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A colony of Magellanic Penguins

0600 23 November 2004

We arrived safely in Punta Arenas, Chile, on Saturday and have been working steadily to prepare the laboratories of the R/V LMG for the upcoming cruise. Departure is set for 12 PM today (23 November) and we sail down the Straits of Magellan. We will enter Argentinian waters and should be "on station" and taking our first samples by ca. 9 PM. These will not be "night ops" as the sun doesn't set until 10:30 PM. At best, we enjoy ca 6 hours of darkness and, as we travel south, we will experience 24 hours of daylight.

Although our time has been directed towards preparations for the trip, we were able to enjoy a visit to uninhabited areas of Patagonia. While traveling through the amazing environment we observed several Rheas with chicks. Recall (Evolution students) that the Rhea is a member of the "ratites," a monophyletic group of largely flightless wholly terrestrial birds whose biogeographic pattern is nicely explained by plate tectonics. I suppose the biological highlight of this field trip was a visit to a colony of Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellancus). This species nests in burrows (<2 m deep) in grassy slopes close to the water. This year's chicks are not due to hatch until the beginning of December, but first year individuals, which lack adult plumage, were readily visible. With cameras in hand we watched the adults trek back and forth between the water and their burrows. Fortunately for all, they seemed oblivious to our presence. This will be our last visit to land until we dock at Palmer Station in early December.

As we leave South America and enter the Antarctic peninsula we should encounter several different species of penguins (Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie)

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