When we think of Antarctica we immediately picture penguins: whether cute little penguin families waddling over the ice or majestic penguins standing tall and proud, yellow markings on their heads and necks, their black feathers resembling a tailcoat. The latter describes the king penguin, the second largest of the various species. At a height of up to 1 metre, comparable with that of a kindergarten child, it belongs to the group of "great penguins" together with its even taller brother, the emperor penguin. Despite their rather grandiose, elegant looks, emperor penguins are in fact powerful, high-performance athletes: they can dive to depths of 300 metres while being submerged, hunting, for up to 9 minutes.
Penguin parents' secret of success: job sharing
Anyone lucky enough to come across emperor penguin babies in the Antarctic summer (when winter reigns in the northern hemisphere) will encounter the most charming little chicks in the entire animal kingdom – delightfully adorable with their silver-grey, fluffy down. After the egg is incubated for around 55 days with both birds alternating in shifts, they spend the first 30-40 days of their lives resting on their parents' feet in a protective abdominal fold. One of the parents keeps the baby warm while the other looks for food, then they change over. But they have to do this quickly as the chicks can only be exposed to the Antarctic temperatures for a couple of seconds. After a few weeks, the little ones are ready to go it alone and spend their time in penguin kindergartens among other penguins of the same age, always huddled together to stay warm. King penguins live to be around 20 years old, although some are known to have reached the ripe age of 50 years.
You wish to encounter the kings of the Antarctic?
You can find them on the pack ice around the northern reaches of Antarctica, Prince Edward Islands, South Georgia and Falkland Islands as part of an expedition voyage with MS Fram or MS Midnatsol.