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Polar Mail

December 6, 2007

Hi Hugh,

My eight-year-old neighbor Riley really likes penguins and would like to know: How long do they live? How many get eaten by seals? How do they avoid getting eaten by seals? How many fish can a penguin eat in a day? Riley also said to say that she really enjoyed the Polar Fun “What is it?” quizzes and hopes there are more to come!

As a winter enthusiast, I would like to ask Dr. Ainley if there really is powder to shred on the slopes of Mt. Erebus? How deep and how steep? Also, do people skate ski, ice skate, or play ice hockey for fun? Please tell Dr. Ainley that many years ago while I was an intern at PRBO I played volleyball with him and I remember his cute little blue healer named Raccoon.

Thanks for the wonderful stories and photos from the Ice!

Mary McFadzen and Riley Scott
Bozeman, Montana

Hi Mary and Riley,

Thanks for reading and for your probing questions about penguin life. Adelie penguins live 15 to 20 years if they're quick enough to escape the leopard seals, according to Dr. Ainley. We don't know how many get eaten by seals, but we do know that 8 out of 10 young birds that leave the colony never return. They die either because they don't learn how to find food quickly enough to survive the winter, or because a leopard seal gets them. By the way, orcas (killer whales) eat very few Adelie penguins - they're just too hard to catch and too small of a mouthful to make them worth chasing.

Dr. Ainley says there sure is powder on Mt. Erebus, at least before the days of global climate change. As for steepness, it's comparable to some of the classic mountain routes in Montana I've heard about, such as Mt. Ovando, though of course quite a bit higher. The powder here is a lot drier, since Antarctica is a huge desert. Thanks again for your question, and we'll get you more penguin details when we visit Cape Crozier in a couple of weeks. Keep reading!

Best wishes,

Hugh Powell