This week I saw on the BBC that a British team is visiting Antarctica to study the effects of global warming on penguins.
I went to Antarctica last autumn. Our first stop was scheduled to be the Falkland Islands, and as our ship, the Norwegian m/v Fram, departed from Buenos Aires harbor, I thought the journey would be a graphic way to understand the logistics of the Falklands War between Argentina and Britain in 1982.
We would be making the same journey the Argentine navy had made when they attempted to liberate the Falklands from British colonial rule before they were repelled in the short war that made Prime Minister Thatcher’s reputation as “the Iron Lady.”
Landing in Port Stanley, the Falklands’ capital, I felt I could be in Southsea, outside Portsmouth, or any place in England. The locals were all British. The pubs were all British. Even the telephone booths and mailboxes were British—bright red with the raised lettering that said ER for Elizabeth Regina (the Queen).
In the transfer bus that took us to the airport for a sightseeing flight around the islands, our British tour guide gave an orientation talk heavily laced with his political views—the Argentines had been pro-Nazi during the War, they were all still fascists, and in any case they had defaulted on their debt. (Did he have something to justify?) Getting no signs of approval from me, and possibly sensing south European reaction in my eyes, he quickly backtracked, saying, “Oh, well, it was all a long time ago.”
Our next stop was the island of South Georgia, also a British possession, where the majority of the population never resisted the British. That is because they are mostly penguins. South Georgia is one of the largest penguin colonies in the world.
A penguin colony is like an enormous camp ground for penguins. November being early spring in the southern hemisphere, the parent penguins were bringing their chicks to the camp and leaving them there while they (both parents) went off to find food. In the photos, the chicks are the ones with the brown furry coats which they were born in, and they were as ungainly and unsightly as the proverbial ugly duckling. There were no kindergarten teachers or counselors to look after them at the camp, but somehow the chicks fended for themselves, enjoying the safety of their numbers.
The noise they made was deafening. They were clamoring to be fed, screaming to attract the attention of the parents who returned with their bills crammed full of the food they had gathered. “Feed me!” the chicks were calling, “Me, me, me!” They would have eaten anything that anyone gave them. But the parents were there to feed only their chicks and no one else’s. Somehow the parents have a way of recognizing their chicks’ voices in the din, and they feed only their own. That was what the fuss was about.
Despite the bedlam, South Georgia is the smoothest running colony in the world, probably because it was not man made. There will be no war to liberate it as this colony’s laws are all the laws of nature.