By GAVIN ALLEN
Queuing up: King penguin chicks stand on frozen sea ice in Snow Hill Island in the South Atlantic, where temperatures drop to as low as -60C
As Britain enjoys mild weather on December 25, it's good to know that at least someone has had a White Christmas.
However, if you you wanted to enjoy the snow with these King Penguins you would have to travel four hundred miles from civilisation.
Photographed in the freezing South Atlantic waters around the remote South Georgia Island, four days east by boat from the Falklands, the King Penguins have so little contact with humans that they come close enough to peck the camera.
Give us a cuddle: Two King Penguin chicks with wings wrapped around another
Isolated: The cycle of parenthood among the colony sees females lay a single egg before leaving it behind to undertake a two month hunting expedition
Anchored in a small protected bay near to a massive rookery on the island, photographer Paul Souders spent two hours diving into the water with the King Penguins as the Southern Summer turned to winter.
Braving the 1.5 degree celsius water to the point where his hands took one hour to get the feeling back, Souders was stunned by the ease with which the penguins accepted him.
'First off, the water is very, very cold. Barely above freezing,' he said.
Looking up to his parents: Left, two King Penguins shelter a young chick in the freezing winds while, left, an open-beaked chick awaits his mother's offerings after returning from the hunt with a belly full of food
'I'd never been in anything like it, so it came as a bit of a shock. My face went numb and my hands grew painfully cold.
'But it was utter magic. I'd only ever seen penguins on land. And to be honest, they look like idiots there.
'Graceless and clumsy and hilarious. But to see them in the water was to see them in their element. They are incredibly graceful, strong swimmers. It's like watching them fly.'
Wait a minute, you've already hatched! This chick huddles on his father's feet, where the eggs are kept warm
Whee! Penguins slide across the frozen sea ice as they travel up to 50 miles to reach the open ocean
The journey to arrive at the spot saw Souders travel for two days, flying from Seattle to Los Angeles to Santiago in Chile and then to Stanley in the Falklands. Next he hired a yacht which took four days to reach the remote British territory.
'We'd anchored in a small protected bay outside a massive King Penguin rookery on South Georgia Island,' said Souders.
'It was late in the summer there, and the many of the penguins were fat and happy, their chicks mostly grown.
White Christmas: This Emperor Penguin with its young chick stands on frozen sea ice in Antarctica
'So they were curious about the boat anchored there, and even more so when I plopped into the water.
'They swam right up to the camera dome and pecked at their reflections.'
Marvelling at the King Penguins curiousness in the water and on land, Souders felt privileged to be in the same environment as the swimming birds.
'Some were quite curious about me, circling around me as I floated in the sea and coming over to check out their reflection in the glass underwater camera dome,' he said.
Remote: The penguins are so unused to human interaction that they even looked at their own reflections in photographer Paul Souders' camera lens
March of the penguins: Souders says the penguins look 'clumsy and hilarious' on dry land but are graceful in the water - and they spend a lot of time on the ice as they get to grips with the responsibilities of parenting
Morning constitutional: Penguins take a group stroll along the ice on a sunny arctic morning
'They were all individuals from the nearby rookery, stopping off to check out the new neighbours.'
Keen to explain to people that penguins are more than graceful in the water, Souders' wonder at their water speed is obvious.
'I can only stress what a privilege it is to do this work, to see wild animals undisturbed in their natural environments,' he said.
'I think it's critical for photographers to accept our responsibility not to not disturb the animals we encounter, and to encourage everyone to respect and protect the natural world.'
Sunday, December 25, 2011
By GAVIN ALLEN