King and Royal Penguins – Macquarie Island, Antarctica 2018

Sailing south from The Auckland Islands we were heading to one of the jewels of the Subantarctic Islands: Macquarie Island.

Australia’s Macquarie Island is home to a wealth of wildlife which is now flourishing since the eradication of induced species like rabbits, rats and mice. Our first attempt at landing was aborted as the winds reached 30kns. Our second attempt, the next day, was successful and we landed at Sandy Bay. To the north was a King Penguin rookery and to the south on a hillside was a Royal Penguin rookery. In the middle was a medley of penguins with the ever present Subantarctic Skuas patrolling the scene looking for an opportunity to take an unprotected chick. Subadult, male Southern Elephant Seals were strewn along the beach and in the surf.

It was raining heavily as we landed and the gusting wind caused the rain to whip around the camera, making filming very challenging. Eventually, the rain abated and the penguins and elephant seals performed for us.

On the beach between the Royal Penguin and King Penguin rookeries, both penguins mixed happily and ignored each other. The King Penguins strutted around, their beautiful and brightly coloured faces pointed to the sky as if to exert their superiority over the much smaller Royal Penguins.

All three million of the world’s Royal Penguins breed only Macquarie Island. These penguins are very similar to Macaroni Penguins.Their massive, reddish brown bill is larger and their face paler than the Macaronis and they are slightly taller. Formerly, the Royal Penguin was regarded as morph or sub species of the Macaroni but now viewed as a separate species. They usually lay two eggs but normally one one is incubated. Both sexes incubate the egg and feed the chick.

The King Penguin is the second largest penguin after the Emperor Penguin and is found in Subantarctic regions and the more northerly parts of Antarctica. Males can be up to 95cm tall and weigh up to 17kg.