Paul was not the only mammal lying patiently in wait on the edge of the Ross Sea, Antarctica, to greet the explosion of emperor penguins. Leopard seals – measuring up to three and a half metres long – were almost certainly lurking at the edge of the ice ready to grab a meal. The penguins were therefore exiting as fast as possible. They can sky-rocket up to two metres high out of the water, landing well clear of the edge. ‘I also kept an eye out for leopard seals myself,’ says Paul. ‘I’d previously had one hit me square in the face when I was five metres from the ice edge, knocking me down and stunning me. Luckily it realised that I wasn’t a penguin and slipped back into the icy water.’ The penguins’ survival is vital to that of their two-month-old chicks, hungrily waiting some 10 kilometres away at the Cape Washington colony. With full bellies, the penguins toboggan to the colony, where they regurgitate the food to their respective single chicks. They then head back to the Ross Sea for another three-week stint at sea.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + 24-105mm f4 lens; 1/2000 sec at f11; ISO 400.
Ross Sea, Antarctica
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Paul Nicklen, Canada
A polar bear specialist and marine biologist, Paul grew up on Baffin Island among the Inuit people. From them he developed a love of nature, an understanding of ice ecosystems, and the survival skills that have made him an award winning nature photographer. Paul has contributed stories to National Geographic covering the slaughter of narwhals, salmon farming and the importance of polar ecosystems.