National Geographic : 1952 Sep
The Antarctic is one of the most healthful spots on earth, if you don't mind the climate. It is too cold for germs or harmful fungi. So the emperor at home usually dies of old age, in full dress, on or about his 35th birthday. The emperor wouldn't trade his climate for the Riviera. His remarkable specialization of physical structure and habit makes it natural for him to select the most southerly coast known, on the edge of the great Ice Barrier, as a wooing ground and nurs ery. He chooses the dead of antarctic winter for these typically springtime activities, so that the young may be fully pre pared to weather the fol lowing winter. The emperor is the only inhabitant of the frozen continent who re mains there throughout the year. He lives in a silence so profound that, when the wind is quiet, the crunching footsteps of men walking three miles away can be heard with crystal sharpness. Dust and other solids in the air are virtually unknown, as are insect pests.* His astonishing ability 423 © Herbert G. Ponting An Adelie Cocks Inquisitive Eye on Someone Else's Business Nearly everyone knows Pygoscelis adeliae, most studied and best publicized of penguins. His absurd white-ringed eye, cocky manner, and Chaplinesque walk are penguin trademarks. Adelies resemble nothing so much as boisterous children. They joy-ride on cakes of ice, play games, and march like toy soldiers. They push one another into the sea and dive gleefully after. When ships pass close, they squawk defiantly or gawk upward like tourists inspecting a skyscraper. to withstand the deep-freeze makes the emperor undisputed ruler of the Antarctic Continent. Except for an occasional exploration party, in winter the emperors have the continent's six million square miles of ice almost entirely to them selves, though they live only on its fringes. This makes them rulers of one of the earth's biggest, highest parcels of real estate (average altitude 6,000 feet), overseers of an active volcano, and lords and ladies of a kingdom almost as large as the United States and Europe combined. Five Men No Match for Irate Bird The strength and pugnacity of emperors are legendary among explorers and whalers. Five men from a whaling ship once tried to over come an emperor without harming it. Seizing the bird, they attempted to pin it down on the ice, but were quickly scattered to all points of the compass by this feathered thresh ing machine. At last they secured two leather belts around the bird's body, and stood back, tak ing a deep breath of relief. So did the em peror, bursting both belts! The giant finally was subdued and hoisted aboard the whaler, where it promptly knocked out the ship's dog with one blow of a flipper. This rugged individual weighed 74 pounds. Except when molested, however, the em peror is a true southern gentleman. Should two groups of emperors chance to meet, their leaders solemnly bow to one another, then lower their beaks onto their breasts and begin a long discourse. To terminate the audience, they raise their heads and describe great circles with their beaks. Alan Villiers tells of the reception given a party of whalers by emperor penguins who were gathered on the shore when the men landed. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Our Navy Explores Antarctica," October, 1947; "Explor ing the Ice Age in Antarctica," October. 1935; ard "Conquest of Antarctica by Air," August, 1930, .1 1l by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd.