My Penguin Year (New Stuff Tuesdays)

My Penguin Year book cover

The pictures in this book caught my interest, but the darn good story drew me in!

The author, Lindsay McCrae, was the director of photography on the BBC Studios show Dynasties: Emperors (you can see a preview below). He lived in Antarctica for 11 months as part of what seems to have been the first expedition ever to film the emperor penguin’s mating, egg-laying, and chick-rearing season — winter. In order to capture the video, he endured all the expected (but unimaginable) privations and loneliness of Antarctica as he lived on a German research station and saw only 11 other people there for 8 months of his stay. The mission is ultimately successful, as he describes capturing on film some incredible details of the penguins’ lives, but it certainly came at a cost to him: Among other things, he had to miss the birth of his first child back home in England. His personal reflections on parenting and relationships blend rather nicely with his observations of the birds’ joint-parenting and surprisingly (to me, anyway) close bond.

I learned a lot about penguin parenting just from a quick skim. You may have heard that the emperor penguin is one of the only animals in which the male incubates the egg — but it’s an amazingly cooperative effort. The males all huddle together, making a giant 5,000-bird incubator, to keep themselves and their eggs alive in the fierce -60*C blizzards; but the ~60 days with no food or water cause the males to lose 50% of their body weight while incubating.

When the female finally returns from feeding at the ocean, by instinct at almost exactly the same time as the chicks are born, then they work together to feed their chick. Both parents have an amazingly strong maternal instinct, to the point that if a penguin chick is left out in the open for even a few seconds while it’s being transferred between the parents, any other emperor pairs who lost their egg or chick to the weather will try to snatch it up — McCrae witnesses at least one successful “penguin-napping”! A very interesting and diverting read.

If you want more emperor penguin cuteness after reading this review, check out another BBC video segment from our database Films on Demand.

My penguin year: Life among the emperors
by Lindsay McCrae
New Arrivals, 2nd Floor
QL696.S473 M383 2019

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