At Cape Royds, Antarctica, a skua waits patiently for an Adelie penguin egg to become vulnerable. Skuas, a relative of the sea gull, are the main predators of penguin eggs and chicks. Nests that are on the edge of a breeding group are more vulnerable to Skua attack; nests built in the center are protected by neighboring penguins.
Jean Pennycook, who has a background in education and is currently an Einstein Fellow at the National Science Foundation, observes and tracks Adelie penguin families at Cape Royds (Ross Island) for her outreach project that she posts on the website penguinscience.com. Ross Island is a giant living laboratory where thousands of Adelie penguins converge in raucous crowds during Antarctica's warmer months to breed and rear their young.
Pennycook, who works on an Adelie penguin research team led by David Ainley, an ecologist with H.T. Harvey & Associates, brings the science and research of penguins and the adventure and beauty of Antarctica to classrooms around the world. She makes the science accessible to people of all ages through an interactive webpage, daily pictures from the field and classroom activities for teachers to engage their students in the lives of these remarkable birds.
Ainley's team is researching how penguins are coping with a rapidly changing climate and changes caused by commercial fishing. The team monitors the birds with an array of high tech equipment including computerized weigh bridges, satellite telemetry and microchips to identify individual penguins. With these tools the team is examining how penguin resources (prey and habitat), competition (among themselves and with other species such as whales) and climate factors (wind and sea ice conditions) are affecting their populations. In addition to advanced technology, 55 years of long-term research conducted at these colonies has made the Adelie penguin one of the world's best-studied wild birds, and, lately, a harbinger of environmental change.
Ainley's research is funded by the National Science Foundation. (Date of Image: unknown) [Image 23 of 24 related images. Back to Image 24.]