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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Up Close with Penguins, Our Fellow Pedestrians

Air Date: Week of

A Gentoo penguin waddles towards Mark (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

On the Falklands and South Georgia islands, curious Gentoo and King Penguins waddle up to Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender to take a closer look.


CURWOOD: We stay by the sea – but head south to the islands of the South Atlantic and the Southern Ocean now. They’re a paradise for wildlife, because of their remoteness, and nearly non-existent human population. Our explorer in residence, Mark Seth Lender, visited both the Falklands and South Georgia, and discovered the locals as curious about him as he was about them.

© 2016 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

The gaze of a Gentoo penguin (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

LENDER: We are pedestrians on a New York City avenue, unable to get out of each other’s way: Me, and a Gentoo Penguin come to Carcass Island to nest. I jog right - he mirrors me. He lurches left – I do the same. Head bobbling orange bill quavering penguin feet flopping like yellow clown slippers, me with my slicker flapping, eyes wide staring, arms akimbo -

Left Right.

Right Left.

- until -

Gentoo does an end run all the way around me, and escapes.

Later, down on the beach, it happens again. Another Gentoo comes so close, when I take his photograph there is only an eye in the frame: Iris pebbly as an orange skin, and the pupil shaped like a star. I bend down so he can have a better look. And just like the first, he bolts.

100,000 King penguins sing on South Georgia island (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

We steam south and make landfall on South Georgia. A blue hanging glacier hunkers above, the mountains are white with snow, and on the curving strand 100,000 King Penguins, singing.


They are the size you might expect a Martian to be except this is their planet and I am the visitor from outer space. One comes, closer than another human being would approach unless to kiss you (or do you harm), and stops right there.

And finally, finally I see the plan:

A curious King penguin comes close (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

All he wants is that I stand, completely still (a live thing captured in a bell jar) to be studied. To be compared. To answer the Question you might ask if you were him:

You! What manner of bird? Of beak that has no mouth, as it should. Of mouth that has no beak; No sharp no terrible backwards-pointing teeth like Leopard Seal lurking... Of breath that steams. Of limbs that are not wings.

Of eyes that see.

And is that YOU behind those eyes? As behind my eyes, is ME?


CURWOOD: Mark recorded these King Penguins on South Georgia, and his portraits of them and the Gentoos are at our website, LOE.org.



Visit Mark Seth Lender’s website

More about Gentoo penguins

More about King penguins


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