National Geographic: Antarctic Wildlife Adventure

Year:
1991
67 Views


This is the most empty place

on earth

the place almost

no one goes-Antarctica.

It's the last continent discovered

by explorers,

the last place to be charted and

examined and understood,

the last place to be inhabited.

Even the wildlife here knows

this land is different,

and perhaps it is a mark of

how harsh this land can be

that there is no creature here

that cannot swim or fly away.

This is the last continent on earth

a refuge of sorts for wilderness

and for explorers.

Jerome and Sally Poncet

are explorers and naturalists

who live on a sheep farm

in the Falkland Islands.

A half-dozen times in the

last decade or so,

they've sailed 900 miles south

five days at sea,

to the islands scattered along

the famed Antarctic Penin

Other expeditions come here with

millions of dollars

and the power of governments

to support them.

Sally and Jerome sail by themselves

in a small yacht,

accompanied only by their children,

three boys

Dion-10, live... 8

and Diti-5.

They trek on remote, rocky islands

trying to learn more about this

once unknown and foreboding

continent of rock and ice

while there's still time to protect

the unique balance of

life that exists here.

As usual the Poncets are beginning

this voyage in December

high summer and vacation time

for the boys,

when some days might get as warm as

This will not last long

the Poncets know.

Winter and ice are never

very distant here.

Now development is coming too.

As the Ponects will discover anew

on this voyage,

this last frontier is changing

as never before.

The poncets have gradually come to

concentrate on the odd

and endearing birds

that are native to this place.

They're concerned now that penguins

may become threatened

because many countries and claiming

interests in the riches

that may lie here.

The Poncets will use their boat-part

research vessel,

part home-to search out

penguin colonies all along

the Antarctic Peninsula.

The peninsula reaches up some

toward south America.

The poncets goal is to survey the

size of penguin colonies,

that is, to count them

all the way to Marguerite Bay

at the bottom of the peninsula

even further if the ice

will allow them.

In earlier voyages, they've found

many colonies

no one else has ever seen.

Deception Island-near

the northern end of the peninsula,

early stop for the Poncets,

and the site of a big colony

of one of the three penguin species

dominant on the peninsula: chinstraps.

Scientists use penguins as a

key indicator species

to gauge the health of the entire

delicate Antarctic ecosystem.

To do that, though, they must know

how many penguins are actually here.

If the penguin population changes

radically,

the scientists will know something

is wrong here.

That is why the poncets sail and

climb to these remote places

to count the birds.

You can do a rough estimate by just

counting up groups of say

groups of 100.

That's a very rough estimate.

If you want to do it properly, though,

you've got to map out the area

that the colony's occupying

and then work up average density

of the colony and multiply that

...a couple of days work

to do it accurately.

But you can get a good estimate

if you take your time.

In a couple of hours, you can get

a pretty good estimate of it.

But we just compare it with colonies

we know from elsewhere,

like one in particular with 30 to

It's a lot smaller than this.

This is huge. Must be one of the

biggest chinstrap penguin colonies

down on the peninsula

I think-this one

It's gotta be, I think. It's huge.

Chinstrap penguins seldom change mates

and they prefer to return to the

same nest sites each year

to hatch the young.

The nests are rings of small stones

set just out of pecking range

of incubating neighbors.

The females usually take the

first shift sitting on the eggs,

fasting for up to 8 days.

Then, the males take over and the

females can feed again.

Some of the small, shrimp-like krill

they find at sea is regurgitated

for the penguin chicks.

Sally does not spend much time with

the colonies here on

Deception Island, though.

This time her work lies further south.

Jerome is French; Sally is Australian.

They sail aboard the 50-foot

steel hulled Damien II.

It can look like a frail ship in

amid all the ice and rock,

but the ship can take the poncets

places that others cannot go,

which helps them make a living:

They charter the boat for scientists

doing coastal surveys.

Indeed, Jerome knows his way along

this coast, intimately.

He first came here almost 20 years ago

accompanied by his friend,

Gerard Janichon,

who has rejoined him for this voyage.

It's unusual to sail in the

Antarctic now,

but it was truly extraordinary then.

Theirs was the first yacht to sail

the peninsula coast.

The adventure made them heroes

in France.

Fees from a book allowed

each of them to build bigger

and better versions of first vessel.

But new boats don't eliminate the

four hour watches throughout

this two-month journey

or the sameness of stored food,

or the confining conditions

of life at sea.

These they simply get used to.

But anyone who's lived on a yacht or

on a boat can tell you,

you get used to shifts:

four hours on, four hours off.

Or whatever you happen to do.

And it's just something

you get used to.

You can't have exactly what you want

to eat or drink

when you feel like it.

Or you can't wash every day

if you want to,

or you can't go down to the

nearest pub for a drink

just to get away from it.

You just accept that.

It just, it might look difficult

to people,

but until you... it would be far more

difficult for him to have

to get into a car every morning

and drive to work.

The Damien II averages 26 miles

a day now,

with stops along the way.

Working from cove to cove

they arrive at Cuverville Island

a breeding site for many

many Gentoo penguins.

Their pelts are sleek as fur

but like all penguins,

these are true birds.

Short, thick feathers help

insulate them from the cold,

and at the same time

lie close to the body to help

the speedy swimmers in the water.

This will be the first egg

because its dirtier,

and this is the second.

The second egg is suppose to be

a bit smaller that the first.

But they look about the same size

really.

That one there, though-she's just

about to get off

that-you can really tell

the difference there.

The Gentoos are apt to form life-long

attachments among breeding pairs

although they are not so particular

about which nest site

they use from season to season.

On the peninsula,

it takes about five weeks

for penguin eggs to hatch.

The parents watch over them for

another month or so,

and then leave the chicks in

large groups while the parents

are off gathering good.

One or two months later the young

penguins begin to feed on their own.

What beautiful nests these ones are

well made

anyway, with the stones like that

and they all seem to be

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