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

King Penguins Entering Surf

Air Date: Week of

A colony of King penguins gathers on the rocks on South Georgia Island. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

On the coast of South Georgia Island in the Antarctic Ocean, Living on Earth’s Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender watches as a colony of King Penguins plunge single-file into the surf to feed.


CURWOOD: We stay at sea now but much further south off Antarctica with our explorer in residence, Mark Seth Lender.

King Penguins Entering Surf
Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island
© 2021 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

They gather, forming up before a single-entry point. They pause, then plunge in single file crossing the surf line into the sea. Bodies crash, flippers collide, the salt spray luminous in the gray of afternoon rain. In such King Penguin seeks to hide; protection, in turbulence and a multiplicity of forms.

For the sea is a toothy place. A place of hunger that lurks unseen. Of foaming mouths. And jaws that bite. And luck is all that stands between.

Bright are the orange markings that crown the Penguin King, that cup his hidden ears; the yellow that trails like the silken cord of rank and station down along his neck; the night-blacked face and the Osage orange of the eyes; cadmium yellow plated like a badge of armor on his breast; an Aurora of Blue the talisman about the throat; and none of this protects him.

Through the waves he leads that leave to feed, their Hope in the Southern Ocean.

Heading out, they cross the paths of those now full and fed whose Hope is now the Land. These returning quickly parallel the waves as they near the shore, that lurking leopard seal and fur seal furious with hunger will be confined in their takings.

King penguins splash into the surf on the shore. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

In numbers they survive.

Meeting the slope of the beach King Penguins break free. They stand upright and shuffle towards the open shelter of the shore, water shedding down their robes of feathers. One raises up his head and cries:

I am alive! I am still alive!

CURWOOD: That’s Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence, Mark Seth Lender.



Find the corresponding field note for this commentary

Learn more about author and photographer Mark Seth Lender’s work

Special thanks to Destination Wildlife


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