January 20, 2009
We banded a thousand baby penguins today. It was quite an undertaking.
First, a helicopter landed six people on our snowfield first thing this morning, including David Ainley, the mastermind of PenguinScience, who has been working with penguins in Antarctica for 25 years. It was a pleasure to have his presence at Cape Crozier today, if only for a few hours. He spent the season at a different penguin colony on Ross Island, doing the same things we’ve been doing here.
With our regular crew, that made 10 people here, which is more than I’ve seen in one place in months. It was a bit of a shock. The people to penguin ratio was 1:30,000 – staggeringly crowded!
There wasn’t much time to think about crowds, though. We had 1,000 baby penguins to band before the helicopter returned in a few hours. The strategy was simple: we’d surround a group of chicks and enclose them with two sides of a corral fence until they were in a small area. Then, we’d hop inside, start picking up chicks, putting bands on their left flippers, and tossing them outside the fence. Once they were all out, we’d move on to another group. Fluff flew on a 20-mph breeze and our thumbs blistered (crimping metal bands) as we worked efficiently and methodically through the morning. There are now a thousand more banded penguins in the world…
The rest of the day was spent packing and making inventories. After several more gallons of boiling water and digging trenches with an iceaxe, I freed my tent and we bundled it up. We sent 600 pounds of gear on the helicopter back to McMurdo Station ahead of us. We’ll follow along day after tomorrow, after a lot more packing and cleaning. The term “pullout” was a little off-color, so we’ve been calling it our “retreat”. Whatever it is, I’ll be sad to watch Cape Crozier fade beneath our rotors – but admittedly looking forward to a hot shower. Or even a cold one!