Nature, first prize stories
Ross Sea, Antarctica
An emperor penguin shoots toward the surface, in the Ross Sea, Antarctica.
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.
National Geographic magazine
Technical information & keywords
Help us improve this article
This image is collected in
About the photographer
As a young boy, Paul Nicklen, a Canadian-born polar specialist and marine biologist, moved to Baffin Island and spent his childhood among the Inuit people. From them he learned the love of nature, the understanding of icy ecosystems, and the survival skills that have helped him to become one of the most successful wildlife and nature photojournalists.
As an assignment photographer for National Geographic magazine, Nicklen has produced 16 stories covering a variety of issues related to conservation and natural history—from the slaughter of narwhals to salmon farming to the importance of sea ice and polar ecosystems in this new climate era. Despite the personal peril he often faces while working in some of the planet’s most remote and harsh environments, Nicklen travels constantly in search of meaningful stories that can help touch people’s emotions and help the public connect with Earth’s marine and polar realms.
Nicklen has received more than 20 international awards, six of which were from World Press Photo, including the first prize for nature stories in 2010; three with Pictures of the Year International; and ten with BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year including the grand prize awarded to him in 2012. In 2012, the National Resources Defense Council awarded him the first Biogems Visionary Award, and he also received the Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, the University of Victoria.