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FRASER'S PENGUINS by Fen Montaigne

FRASER'S PENGUINS

A Journey to the Future in Antarctica

By Fen Montaigne

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8050-7942-5
Publisher: John Macrae/Henry Holt

An online magazine writer witnesses the incremental damage of global warming firsthand.

In 2005-’06, Yale Environment 360 senior editor Montaigne (Reeling In Russia: An American Angler In Russia, 1998) spent five months at Palmer Station, the only U.S. research station north of the Antarctic Circle. As a member of an environmental-science research team under ecologist Bill Fraser, the author tracked the breeding seasons of the “simultaneously gregarious and irascible” knee-high Adélie penguin, along with varieties of native seabirds. Montaigne’s findings only confirmed what Fraser and his team discovered in their time spent at the station since 1974: Antarctica’s ice sheets are melting, bloating sea levels, which has a direct impact on global weather patterns. The author was consistently in awe of the breathtaking panorama surrounding him, and this remote, larger-than-life locale triggered an “exhilarating feeling of insignificance.” He writes that though there are 2.5 million pairs of Adélies in Antarctica, those on and around rocky Torgersen Island are dying, and the “ecological upheaval” of global warming continues. The ramifications extend to the penguins' food web as well, diminishing the once-abundant populace of Southern Ocean krill, a penguin staple. Fun and fascinating penguin traits leaven the bad news: their much-studied “love-triangle brawls,” unique mating rituals (often while entombed in snow squalls), egg-laying facts and a peculiar penchant toward “pebble larceny,” when neighboring birds steal warming stones from adjacent nests. Less heartwarming is the decimation of newborn penguin chicks by predators. The unifying narrative thread is Fraser’s justified concerns about the “incredible changes” happening to Earth’s natural ecosystems and how we, as vulnerable humans, “need these systems to survive.”

Sobering, fact-based cautionary treatise on the quiet storm of climate change.