The Last Adelie

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Leaving Antarctica was a bittersweet experience. One on hand, I’d been away from family, friends and fresh fruit and vegetables for the better part of 14 months and I was desperate for a taste of normal again. On the other hand- Davis Station had become my home and I was … (read more)

Leaving Antarctica was a bittersweet experience. One on hand, I’d been away from family, friends and fresh fruit and vegetables for the better part of 14 months and I was desperate for a taste of normal again. On the other hand- Davis Station had become my home and I was fiercely protective of the place and my experiences in it.

On my last day, I’d packed all of my gear into my tight cabin on the icebreaker Aurora Australis, and volunteered to take a couple of the round trippers just on station for the duration of handover, out to visit the penguin rookery on Gardiner Island, out the front of station.

It was probably not much more than a kilometre walk from the icebreaker parked in the sea ice to the island. It was -10c, “t-shirt weather" for those seasoned expeditioners who’d been there for over a year. We could see a gathering of Adelie Penguins not too far from the island.

There’s something you should know about Adelies. They’re nosy, curious creatures. If you sit low and still on the ice, they’ll come from miles to see what you are. We’d instructed our visitors to do just that- so we waited- cameras ready.

Sure enough, a group of four penguins waddled over for a look. Now, they’re friendly, but typically the funny little penguins will stop short and do their wing flapping, head dipping, squawking dance from at least a couple of meters away- they’ve always got an escape plan all mapped out. But this day was different.

I had sat down on my thick red goose down jacket because, well, "t-shirt weather". I had my long lens on my camera and was alternating between filming some video, and taking photos of my last penguin encounter. Three penguins had come close, and it seemed as if they were egging one another on to get closer to this group of humans holding all sorts of funny cameras. My friend behind me had my second camera taking some video when one little fella took a brazen approach. He came from behind, walked between his two mates, and slowly but surely walked straight up to me and stepped onto the jacket I was sitting on.

Maybe his feet were cold, maybe his friends dared him to- all I know is it took every fiber of my being not to grab this small feathered friend and smuggle him into my bag back home. He was so close to me that my camera lens wouldn't focus. Every hair on my body felt electric.

I had so many incredible encounters in Antarctica, I saw things that bought tears to my eyes more often than I can count- but this last Adelie Penguin felt like an absolute gift. It felt like Antarctica giving me a big warm hug of farewell. It was without doubt an experience I will never, ever forget.

He was my last Adelie.


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