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In photos:

In photos: The heroes of sub-zero

24 Apr 2018


  • antarctica
  • birds
  • climate change
  • marine protected areas
  • marine species
  • penguins

Penguins are always dressed for a formal occasion. These dapper sea birds live in colonies with populations that are sometimes larger than small cities, and survive some of the Earth’s harshest conditions.

It’s no wonder that penguins are seen as a symbol of Antarctica.

In January, our Antarctic Program lead, Chris Johnson travelled to Antarctica to work with a group of scientists to research how and where baleen whales feed in the Southern Ocean. WWF is working to protect these critical areas for whales.

While searching for whales, Chris encountered a wealth of wildlife that inhabit Antarctica, its islands and its skies.

Check out the stunning photos he took on the trip!


Named in the 1800s by French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville for his wife, Adéle, these penguins stand 70 cm high and weigh up to 6 kg.
Adélie penguins are found on the continent of Antarctica and neighbouring islands, including the South Orkney and South Sandwich Islands. Antarctic continues to reveal its secrets as scientists recently discovered a mega-colony of Adelie penguins on Danger Islands.

Portrait of Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae), Antarctic Peninsula, January 2018 © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

Penguins are flightless birds perfectly designed for the marine environment. They’re excellent swimmers with a torpedo shaped body, feet and tail that act as a rudder, and flippers that act as propellers. They’re protected against the cold of the freezing waters by a waterproof coat of feathers with an under layer of woolly down, as well as an insulating layer of fat.

Group of gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) about to dive, Antarctic Peninsula, January 2018 © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

Adelie penguins eat mostly Antarctic krill, with some small fish also appearing on their menu.
Unfortunately, warmer temperatures in parts of the Antarctic Peninsula means that sea ice cover has reduced by over 60% in 30 years. This may have contributed to a decline of krill in some areas.

Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) taking a dive, Antarctic Peninsula, January 2018 © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

Chinstrap penguins are named after the narrow band of black feathers extending from ear to ear, just below the chin and the cheeks. They grow up to 76 cm tall.
Unlike Adélie and emperor penguins, chinstraps are mostly found in areas with light ice pack.

Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus), Antarctic Peninsula, January 2018 © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

Gentoo penguins have a red-orange bill and white patches above each eye which distinguishes them from other penguin species. They can grow up to nearly a meter in height!

They live further north than the other three Antarctic penguin species, and can be found on the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands, as well as sub-Antarctic islands.

Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), Antarctic Peninsula, January 2018 © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

Chris would travel through silent packs of sea ice, carefully listening for far off blows of humpback and minke whales. He says the team often came across groups of penguins like this one floating on sea ice, gathering like this are called a ‘raft’.

A raft of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) braving the harsh environment, Antarctic Peninsula, January 2018 © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

Antarctic penguins are exposed to some of the coldest environments on Earth.

Gentoo penguin colony (Pygoscelis papua), Antarctic Peninsula, January 2018 © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

While researching whales, Chris tested WWF’s new citizen science app – Wildcrowd – to report sightings of marine species such as whales, seabirds, seals and penguins to define and monitor key ocean habitats.
Wildcrowd is free to use, open source and WWF-Australia will launch this app very soon.

WWF Antarctic Program Manager, Chris Johnson testing WWF new citizen science app – Wildcrowd – recording sightings of marine species in Antarctica © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson


Seals and sea lions:

Penguins are a natural food source for top predators like this lounging leopard seal and killer whales.

Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) yawning on Antarctic Peninsula, January 2018 © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson


Over 100 million seabirds breed and fly around the rocky coastline of Antarctica and offshore islands. Chris was lucky enough to spot this albatross soaring on a cool, clear day. Other birds that brave the cold climate are fulmars, petrels sheathbills, cormorants, skuas, terns and gulls.

Black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) sails the winds near the Falkland Islands © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson


Recommended reading

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica © Michael Harte


Protecting the Southern Ocean

WWF is championing the expansion of marine protected areas in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

Read more