Oct 302016
 

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Working a 3-foot Seam

The Svalbard Archipelago hosts the northernmost coal mines in the world. For now, only enough coal is being extracted to run the aging power plant in the largest settlement in the archipelago, Longyearbyen, on the island of Spitzbergen. The others have been closed – but not out of climate concerns. abandoned-coal-car-cableway
Coal Car Cableway (Temporarily?) Shut Down

Rather, it is the dwindling economics of coal that pushed the closure. That the mine owners claim that closure to be temporary only drives the point home. Even 800 miles above the Arctic Circle, in the most fragile climate on the planet, money trumps common sense.
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Glacier in Rapid Retreat

Of late, I’ve been including, in both my Arctic and Antarctic Tweets, the hash tag #NoIceNoUs.

No joke.

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Alkefjellet Cliffs

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Ivory Gull on Blue Ice, Brepollen

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Female Polar Bear, in the pack ice, 81.36 North Latitude

thick-billed-murre-alkefjellet-20160717_031128_87502016Thick-billed Murre

It is worth seeing for yourself. And it is worth saving. To hear my prose essay on Svalbard coal and see more photographs, layer-up, slip into your kayak, and paddle over to Living on Earth

My fieldwork in Svalbard was supported by One Ocean Expeditions, and I highly recommend them.

Mark Seth Lender
Producer/Essayist/Photographer
Living on Earth
Member: Explorers Club
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Jun 262016
 

Gentoo Penguins Returning to their Nests from the Sea-20151025_141021_26962015Gentoo Penguins Returning to their Nests from the Sea

Field Note:

I saw my first penguins in the Falklands and for the penguins, or at least some of them, that first was mutual. I was their first human being. Watching each other, we had effects on each other’s behavior.

Initially, when a penguin approached, I tried to get out of
the way. This resulted in penguin panic, ending in a wide arc to get away from me. Eventually I realized that they approached out of interest. Trying to accommodate I bent low.

Wrong again.

Crouching provoked a frisson of confusion ending in the same urgent exit.

I eventually worked out the desired response: Stand Still. And the penguins stood still also studying me, for a long time. This behavior obtained across different species but most notably the Gentoo and the King Penguins
Magellanic Penguin Standing Up in his Burrow-20151025_135246_23292015Magellanic Penguin Posing for a Close-up in his Burrow

Why?

Penguins and humans have gross similarities. Four limbs, bipedal locomotion, upright stance, and the proportions of the parts each to the other. The penguin’s interest may have been rooted in these externals. Certainly, in an encounter involving predation or conflict attention might well go to the equivalent of a threating beak or stiff, batting wings (flippers in the case of another penguin), or worst of all, towards flashing leopard seal teeth. This, just as we would be forced to glance toward a clenched fist and perhaps, a weapon in that fist.
King Penguin Wathcing Me Over His Shoulder-20151031_133957_28642015King Penguin Watching the Author over his Shoulder

In the absence of these forcing situations the attractors loose attraction. There was no compelling reason to look anywhere yet, attention went to the face which would indicate that a penguin attaches importance to the its own face, that face being the only point of reference the penguin has go on. If the penguin looks at a human face, preferentially, it is attaching import to the particular “features” that make up the face. Aside from the basic bilateral symmetry shared by all animals with faces, the face is where the eyes are and therefore the place from which a penguin sees the world. And behind the eyes, Awareness. What we have then is one Awareness locating and seeking out another Awareness.

The penguins were practicing what in humans what be called Anthropomorphization. In this case:

Penguinamorphization.

These days I find it harder, and harder to kill anything, or eat anything, that has the capacity to look me in the eye.

King Penguin Chick-20151031_142050_45372015

“Uncle Al?  Is that you?”

Visiting the Falklands and South Georgia Island
My fieldwork in the Falkland Islands and on South Georgia Island was conducted with the support of One Ocean Expeditions (www.OneOceanExpeditions.com). One Ocean is a particularly good tour company because they made multiple landings, and we were able to spend upwards of 2 hours per landing. This was absolutely essential for wildlife observation, and both wildlife and landscape photography, and for a sense of place. Cruising by on a large boat is hardly the same as setting foot on shore. If you have particular questions, or would like more information about visiting some of the places I’ve been, send me an email: MSL (at) MarkSethLender.com

Gentoo Penguins Returning to their Nests from the Sea-20151025_154514_52642015

Apr 152016
 
Gentoo Colony,

Gentoo Colony

Stealing Dirt, my essay on Gentoo penguins, was nationally broadcast on PRI’s Living on Earth during the week of March 11 2016. You can  listen online at LOE.org.

Gentoo Penguin colonies are raucous and contentious and the ones on Carcass Island, in the West Falklands, are no exception. That continuous uproar gives them a bad name. “Temperamental,” people say. “Nasty.” Not true. Penguins are delightful and the reputation that precedes them is simply wrong. They are endlessly entertaining to watch, harmless to us and by and large to each other. The noise and the short tempers are primarily the product of crowding. This despite the thin human population of the Falklands, and the fastness and expanse of South Georgia, the South Shetlands and the many small islands off the Antarctic Peninsula as well as the Peninsula itself. Suitable nesting sites for penguins of any species are few and Climate Destabilization only makes it worse. A tabular iceberg grounded in front of one of the most important colonies of Adele penguins in 2011 (picture Central Park, 120 feet high and made of ice). The giant berg blocked the Adele’s route to the sea and 150,000 penguins starved. The berg came from the massive and continuing breakup of the Ross Ice Shelf, in turn a direct result of increasing temperatures. Pray for the penguins.

I spent 3 weeks in the Antarctic with One Ocean Expeditions. The Falkland Islands was our ship’s first port of call. One Ocean is the most conscientious tour group I’ve ever had. They were invaluable to me, and made equally certain every passenger saw and experienced every wildlife and landscape viewing opportunity. At the Gentoo colony on Carcass Island in the West Falklands, I watched the penguins building nests.  Penguins seem to have a well-developed sense of community and territoriality, but not the best sense of direction.  They deliberately trespass when collecting mud for their nests (hence the title “Stealing Dirt”)  – often getting away with it – and not so deliberately trespass when returning to their own turf. This they tend not to get away with.  In the banner photo above, a trespassing penguin gets the treatment from his immediate neighbors. In the photos following, you can get an idea of how the conflicts develop their extent, and the very definite limits to how much damage penguins are willing to do (no much).

A Gift of Dirt is a Gift of Love

A Gift of Dirt is a Gift of Love

A male Gentoo crossed over from his own local group to a nearby group, and comes back with a pellet of mud for their mate.  She then adds it to the nest mound.  Sometimes it’s a little more complicated:

Back in his local group, he makes a wrong turn

Back in his local group, he makes a wrong turn and gets bitten!

It's not much of a bite - just a mud spot on his feathers.

It’s not much of a bite – just a mud spot on his feathers.

Finally, on the right street everyone notices him but no one minds his presence

Finally, on the right street everyone notices him but no one minds his presence

Gentoo Penguins Mating

Gentoo Penguins Mating

Penguins reward for all this effort is lovemaking.  And I say that deliberately.  Notice how the female reaches up to touch beaks with her mate.  What is this if not the kisses of love?

Thanks to One Ocean Expeditions (www.OneOceanExpeditions.com) , I was ably to spend many hours ashore and in kayaks, with plenty of quality penguin time. The Falklands alone were worth the trip. People are friendly, helpful, the birds close and plentiful (more about that in future columns), it is just a great place. When in Stanley in the East Falklands, be sure to grab lunch (and an Internet connection) at The Waterfront Hotel ( www.Waterfronthotel.co.fk ). For more information about visiting the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula send me an email. To see more photographs, follow me on Twitter, @marksethlender.