When an emperor penguin returns to the colony after a fishing trip, exiting from the sea as swiftly as possible is a matter of urgency. To hang around could make it a target for any leopard seal lying in wait. ‘I had been diving under the ice for a while,’ says Paul, ‘waiting for the penguins to arrive at the ice exit hole, when suddenly I realised they were emerging from the depths – and at incredible speed.’ Recent research, based on analysing clips from a BBC film, has shown that as emperor penguins accelerate to their exit, they release millions of micro-bubbles from their feathers, which reduces the friction of their plumage against the water and helps them achieve maximum speed. This photograph captures the phenomenon perfectly. ‘The penguin shot up, bubbles bursting from its bill and the feathers on its head, belly and back, looking like a rocket blasted from the depths,’ says Paul, who is one of the few people to be able to appreciate first hand how penguins use air to ‘lubricate’ their ascent.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + 16-35mm f2.8 lens; 1/1250 sec at f5; ISO 400; Seacam housing.
Cape Washington, 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.