blue tinges to your pictures.

  4. Who is watching whom? Now there’s a question Andrew, methinks ’tis you on the lookout, while he? He’s merely taking a walk, (or waddle) I can imagine the feeling, the vastness and the solitude. no wonder ’tis mind changing, giving you a different slant on this World we call home, but which we use as a trashcan, sometimes. xPenx

  5. I like the name Adelie. Sort of has a certain ring- just looking at the name is pretty. And that is quite a nice photo. The 200mm worked very well.The Humpback Whale going under the boat must have been quite suprising and exciting. I’ve often wondered why the barren landscape of snow and ice photographs with a bluish tint.

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