Although tropical destinations such as the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Tahiti typically rank high in a person’s mind for a getaway, approximately 30,000 travelers looking for a more adventurous destination reached the shores of Antarctica during the 2015-16 season. Rather than sandy beaches and palm trees, they were in search of remote landscapes, icebergs, and most of all, penguins. The latter's vast waddling populations are incredible to see, with the gentoo penguins outnumbering them all.
Size-wise, gentoos are the third-largest species of penguin after the emperor and the king, and reach a height of approximately 2.5 feet (about 76 centimeters). They tend to live in colonies markedly smaller than other penguins, usually several thousand nesting pairs. Furthermore, gentoo penguins prefer living in areas that are free of ice, such as beneath rocky cliffs or along the coastline.
Their mating habits are similar to other species. Gentoos are serially monogamous. Even with mass nest migrations across colonies every couple of years, pairs often remain together for repeated mating seasons.
Birthing habits of the gentoo tend to be very precise. The female lays eggs four days apart from each other and then incubates them in the family nest. Incubation is shared equally by the parents. When the chicks eventually hatch, they will remain in the same nest for up to 80 days.
The male and the female divide the chore of scavenging for food. Adult gentoo penguins can dive up to 500 times per day, searching for small fish, crustaceans, and krill. They can remain underwater for up to seven minutes and can reach depths of 600 feet. Gentoos have been seen swimming out as far as sixteen miles from shore!
Gentoos spend most of their lives less than a mile from the shoreline. It’s a safe zone that offers them ample feeding grounds offshore, yet is far enough away from the waterline allowing them to be less susceptible from certain threats, such as leopard seals.
Gentoo penguins are largely fearless when humans come close. Visitor regulations to Antarctica require that you remain at least five yards or meters away from all penguins in order not to disturb them. If a penguin is trying to move away from you, even if you're farther than five yards away, you must stop what you're doing and back off. You could easily become responsible for the death of a penguin chick or the destruction of an egg if your presence should distract a penguin parent.
Hopefully, you will have the privilege to observe firsthand the gentoo penguin someday, and become a knowledgable "Antarctic Ambassador" in promoting conservation and stewardship of the polar ecosystem.