by Ellen Lambeth; photos by Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Creative
Can these emperor penguins start a "royal" family on a cold, hard sheet of frozen sea?
It had been a cold, dark winter on the Antarctic ice. ELMER had kept ELINOR’s egg warm and safe on top of his feet while she was out at sea, feeding. Finally, little EMMA hatched from the egg. ELMER has waited patiently for ELINOR to return, full of food for EMMA.*
ELINOR: Hi, honey. I’m home!
ELMER: Thank goodness. I haven’t eaten in months! Look what hatched while you were away. Can we call her Emma?
ELINOR: Yes, cute name for a cute chick! Here, move her over to my feet. I’ll feed and take care of her while you go “refuel.”
ELMER: That works for me. I’ll join the other guys on this march to the sea (see photo 1).
* To perform this play, find a "narrator" to read the parts in italics.
After a long march, ELMER finally reaches the open water with his buddy EDDIE and other colony members. They stop at the edge, wondering whether it’s safe to dive in (2). After all, there could be a leopard seal lurking, just waiting to snatch a penguin for dinner.
EDDIE: You go first, Elmer.
ELMER: Oh, no, after you—please!
EDDIE: Look! Some other guy took the plunge. I guess the coast is clear. Let’s go!
They dive in, along with all the others.
ELMER: The water’s icy and brisk, just how I like it! (3) And there’s plenty here to eat.
The penguins zip about, gobbling up fish, squid, and shrimplike creatures. They’ll store some of this in their
stomachs for “baby food,” which they throw up later to feed the chicks.
ELMER: Gotta plan my exit strategy. Don’t see any leopard seals, but you never know. Picking up speed now. . . . (4)
ELMER rockets out of the water at the ice edge next to EDDIE (5).
EDDIE: OK, Elmer! Let’s head back to the colony.
Back at the colony, EMMA grows bigger on ELINOR’s thrown-up seafood meals (6). But those are getting fewer and farther between.
EMMA: Mom, I miss Dad. And I’m getting hungry. I hope he brings some good take-out meals!
ELINOR: I know, dear. He should be home soon.
Meanwhile, ELMER and the others start the long march back to the colony (7).
ELMER: It sure feels good to be well fed again. I got enough to fill me up—AND to feed Emma.
EDDIE: I have a new kid to feed, too.
ELMER arrives at the colony, and ELINOR heads back to the sea to feed. After more such trips, EMMA is bigger and more independent. She huddles with other chicks waiting for her parents to return from the feeding trips (8). They recognize each other by their calls.
ELMER: Emma! Where are you? Time for dinner!
EMMA: Here I am, Dad. I’m so glad you’re back.
ELMER: Me, too! Before you know it, you’ll get your grownup feathers, head to the sea, and be on your own.
EMMA: I know, Dad. But that can wait for now. So, did you bring me something to eat?
ELMER: You bet! Here you go!
ELMER throws up a bit of his last meals, while EMMA gets ready to catch it (9). That’s what parent
penguins are for!
"Emperors on Ice" originally appeared in the December/January 2015 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here for a closer view of the photos.