LOUISE Emmerson has spent the past five years in a Hobart laboratory preoccupied with understanding the lives of Antarctic Adelie penguins. But it was only a few days ago that she finally saw the real thing waddle into view across the ice. It was love.
Perched quietly amid the Antarctic equivalent of chattering suburbia, a crowded rookery just a fast boat ride from Australia’s Casey research station, she watches the parent penguins return from the sea with bellies full of food for their rapidly growing, voraciously consuming young. “Great big balls of fluff,” whispers Dr Emmerson. “Don’t you just want to cuddle them?”
Her task here is rather less appealing, but no less doting. She has come to collect their crap. With Australian Antarctic Division project leader Simon Jarman and colleague Mike Double, she will spend the next two weeks living in a remote field hut, playing Pictionary by night, and venturing out into the frigid icescape each day to scrape penguin poo from the snow and rocks, photograph it, catalogue it, and deposit it in tubes to be shipped back to a Hobart laboratory. The DNA within the samples will be used to gain new insight into the Adelie’s diet, foraging habits and breeding patterns.
It really is an interesting article. Be sure to check out the “New Ice Age” blog and multimedia sites linked at the end of the article.