Chris Linder Photography - Science and Natural History Storytelling

Exhibits » Adélie Penguins

Adélie Penguins: Life on the Edge

Life on the Edge

Although Adélie penguins have evolved to succeed in Antarctica's cold, dry climate, what happens when that climate changes? In order to successfully raise their young, Adélies need rocky ground to build nests and open water within the sea ice cover in which to feed. They are also only one of two penguin species that are sea ice obligates (Emperors are the other), meaning that they depend on sea ice for survival. As Antarctica's climate shifts, winds will continue to increase, some areas will warm while others cool, sea ice will respond accordingly, and storms will carry more snow. Adélie colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula are already shifting southward in response to lessened sea ice in the north and colony sites buried in snow. In the near term, on the other hand, Ross Sea Adélies could be living in the last place on Earth where sea ice is still present in the summer. The trajectory of current changing climate, however, eventually will negatively affect the Ross Sea as well. Ice obligate penguins can go no farther south—will they be able to adapt or will they face extinction?

Behind the lens

The photographs in this exhibit were taken at two Adélie penguin colonies on Antarctica's Ross Island: Cape Royds and Cape Crozier. Cape Royds, the southernmost penguin colony in the world, is home to roughly 5,000 birds in the summer breeding season. Cape Crozier, on the opposite end of Ross Island, is the fifth largest Adélie colony in Antarctica with a peak population of over 500,000 penguins.

I traveled to McMurdo Station, Antarctica in November 2007 with science writer Hugh Powell to document science fieldwork at three remote sites for my National Science Foundation-funded Live from the Poles education project. We camped with the research teams, cooked with them, and shadowed them as they worked in the field.

When I first arrived on Ross Island and came face to bill with a mountainside of penguins, I was a bit intimidated… How can I possibly capture the immensity of the colony and the thousands of details that make these penguins so fascinating? The research teams at Cape Royds and Crozier were my guides to the colony. They could, quite literally, "speak penguin", interpreting the subtle gestures communicated through the widening of a white eye ring or puffed feathers and head bobs. Under their expert tutelage, I learned the ways of the Adélie penguin and consequently, the right place and time to capture the most interesting behaviors with my camera.

Schedule of events

Learn more

  • Live from the Poles / Polar Discovery - The photos for this exhibition were taken as part of the Live from the Poles project. Read daily dispatches and see more photos from this expedition at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Polar Discovery Expedition 3 website.
  • Penguin Science - interested in learning more about Adélie penguins? Visit the Penguin Science website to find out how and why researchers are studying penguins, and what they are learning.

Resources and links

IPY logo

Funding for the Live from the Poles project was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

WHOI logo

The Live from the Poles project was supported by a team of communications professionals from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the world's largest private, nonprofit ocean research, engineering and education organization.

IPY logo

The Live from the Poles project is an officially sanctioned project of the International Polar Year.