“Look, they are doing a heart!” – the second my wife cried it out I was on my belly, my heavy lens landed in the snow, and I got the shot in the very moment the young baby turned its eye towards me.
Antarctica was on our bucket list for years, but for some reason we constantly postponed a trip to what seemed to us a life-threatening, distant destination at the end of the world. But in 2010, we returned at the end of September from our expedition to Tibet and West China. An email was waiting for me from a well-known photographer inviting us to join him on his Antarctica trip next year. My wife inquired with him if we were going to see Emperor penguins on that trip. We were especially interested in these penguins, being the largest ones. My wife had been very impressed by their survival skills after seeing some documentaries. Our fellow photographer denied the possibility to see Emperor penguins on his trip – an ice-breaker is needed to visit the colonies of Emperor penguins on ‘fast’ ice (sea ice that has been frozen, or ‘fastened’, to the coast). But he gave us a hint that one tour operator was organizing a final expedition dedicated to Emperor penguins. The only problem (well, beside the high costs) was that the expedition was about to start in three weeks. Imagine the hustle and bustle that followed the next weeks. Fortunately the operator had one cabin left on the ice-breaker so that, after looking for fitted clothes, new filming equipment and packing again, we started after only three weeks home for the long journey to Antarctica.
From our research, we knew that couples bow their heads towards their chick to feed it with caught food. When doing this, the couple looks like a heart. When we arrived at the colony at Atka Bay in the Wedell Sea, we were looking the whole day for such a situation, but we couldn’t find a couple as one partner is always out on the ice hunting. In the evening, just before we had to leave the colony, the partners were returning back to their chicks. The sun was already low and the light had a soft, pinkish hue that is known as the Arctic light… alright, in this case more like the Antarctic light. We were already frozen after the day on fast ice, as well as hungry and thirsty, when my wife finally spotted this couple with its chick—they really made our day.
The picture synthesizes the struggle for survival of these incredible birds. They gather in colonies and mate late in autumn when the ice grows thicker around the Antarctic continent. After laying a single egg, the female turns it over to her male partner and leaves him in search for food. The male hatches the egg under its belly in the middle of the Antarctic winter under life-threatening conditions. When spring comes, the mother returns and the male is able again to feed himself in the sea. During the Antarctic spring, both partners hunt for fish and krill, marching several kilometers between the colony and the open water. In the evening, they return to their chick to feed it by regurgitating the caught fish. A young Emperor penguin has to grow fast in the short Antarctic spring because in summer the ice is melting. By that time, the chicken must be strong enough to have molted so it can leave for the sea. – Claus Possberg
This image is available as a print here. To see more of Possberg’s work, visit his website at www.Possberg-Media.com. Follow Claus and his wife, Anneliese, on 500px, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo.
Equipment and settings: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM telephoto lens – 1/500th @ f/5.6 – ISO 200