The big daddy of all penguins, the emperor penguin stands 115 cm tall, weighs up to 40 kilograms and can live for over 40 years. They breed and nest in vast colonies on permanent sea ice during the winter. Having trekked 70 to 120 kilometres from the ocean across the ice, they breed and, once their eggs are laid, the females return to the sea. The males incubate the eggs, fasting for four months and huddling together for warmth, with the vast colony slowly rotating in on itself so they all get a turn in the middle. The males incubate their egg on top of their feet beneath a fold of belly fat and feathers, and keep the bare-skinned chicks there, too, once they’ve hatched. If their chick or egg rolls out from atop their feet it will die. The females return to feed the chicks by regurgitation and both parents continue to alternate between the sea and the colony, to feed and tend their offspring. Another remarkable aspect of this process is their ability, like all penguins, to find an exact mate and chick amongst a rookery of hundreds of thousands. Once the chicks fledge and start to loose their fluff-ball down, the parents return to the sea. The chicks huddle together again, before braving the journey to the open sea and their first dip in the Antarctic waters. Emperor penguins mostly forage at depths from 150 to 250 metres, though there is a 565 metre dive on record. Dives last on average from between three to six minutes, with the longest dive on record topping out at 22 minutes. Fish, krill and squid are the staple prey.
You’ll only see them on ice-breaker trips early in the season, near SnowHillIslandor the Ross Ice Shelf, otherwise keep an eye out for the odd one lost in a gale –sightings of sole Emperor penguins on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, well outside their normal range, have been made.