Penguins of the north

Brünnich’s Guillemot at Alkefjellet

When I show this picture to people who haven’t been to the Arctic, I often get the question: “Ah, you have also seen penguins? I thought there were no penguins in the Arctic.”. The latter is true, there are no penguins in the Arctic. If this were penguins, they would really have a problem coming up these ledges. These are Brünnich’s Guillemots, part of the Auk family. The similarity between auks and penguins is a great example of convergent evolution. Two not related families evolve in the same way, because this shape and coloration is the best adaptation to those circumstances. However, there is one major difference between the two families. Penguins can’t fly, whereas the auks still can. This has to do with predator pressure. On Antarctica there are no land predators, so the penguins don’t need to fly in order to prevent predation. In the Arctic however there are several land predators (on Spitsbergen the Arctic Fox and the Polar Bear), so being able to fly is important. Now they can breed on small ledges that are unreachable by those predators. This picture was taken near Alkefjellet, one of the most spectacular bird cliffs in the Arctic.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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