Aurora Expeditions joins the world in celebrating World Penguin Day 25th April 2021

                     Aurora Expeditions joins the world in celebrating                        World Penguin Day 25 April 2021

                      Our endearing, feathered friends are vital barometers                       of the health of the oceans and the planet

On 25th April 2021, Aurora Expeditions, Australia’s leading expedition cruising company, will join in the global celebrations of World Penguin Day. But whilst the world bows to the emperors and salutes the kings in an affectionate tribute to these funny, curious creatures, World Penguin Day also pays homage to the critical role penguins play as bioindicators of the state of the oceans and the planet.

World Penguin Day was created in 1972, when researchers at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station noted that every year on April 25th, Adelie penguins started to return from months at sea to migrate north in search of better food supplies for the winter. As one commentator wrote, ‘They returned to the same spot, on the same day, every year. This seemed too incredible a coincidence…and it wasn’t. This is the normal migrating pattern of these penguins.’

The aim of World Penguin Day is to raise awareness of the challenges and threats penguins face. These adorable, waddling acrobats are in fact barometers of the health of the Southern Ocean, the beating heart that pumps life around our blue planet. But penguins are in trouble. Their survival is at risk due to constant environmental threats: climate change, overfishing and habitat destruction. Today, of the 18 or so registered species, at least 10 are classified as endangered.

Emperor and Adelie penguins, for example, are reliant on sea ice for krill, their main food source, which feeds and breeds under the ice. Parts of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean are warming, and sea ice distribution is changing, altering penguin feeding grounds and food sources. Emperor penguins, which live closest to the pole, are the most vulnerable; their fate is inextricably linked to sea ice for breeding, moulting and feeding. As they already breed on the southernmost point on the planet, there’s literally nowhere for them to go if their breeding habitat becomes too warm.

Chinstrap penguins are ‘the canary in the coal mine for a whole host of changes that are happening on the Antarctic Peninsula’, according to Heather Lynch, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolution at New York’s Stony Brook University. One large chinstrap colony has shrunk by more than half over the last thirty years, and with temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula rising, some species are thriving, whilst others are at risk of extinction.

One species that is thriving is the salp, a jelly-like planktonic species that is becoming increasingly common in Antarctic waters. Salps are thriving due to years of diminished sea ice cover, and more salps generally means less krill. Krill is a keystone species within the Antarctic ecosystem, a food source for penguins, whales, seals and other creatures, so the increase in salp numbers is causing concern amongst some scientists. ‘There is a really delicate balance between the salps and the krill,’ says Kirsten Thompson, Lecturer in Ecology at the University of Exeter, adding, ‘You see the ecosystem out of balance. The Southern Ocean is really critical for the ocean everywhere else’.

The upshot is that whilst Antarctica is considered to be one of the most vulnerable places on Earth, this magnificent white continent may well hold the answers to our future.

There’s no better way of delving into the secrets of Antarctica and its wildlife than on a transformative, polar adventure with Aurora Expeditions. New to the portfolio in December 2021 is the ‘South Georgia and Antarctic Odyssey’, featuring the far-flung and rarely visited South Sandwich Islands. This expedition offers a unique opportunity to explore some of the most remote wildernesses on earth, witnessing their charming, tuxedoed inhabitants with highly qualified guides, marine researchers, scientists and experts passionate about environmental responsibility, ocean conservation and the survival of wildlife in this remote territory. While onboard, experience the refined comfort of the ‘Sylvia Earle’, the most advanced, greenest expedition vessel available.

Zodiac cruises, shore landings and a kayaking option allow guests to learn about these fragile habitats in situ, with opportunities to observe one of the world’s largest king penguin rookeries in South Georgia and the massive, million-strong chinstrap penguin waddle on the volcanic South Sandwich Islands.

Understanding the delicate nature of our world is integral to the pioneering spirit and ethos of Aurora Expeditions. So, whilst we applaud and revel in the comical antics of penguins on World Penguin Day, we also acknowledge their pivotal role in the present and the future of the planet.

In the words of Howard Whelan, Expedition leader, polar expert and lead on an Antarctic expedition which informed the Academy Award winning film Happy Feet, ‘Penguins are the sentinels of the well-being of our world. If they fail, we all fail. We must listen, watch and learn from what they are telling us – and, in the process, be thankful for the joy they bring us with their utterly lovable and entertaining antics’.

Aurora Expeditions offer a 25 Day Voyage South Georgia & Antarctic Odyssey featuring South Sandwich Islands 17 December 2021 – 10 January 2022

South Georgia & Antarctic Odyssey feat. South Sandwich Islands


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