Black Tie Affair
“If you stand still, the penguin chicks will just come up and peck at
you,” my guide Gavin told the group, after we all landed on the shores
of Aitcho Island, just northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula. Aitcho
Island, just one point that a ship may land during a commercial Antarctic
expedition cruise, was inhabited with hundreds of newborn gentoo penguin
chicks that were waddling around the beach, while their parents were
out at sea looking for food.
A fellow traveler leaned down and stood still, and sure enough, a
little penguin chick starting pecking at her in curiosity. “Isn’t it great?”
Gavin commented. “Once we had a guy who just laid out on the beach for
about half an hour, and he was covered in penguins.”
“Why do they do this? Why don’t they run away?” another traveler asked,
as our group of traveling paparazzi captured the moment on film several
times. It was a black tie affair after all.
“These are very young penguin chicks that haven’t really been exposed
to anything. They don’t know any better.”
Encounters with the famous penguins of Antarctica aren’t so much a pipe
dream since Antarctic expedition cruises went mainstream in the early
1990’s. These cruises run from November to February during the “warm”
summers of the southern hemisphere (temperatures range from -20° to
50°F), and anyone with just around $3,300 can explore the Antarctic
Peninsula region via ship, with opportunities to set foot on the
continent itself. It is during these landings that ordinary, mild-mannered
tourists transform into crazed paparazzi for the feathered, tuxedo-clad
However, the International Association
of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) has set up a group of tourist
restrictions that attempt to keep the environment and wildlife as pure
as possible. One of these rules states that a person may not approach
wildlife within 15 feet. But, as any good lawyer may tell you, there is
always a loophole: have the wildlife come to you.
Sam Kawar uses glove to lure a penguin, the way one would use a
“Check this out! If you dangle something, they come right up to you!”
my friend Sam exclaimed, as he waved around the elastic cord of his left
glove. He was using the glove to lure a penguin, the way one would use
a Victoria’s Secret catalog to lure an adolescent boy. “Watch this.”
Like magic, the tiny penguin began to approach him. Sam wiggled the
cord some more and the bird got closer. We were all mesmerized at the
spectacle, and in mere seconds, the penguin was right in front of us. It
was the perfect photo op. The tuxedo-clad bird curiously gazed upon us
like a movie star.
However, the moment was short-lived when the little penguin suddenly
turned around and defecated all over on Sam’s boot.
Sure, there may be a loophole in the IAATO rules, but if you ask me, I
say the penguins do know better.
This story was adapted from Erik’s 65,000-word manuscript “Birds &
Tuxedos.” The first three chapters of this story, as well as his
Antarctic video, “Erik Goes South For the Winter,” can be found at his on-line
clip website, The Global Trip.com.