We launch our inflatable landing craft and head for a little island off the northeast tip of the Antarctic Peninsula this morning. Paulet Island has the classic volcano shape, and it hosts 100,000 noisy pairs of breeding Adélie penguins. As we approach the shore, a familiar conversation takes place. The topic of discussion is what collective name best suits a group of Adélie penguins.
“How about a symphony? Because they’re all wearing tuxedos.”
“Maybe a tuxedo, then.”
“No, I think we should call them a march, like in the movie.”
“I think the actual name is a waddle.”
“We can call it whatever we want.”
It is a conversation that happens with nearly every large congregation of bird, mammal, insect, or other creature encountered on an expedition, and the answers are only limited by the creativity of the party at hand.
“I think we should call them a cartoon of penguins.”
“How about an adorableness?”
“An appetizer?” someone says, eliciting groans.
We land on Paulet Island and make our way past a historical marker leaning on the remains of a rock hut built by crew from the ship Antarctica, which was crushed by ice during an ill-fated expedition from 1901-1903. Immediately, we are surrounded by absolutely filthy penguins covered in their own feces.
“Perhaps we should call then a stink of penguins.”
“More like a cacophonous stench.”
That one is tough to argue with.
For now, on Paulet Island, these penguins are officially a Cacophonous Stench.
Despite the stench, nobody complains. Though some guests keep their masks on, not one suggests they want to leave early. When our time is up, I have to round up folks and encourage them to return to the beach for pickup, many walking as slowly as they can, still taking pictures as I hand them life jackets.
The penguin theme continues in the afternoon as we circumnavigate Beagle Island, one of six little islands comprising the Danger Islands, named for the ice and fog that often obscures them. When Ross first discovered them, the crew nearly ran their ship aground when, at the last minute, land appeared before them.
Our day ends by cruising through a maze of giant tablature ice set against dark clouds and building fog. An ethereal reverie in contrast to the earlier cacophony. It was a calming way to wind down after an adventurous, albeit smelly, day.