Mary Cook, January 6, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
December 5, 2004 – January 7, 2005

Mission: Climate Prediction for the Americas
Geographical Area: Chilean Coast
Date: January 6, 2005

Location: Latitude 53°10.14’S, Longitude 70°54.40’W

Sunrise 0525
Sunset 2212

Question of the Day

How do penguins feed their young?

Quote of the Day

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Science and Personal Log

Today has been a wonderful day. Vickie, Jackie and I traveled about one hour northwest of Punta Arenas to the Otway Fjord where a colony of about 10,000 Magellanic penguins are busily tending their young. These little black and white flightless birds are amazing! I found out that penguins live 25-30 years and always come back to the place where they were born for the mating season. They usually have one or two offspring. Males and females take turns watching and feeding the little ones. They swim for food every eight hours and dive 30 to 35 meters deep. Couples are always the same and they come back to the colony only for the reproduction season. They arrive at this site in mid-September to court and prepare their nests. Before courting they go through a period of fasting. (These birds are serious about family life! Maybe we could learn something from them.) The first days of October, they mate and lay their eggs. In November, they incubate their eggs and nearing the first of December the eggs hatch. They dig holes called burrows for their babies in the soft grassy plains just off the beach. In January and February the young ones lose their fuzzy gray down and develop feathers. This is when they make their first trips to the sea and begin to swim. In mid-March and April, they leave and move to the coast of Brazil and the Atlantic Islands.

This morning it was cold and blustery as we followed the winding trails through the grassy plains right in amongst the penguin burrows. Believe it or not, it sleeted while we were out there. A parent was always nearby and usually standing guard at the entrance of the burrow as the fat little baby was lazily stretched out with its head peeking through the hole. At this time in their development the babies are almost as large as the adults. A few of the males were standing tall with their wings outstretched and braying like donkeys. The Magellanic penguins sound remarkably like donkeys! Near the beach we stood behind a “penguin blind” and watched them marching single file toward the ocean and diving into the waves. If it hadn’t been so bone-chilling cold, I could’ve stood there and just watched those penguins for hours on end. While on land the penguins are cumbersome but in water they are agile and great swimmers. It looked like some of them where trying to catch a wave! South American surfer dudes.

Other than the penguins, we saw wild rheas, sheep, gulls, geese, ducks, and a few UFBs (unidentified flying birds).

After our incredible visit to the penguins, we returned to Punta Arenas. Punta Arenas has a population of 110,000 and is the capital of the Magellanic and Antarctic Region XII. According to the guide book, Punta Arenas is Patagonia’s most important city and makes a living from coal mining, wool production, petroleum, fishing, and serves as a center for cargo ships. I’ve seen all of these industries in just the short time I’ve been here. My favorite place to visit in the city of Punta Arenas has been the very charming Plaza Muñoz Gamero with its huge, gnarled cedar trees surrounding the bronze statue of Magellan. Another intriguing gadget is the 1913 German clock near the waterfront that has a complete meteorological instrumentation and hands showing the moon’s phases and a zodiac calendar.

Well, I’ve put it off as long as possible but it’s time to go pack. Tomorrow morning I’ll bid farewell to the RONALD H. BROWN.

What a grand finale today has been for this “Teacher at Sea”!

Until tomorrow,