Penguins are the number one attraction for many visitors to Antarctica. If you go on a ship that is allowed to make shore landings, you are pretty much guaranteed to see them up close. But to get personal with penguins, you have to be smart.
First of all, keep in mind that Antarctica’s
visitor regulations require that you remain at least five meters away from the penguins
in order to not disturb them. You could easily become responsible for the death
of a penguin chick or the destruction of an egg if your too-close presence
should distract a penguin parent. Predators like skuas and giant petrels are
only too ready to seize any opportunity to feed themselves and their own
If a penguin is trying to move away from
you, you must stop what you are doing and back off (even if you are farther
than five meters away). However, the rules do not preclude a curious penguin
from approaching within five meters of you – as long as the bird makes the move, not you.
Penguin chicks, in particular, are quite
curious. I’ve seen several lucky tourists who were astonished to find that
chicks came right up to them — one chick even climbed onto a woman’s lap. If a
penguin comes extremely close to you, however, remember: you are not allowed to
touch or hold them.
for getting close to the penguins:
1. Ignore the smell. A penguin rookery is filled with guano (feces) and the ammoniacal
smell takes some getting used to. Think of a rookery as a polar barnyard.
2. Be quiet. Loud noises make penguins
3. Slow down. Fast or sudden movements
signal predators to penguins, and they react accordingly.
4. Stay low or sit down. You can use your
life jacket as a cushion on the rocky ground.
5. Be patient. It may take half an hour or
more before the penguins get used to you.
6. Find a place of your own. There is no
need to hike to the far edge of a rookery, but get away from the crowd of
people who may or may not be as good as you are at being quiet, slow, low,
7. Put away your camera. Too often people
are so focused on getting the “money shot” that they forget to look with their
own eyes. It is a different way of observing when you are not looking through a
viewfinder. Most of my most memorable experiences in Antarctica are imprinted
in my mind, not on a memory chip or roll of film.
8. Finally, go down to
the beach at your landing site and wade out in the shallow water a bit –
without letting the water overtop your boots, of course! If you wait a few
minutes, you may well be rewarded with a close view of penguins swimming close
by in the clear waters.
As they rocket past, you will see for
yourself how penguins really can fly.
The article 'Getting personal with penguins in Antarctica' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.