Our first Emperor penguin!

Image: An old Russian helicopter returns from a reconnaissance mission in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 62 mm, f/16, 1/500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

As the Kapitan Khlebnikov icebreaker made its way through the thick sea ice in the Weddell Sea on Day 4, we stopped at various points for reconnaissance missions with the helicopters onboard.  Our captain knew that we were close to Snow Hill Island, but he sent one of the helicopters up into the sky to determine our distance from the Emperor penguin colony living on the sea ice near the island.  At one point we were 20 miles away, a distance too far for transporting all the passengers by helicopter to the island the next day.  The ship began moving through the ice again, but the passage became more and more difficult.  A second mission was deployed to examine the sea ice surrounding Snow Hill Island to find an easier path through the thick ice.  

Image: An old Russian helicopter prepares for takeoff in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 24 mm, f/16, 1/400 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

While we were waiting for the helicopter to return from this second mission, I spotted my first Emperor penguin!!!!  I was so excited and although it was far away, I was able to capture a shot of it swimming in an opening in the sea ice with my telephoto lens.

Image: Emperor penguin swimming in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

It soon disappeared under the sea ice and I resumed waiting for the helicopter to return.  A few more passengers joined the few of us on deck, and the wait was worth it!  About 15 minutes later, a raft of Emperor penguins appeared from under the sea ice and began swimming across the opening. 

Image: A raft of Emperor penguin swimming in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 260 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I zoomed in on a select few with my lens and caught them surfacing and leaping out of the water!  They submerged again, continuing their journey for food under the thick sea ice.  Every 10-15 minutes, we were rewarded with 1 – 3 penguins swimming in the water but we never saw that large of a group again in the sea.

Image: Emperor penguins swimming and leaping in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

When the reconnaissance helicopter returned with a tentative route for the icebreaker, the captain started up the engines to begin breaking our way closer to the colony.  The crew spent the rest of the day preparing us for the following day–our first day on Snow Hill Island!  

You can view these images individually and more not posted here in my portfolio located here.

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

8 thoughts on “Our first Emperor penguin!”

  1. Looking at the photos with the Russian helicopter reminds me of the the movie with Sean Connery movie Hunt for Red October….and it looks cold outside but the pilot only had on a jacket….capturing the Emperor penguins all swimming is awesome, such a hard life for them- cold, trying not to get snached by a whale or walrus… still what an experience and history…thanks Amy 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Deb! Yes, it was a treat to catch the Emperors swimming. Their biggest predators as adults are seals, especially the aggressive Leopard seal (which, unfortunately, I didn’t get to see) and killer whales. They are lucky that walruses are only found in the Arctic. 😊


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