Sunday, 2 October 2016

Your questions: Animals and birds

How tall are penguins, what are they like, do they bite, can you pat them? 
There are several different types of penguins. Emperor penguins are the tallest - an adult bird is about 115 cm tall (like the size of a six year old child). You can read more about them (and see some great photos) here
A young Emperor penguin came ashore on Peka Peka beach on the Kapiti coast, north of Wellington, in June 2011. Nicknamed Happy Feet, It was taken to the zoo to be cared for because it had eaten so much sand. In September it was released back into the wild in the southern ocean.  
You can read about Happy Feet here (and the zoo vet comments that yellow-eyed and little blue penguins both “bite a lot”, so that answers another part of the question.) 

Can you feed any sea animals?
You have to keep at least 10m away from any wildlife, so you can't go up and feed them. And you wouldn't want to get that close to many of them, anyway!
Also you want to respect wild animals and not treat them as pets or toys. Animals in the wild need to know how to get their own food, without people giving it to them. 

How much does an orca eat usually? Do killer whales swim under the ice?
Killer whales (or orca) often hunt in packs, and they eat fish, squid, penguins and seals. They sometimes go after their prey by pushing up to break the sea ice, or by rushing at an ice floe to flip a penguin into the sea. 
You can read more about these smart and powerful (but rather scary) creatures here

Captain Scott recorded an extraordinary story about orca in his diary entry for 5 January 1911, when they had only just reached Antarctica and were still unloading their gear. Herbert Ponting, the expedition's photographer, was standing on the sea ice near two dogs that were tied up near the ship, when some orca poked their snouts above the water. Scott shouted to Ponting in case he wanted to get a photo - "I had heard weird stories of these beasts, but had never associated serious danger with them," he wrote.

"The next moment the whole floe under him and the dogs heaved up and split into fragments. One could hear the 'booming' noise as the whales rose under the ice and struck it with their backs. Whale after whale rose under the ice, setting it rocking fiercely; luckily Ponting kept his feet and was able to fly to security. By an extraordinary chance also, the splits had been made around and between the dogs, so that neither of them fell into the water. Then it was clear that the whales shared our astonishment, for one after another their huge hideous heads shot vertically into the air through the cracks which they had made. As they reared them to a height of 6 or 8 feet it was possible to see their tawny head markings, their small glistening eyes, and their terrible array of teeth--by far the largest and most terrifying in the world. There cannot be a doubt that they looked up to see what had happened to Ponting and the dogs."

Another thing I've found out about orca - some of them swim 5000km from Antarctica to Northland - you can read about their amazing journey here.

Two orca at the ice edge; Photo by David Geddes;
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection [1956-1958]

What kind of species are there that live under water?
Lots of unusual sea creatures - sea spiders, ice fish, krill, marine worms, deep sea fish that freeze instantly when brought to the surface - read about them here

What is the most common animal?
Penguins are the most common bird. There are lots of seals - according to the Australian Antarctic Division, the crabeater seal is "the most abundant seal species in the southern ocean, and the most numerous of all the world’s larger animals apart from humans".

But the most common animal is maybe one of the smallest - there are millions and millions of krill in the ocean. Here are some incredible facts about krill from the Cool Antarctica site: 
"The krill population of the world has been estimated at outweighing the human population, about half of this population is eaten each year by whales, penguins, seals, fish and pretty much every other Antarctic animal that is larger than them. They are then replaced by reproduction and growth."

Krill; Photo by Malcolm Macfarlane;
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection [1989-1990]

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