penguin-human relations
December 13, 2005 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Is there a Jane Goodall of penguins?

There is a special feature on the March of the Penguins DVD that documents the story of the people who spent a year filming the penguins. There was a brief part that showed the penguins coming up to the camera and the very large humans who were three times their heights with no fear at all. They wanted to check out the camera, so they went and examined it. There is another part where one man walkes past the group of penguins and they barely notice (though they turn their heads a second later because they heard the ice moving). I googled a little bit to try to find more stories of penguin-human interaction in the wild, but I find only short anecdotes. Is there any longer, more in depth book or documentary detailing interactions between humans and free penguins?

I sincerely hope that if aliens decide to land here and check out the wildlife, they meet the penguins before they meet the humans.
posted by leapingsheep to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
One thing about the jungle: It's not freezing cold.
posted by delmoi at 7:55 AM on December 13, 2005

I don't have an answer to your question sorry, but do like your alien-greeting sentiment. But then, you could replace penguin in that sentence with just about any animal and still get my vote.
posted by londonmark at 8:10 AM on December 13, 2005

Also, according to the "making of" on the March of the Penguins DVD, the penguin rookeries are amazingly smelly. So to really study them you'd probably have to hang out in some of the coldest weather on earth observing a bunch of birds that all look pretty much the same while trying not to pass out from the fumes.

Also, you have to remember not to freeze to death.

So yeah, I'm guessing no one really "lives with the penguins."
posted by bshort at 8:10 AM on December 13, 2005

Best answer: (am not just here because of my login, honest)
I've hung out with penguins quite a bit for short stints and they're not that smelly, and here in the Falklands, it's not that cold most of the time either.

If it weren't for the fact they don't have a phone and therefore internet access, I could point you to Ron and Phyllis Tuckwood, who live in a shanty at Volunteer Point (the house is unfortunately obscured by cloud in the arial picture) - they're about an hour's drive from the end of the road and have several hundred king, gentoo and magellanic penguins on their doorstep, plus whatever tourists are brave enough to drive across a peat bog for an hour/have hired someone to do it for them.

From my own encounters with the little black an white fellas, they're not too bothered by humans but will start to shy away if you get within about 5 metres. They're less bothered if you sit on the ground so the height difference is less. I imagine the greater the isolation of the colony the less bothered they are by humans.

King penguin chicks are an exception. They spend a long time with their parents and eventually reach the stage where they're almost the same height as their parents (maybe 2 or 3 ft) but about 3 times as wide as them, and look like big teddy bears due to the very fluffy brown down they're covered in. They're also extremely tame and curious (i.e. hungry and prepared to approach you to find out if you're bringing food). I've been at Volunteer Point with a friend who lay down on his stomach to take a picture, and was approach by a chick which started to peck his jeans to see what was going on. Jeff stayed where he was and the penguin crawled onto his bum, walked up his back and started pecking his head. Eventually J. had to roll over sideways to get the little critta off his back. I have pictures but sadly nowhere I can link to right now.

They're not all that fluffy and cute though. Later that same day I went 'diet sampling' with Falklands Conservation, which involves running after penguins, catching them, filling them up with salt water then turning them upside down over a sieve to see what they've been eating (it's for their own good, honest - a way of seeing what their diet is like in particular places and whether populations are threatened by changes in prey species). Much like anyone else, faced with the provocation of being carried upside down by their feet, a magellanic penguin (which burrows and so has a very sharp beak) will happily strip the skin off a human finger to regain its liberty (I escaped finger intact, though I suppose it would have been a great story to tell had I been left minus a digit).

For further reading/viewing, there's a long out of date (and possibly out of print?) book called Penguin Summer by Eleanor Rice Pettingill and husband Olin Sewall Pettingill Jr (worth it for their names alone) who visited the Falklands back in the '50s I think. There was an imaginatively titled follow up called Another Penguin Summer and I believe also a black and white film of the same visit, also called Penguin Summer. I'm not quite sure what they're like. Sorry I don't have more time to dig around for more links (having yakked on about myself for so long). But will pop back later if I find time to dig something up.
posted by penguin pie at 10:52 AM on December 13, 2005 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Penguin Pie, thank you, that's fantastic!
posted by leapingsheep at 11:51 AM on December 13, 2005

You're very welcome: and Amazon appears to have all three - but I think the film is a different one: the original was black and white and much older. If you ever get hold of the original I'd be interested to know what it's like: email's in the profile.

(ShowingoffnowFilter: I went for a run on Sunday and just at the point I was getting reeeally grumpy about how hard it is running in the Falklands wind, I looked up and there were 9 gentoo penguins about 100 yards ahead of me in a little white sandy bay. They splashed in and out of the waves a bit then swam off, just in time for a dolphin to go past in the opposite direction. The little dudes just rock, even after having seen thousands of them they still give me a kick :O)
posted by penguin pie at 12:04 PM on December 13, 2005

Best answer: A few months ago I downloaded an episode of the BBC Wild World series where this dude sleeps overnight on a penguin island... and does not have as much fun as you would imagine. This blog post gives a brief rundown.
posted by Gortuk at 2:25 PM on December 13, 2005

Obligatory useless but amusing answer: Mr. Popper?
posted by booksandlibretti at 3:09 PM on December 13, 2005

An hour's drive from the end of the road. Sounds appealing.
posted by dhartung at 9:05 PM on December 13, 2005

Response by poster: Penguin Pie, it sounds beautiful. That's it, the Falkland Islands are officially on the list of places I want to visit now!

Thanks, everyone.
posted by leapingsheep at 4:52 AM on December 14, 2005

I'd really like to be the Jane Goodall of penguins. If only they didn't live in such cold places. Drat.
posted by Space Kitty at 3:39 PM on December 14, 2005

Re: the cold: there's plenty of Penguins in moderate climates, specificaly Humboldt Penguins.
So you could, in fact, live with the penguins and still work on your tan.
posted by signal at 3:58 AM on December 20, 2005

I've been lucky enough to have the chance to visit a large emperor penguin colony a few times over the last couple of years.
posted by astro38 at 11:17 AM on January 18, 2006

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