26 November 2011
Ross Sea, Antarctica
A lone emperor penguin chick lives out its final moments.
Adult penguins go out to sea for weeks on end, eating fish and krill which they later regurgitate to feed chicks. If an adult is killed and does not return to feed its young, the chick will die. This is the fate of up to 70 percent of emperor penguin offspring.
Emperor penguins’ body shape and poor climbing ability make it difficult for the birds to haul themselves ashore, especially onto icy or rocky coasts. It is also a moment when they are especially vulnerable to attacks by predators, such as the leopard seal.
But the flightless emperor penguin is capable of becoming airborne, by swimming at up to three times its normal speed, and launching itself from the water to clear the edge of a shoreline. Recent research shows that the penguins do this by releasing air from their feathers, in the form of tiny bubbles. The bubbles act as a lubricant, cutting drag, and enabling the birds to achieve bursts of speeds that would otherwise be impossible.