A sociable emperor penguin in Antarctica nicknamed Smudge decided to break the social distancing rules between scientist and subject to sidle up to an Australian researcher on its belly for a ‘chat’.
Luckily this beginning of a potentially warm new friendship in one of the world’s coldest places was caught on camera.
The amusing clip was shared with Real Press by Matthew Williams, leader of the Mawson research station in Antarctica, the most westerly of Australia’s three continental stations.
In the footage, researchers are seen walking on the snowy plateau as a cute emperor penguin catches up to them by sliding along the ice on its belly.
Williams stops to ask how the penguin is, and it stands on its feet and bellows loudly as if answering the station leader.
Williams tells the penguin to “keep up” as he turns to continue walking across the plateau.
Lagging behind, the affable penguin slides on its belly again until it sidles alongside Williams who asks “trying to keep up buddy?”
The penguin appears to reply and the station leader keeps up the ‘chat’.
The clip ends with the penguin getting to its feet to let out a throaty bellow.
Williams, who has been stationed in Antarctica since February, told Real Press in an interview Thursday: “As part of our research activities in the region, we monitor the emperor penguin rookeries. Now is the season the gather on the ice and have chicks.
“They are really inquisitive birds with unique personalities. We have strict guidelines to keep our distance to reduce disturbance. However, they often feel confident and inquisitive enough to come to investigate and try to befriend us.
“This one in particular, who I named Smudge, decided I was his new best friend and wouldn’t leave my side – even travelling over a kilometre on the ice to follow me. He seemed to respond every time I spoke to him and was eager to keep up with me.
“I named him ‘Smudge’ and I look forward to seeing him next time I go to his little kingdom.”
The Australian researcher added: “The penguins are a massive highlight for us here. It is an amazing place full of wonder but there is something special about interacting with these inquisitive and playful animals.
“What we do in regards to the penguin research is to focus on the number and health of the breeding population so we can monitor penguin populations across the continent.
“This time of year it is the emperor penguin’s turn to breed. Penguins all seem to occupy different times of the year to breed and raise young.
“Emperors are the only ones to do so over winter, much harsher weather but fewer predators. Their behaviour towards us is probably linked to their confidence above water where there are not any predators (except large birds of prey that arrive later and threaten chicks).”
Williams told Real Press: “In the months ahead, we face the ever present dangers of the environment here, harsh and unpredictable weather. We also have impacts of COVID-19 on the ability to mount logistics to and within the continent.”
When asked if he expects to recognise his new friend if he encounters it again, the station leader said: “I will recognise Smudge by his size and markings, and likely his call which is unique.
“I called him Smudge because I was hoping to name my next dog Smudge when I get home, and he was being adorable so it just fit.”
Researchers are required to keep a 50-metre distance from penguins when they are breeding.
“However, that does not always stop the inquisitive ones from coming right up to us!” he said.
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