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The Penguin Diaries - 35 of 36

Friday, 14 February 2003  
"All of the Adelie penguins have left for the winter, so we're down to gentoos... "

Hello from Copacabana, Antarctica! I'm sitting at the computer listening to music & watching penguins leaping through the water on their way home to feed the kids. It's a quiet afternoon, as all of my campmates are napping. We've all come down with a bad cold - we call it the Brazilian samba virus. We picked it up at a party last week. Most of the stations in Admiralty Bay have some sick people. I'm almost healthy, but had a couple of rough days. Fortunately our work is slowing down. All of the Adelie penguins have left for the winter, so we're down to gentoos. Last week we banded 500 gentoo chicks. They are wonderful, cuddly little creatures - just like floppy teddy bears. Now they look very sharp with their new flipper bands. The chicks are starting to molt into their adult plumage. They are also at the stage where they are ravenously hungry & chase their parents everywhere, so the adults pretty much work all day foraging at sea, come in, feed their chicks, then run away to sleep somewhere on the beach far from their pesky chicks. We've been searching the beaches for 2 adult gentoos with satellite transmitters on their backs, but they have eluded us for over a week. We just found out that they are hauled out 30 kms away in a neighboring bay. Not much is known about their foraging habits at the end of chick rearing, so we might get some valuable data. We're really hoping they will return to Copa beach soon since the instruments cost $2000 each. Adult fur seals are starting to fill up our beaches. They don't breed here, but they seem to like resting up on King George Island before the winter starts. Our work these days primarily consists of monitoring our skua territories, censusing seals, and entering data. We close camp in 2 weeks. How sad. The week has been full of social events. We had a great time at the Ferraz Party (Brazilian station -19th anniversary). After that I got a lift via helicopter to the Peruvian station, Machu Picchu, with my friend Veronika (one of the Hungarian filmmakers). It was fun to fly over the bay & hang out with the Peruvians, but we got weathered in for 2 days & they couldn't fly us home, so we started calling all of the bases in hopes of catching a lift home via zodiac. Fortunately the Brazilians rescued us with their boat. Apparently every base was following our progress on the radio as we called for transport. Made it just in time for gentoo chick banding. Veronika helped out with that as did a Polish friend & Peruvian biologist. On Wed. we had our big party celebrating the 27th Anniversary of Copa Field Station. We had about 40 guests in our humble hut from all of the bases. It was a bit crowded for dancing, but leave it to the Brazilians... Our 7 Hungarian friends stayed with us for a couple of days to interview & film Wayne for their documentary. They're doing great work. We've had a blast helping them out. Today we helped shuttle them home with our canoe because they had a lot of cameras & dive gear to carry. It seems like life will finally get back to a normal schedule this upcoming week. We survived party week. Our last week might be pretty brutal if the Brazilians celebrate Carnival before our ship comes. We're scheduled to leave on Feb 28. Unfortunately that means I'll miss the Antarctic marathon on March 5. Oh well...maybe some other year. I hope everything is good where you are. We keep hearing rumors of imminent war as we hide out in our Antarctic paradise. Lots of love from down south.

Love, Iris

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