Travel Faire Story

VIDEO: Incredible! Helicopter Quest for Emperor Penguins on the Scenic Eclipse in Antarctica

About Antarctica Category: Adventure Video

The Scenic Eclipse ultra-luxury expedition ship is equipped with not one – but two, 6-seat helicopters – and they were the key to a life-changing excursion during our cruise in Antarctica. Even many of the crew and expedition team members said in years of bringing cruise travelers to the White Continent, they’d never seen Emperor penguins – the world’s largest penguins.
Well, after years in the planning, that changed. Scenic’s expedition team worked out a way to fly guests – 5 at a time – to the northern (closest) known Emperor penguin colony.
And we were on the very first flight! 
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Our helitour from the Scenic Eclipse to Snow Hill Island, Antarctica to a colony of Emperor penguins!
It was a transformational experience that was years in the making. The Scenic team had to figure out the logistics of helitours that land and disembark passengers on ICE – because that’s where Emperor penguins live.
They also had to transport health and safety equipment to the site AND devise a way to conduct the excursion that was safe for the penguins.
Scenic is one of the signatories to an agreement among cruise lines sailing in the Antarctic to conduct operations with maximum safety for guests in a harsh and unforgiving environment and also to ensure the protection of the environment and wildlife that lives there.
Vital measures include sterilizing footwear getting off and back on the ship before and after every shore excursion, to ensure no foreign pollutants contaminate Antarctic territories. Plus, in the case of the Emperor penguin colony helitour excursion, to setting the helicopter down a minimum of 1 km away from the colony to avoid disturbing these giant birds, and their babies – in any way. All us humans were supposed to keep a specific distance from the Emperor penguins, who weren’t very helpful in cooperating! They were so curious, they kept following us around and coming up very close even when we kept backing away. The Scenic expedition team did establish a perimeter at the edge of the main body of the colony that no human crossed – but that didn’t stop some penguins from wandering over to check us out!
It was a heart-warming and overwhelming experience - actually walking up to a colony of hundreds of rare Emperor penguins – and their fluffy gray babies.
Emperor penguins are an incredible bird. Here are some other facts about Emperor penguins you may want to know if you are thinking of an expedition cruise to the Antarctic in the hopes of seeing them yourself.
1.    Emperor penguins are the rarest penguin. There are only an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 breeding pairs altogether.
2.    Emperor penguins are the largest penguins – and one of the largest birds anywhere in the world! They can reach about 4 feet tall and weigh in at about 90 pounds! That also makes them one of the largest birds on the planet.
3.    They are only found in Antarctica. There are 18 different species of penguin, but Emperors and one other penguin – the Adelie – are the only two that are truly and exclusively Antarctic.
4.    Emperor penguins may be the only bird never to set foot on land. Unlike other species of penguins, Emperor penguins live exclusively on ice. “Fast ice” is a floating sheet of frozen ocean that’s attached to land, and that’s where Emperor penguins breed and raise their babies. Other types of penguins live on land. Their dependence on ice makes Emperor penguins particularly vulnerable to loss of ice at the South Pole due to climate change.
5.    As we learned during lectures from the expedition team aboard the Scenic Eclipse, space-age technology is helping us learn more about these unique birds. Emperor penguin colonies are being discovered by satellite searches! Over the last 15 or so years, more than 30 previously-unknown Emperor penguin colonies have been discovered using satellite imagery of the coastline of the Antarctic – doubling the number of identified colonies. We were told the colony on Snow Hill that we visited by helitour had been seen via satellite.
6.    If you really want to see Emperor penguin babies, you should book an early season Scenic expedition cruise. They lay their eggs in May or June, and chicks are still in their adorable, fluffy gray plumage in the southern hemisphere’s spring: November-December. That coincides with the November beginning of the Austral spring – late summer cruise season.
By: Lynn Elmhirst, cruise/ travel journalist and expert
All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be copied, re-published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.