Cape Royds Adelie Penguin Colony – update by Dave Ainley

The Ross Sea is beginning to awaken as the sun becomes stronger by the day. Soon its microscopic communities will be contributing 28% of the Southern Ocean’s very high as it is production, despite the area of the Ross Sea being just 3.2% of the Southern Ocean. Quite the special place! The Ross Sea and its biota is sequestering a significant portion of all that CO2 that humans and their livestock are expelling into the atmosphere.

Photo John Weller

The first Adélie penguins of the season arrived at Cape Royds on 25 October. Cape Royds is the southernmost penguin colony, the Ross Sea in total contributing 38% of the world’s Adelie penguin population. Apparently the 7 penguins came in one flock, and then split up when each made its way to last year’s nest site. This was the vanguard, as on 26 October, 56 penguins could be counted from the images, which are viewable by all at www.penguinscience.com.

These first penguins appear to be males, or at least no pairs are evident yet, and several have gathered huge piles of rocks that eventually will be a nest. These birds are arriving pretty much on schedule. The PenguinCam was set up late in 2006, but every spring thereafter the first penguins arrived on 22 or 23 October, except in 2008 when the first ones arrived on 20 Oct. Penguins’ migration, and their ability to navigate, is based on the sun, and the sun first rose in this part of the world on 20 August.

Photo John Weller

We know from tracking studies that the Royds penguins spend the winter among the sea ice in the vicinity of the Balleny Islands, about 200 km NW of the northern tip of Victoria Land. So, it is likely that it has taken them about 2 months to get from there to Cape Royds, the Balleny’s being about 800 km away. They can actually travel faster than that, but the wind has been against them, so it’s kind of like walking the wrong way on an escalator, as the wind keeps pushing the sea ice north as the penguins try to go south. By going to the penguinscience website, you can also keep track of the wind speed and direction at Royds, and the temperature. Once the solar-powered PenguinCam woke up with the sun, it has been showing us that, indeed, it has been windy and also cold. When the sun circles behind Mt Erebus, which looms above the colony, the temps have been dropping to -20C. The wind, however, has been keeping the ocean near the colony free of ice, blowing it north before it can get really thick and get stuck in place.

I’m glad we have the PenguinCam. Our team won’t be arriving at Royds until the first week of November, and me not until the first week of December.

Dave Ainley at Cape Royds. Photo John Weller

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