JR224: Chemosynthetic life in the Antarctic


 JR224



Cruise diary


Monday 12 January 2009
Location: Punta Arenas, Chile (53º10'S 70º56'W)

Penguins, Rheas and Dolphins from southern Chile

The RRS James Clark Ross is in port in Punta Arenas, southern Chile. This morning, Richard, the Pursuer Officer, gave a briefing about safety on board. Two extremely important things that we all have in our cabins are the life jacket and sea survival suit. These will save our life if we had to be in the freezing cold waters of Antarctica. Alex demonstrated for us how to put on the suit correctly...!

Then, as the ship is getting ready to sail for scientific activities in Antarctic waters, some of us had the chance to visit a colony of Magellan penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) close from Punta Arenas. The colony has around 5000 adults and a similar number of chicks in the hatching season. The adult penguins arrive from the Falkland Islands and Brazilian coast in mid September. Then they court and prepare the nests and they mate and lay eggs during the first two weeks of October. The eggs are brooded in November and the chicks hatch between mid November and mid December. In January and February the chicks change their feathers and start swimming and in March and April they all leave the colony and return back to the Falkland Islands and Brazil.

These penguins live between 25 and 30 years and they always come back to the place were they were born to mate and have their babies. They usually have one to two chicks and the couple is the same forever. Both males and females take it in turns to take care of the chicks and go fishing. They spend 8 hours fishing in the sea and can dive as deep as 35 m!

When we left the penguin colony we were very lucky and saw a Rhea (Rhea pennata) father with his 5 chicks! Rheas are large, flightless birds, native to South America. The adults can reach 1.7 m in height and, unlike most birds, they have only 3 toes. The male rheas mate with several females and after mating they build a nest, in which each female lays her eggs in turn. The males can incubate up to 60 eggs! Once the chicks hatch, the males will charge at any potential threat,  including female rheas and humans.

And if this was not enough for a fantastic day, in the afternoon we saw a group of dolphins fishing and playing very close from the shore!


Alex demonstrates the latest fashion
in sea survival gear

Penguins galore!

Dolphins put on a sideshow

Daddy Rhea and his kids!


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