Happy (belated) Penguin Awareness Day! January 20th marks a day for everyone to share about penguins to raise awareness about these cute little friends, their habitats and challenges related to their happy survival across the Southern hemisphere.
I feel very fortunate to have been to Antarctica to meet penguins up and close myself. It was an amazing experience to be repeatedly surrounded by different kinds of penguins, to see them in their natural environment, waddling around on land, jumping into the water, swimming around our zodiacs, and passing us on our ship lazing on ice floats.
Penguins seem perfectly adapted to the rugged Antarctic landscape. The tall black mountains across the peninsula are only partially covered in white snow, producing a somewhat checkered environment. More than once, I took my time observing groups of penguins as they passed me.
The incoming crowd would look mostly white. Their bellies and inner parts of their wings are white. Their short legs and feet are usually covered by snow, so also white. Only their heads have small areas that are black. And despite the Gentoos having small red beaks, these are fairly minor splashes of color. So overall, they would perfectly blend into the white snowy background while approaching me.
As the penguins passed, I would get to see more and more of their backs before they would collectively turn into a black crowd. Against the backdrop of large black rocks and mountains, they looked like little black dots waddling around, once again blending into the environment in marvelous ways.
A few times, we spotted penguins climbing up steep rocky slopes, step by step. In other moments, we delightfully watched them sliding down the snowy hills on their bellies. We could only see their black backs in those situations — if they had not been moving around, they would have either not been visible to us, or they would have just looked like small, bare rocks from afar. Only their zig-zaggy motion made them identifiable to us. Luckily, there are no aerial predators of penguins so they always safely got to climb up the cliffs, hills and even the mountains.
No matter how I kept looking at the penguins, and from whichever angle, they always seemed perfectly in sync with their environment. The only thing that changed during these times was my viewpoint and perspective in the moment: I was seeing either black, or white, against whatever would be in the background. But really, all I was staring at were penguins in the wild — without them ever changing colors.
This was a fascinating demonstration of the fact that the same thing can come across in different, even opposite, ways to different people. What we can take away from it is that it’s so important to take context into account and to ask questions to gain more information before hasting to judgement. Because it is usually helpful to actually see both sides of a given story — just as the penguins do to take full advantage of their different color scheme. They can easily choose to go with black tie attire to stand out in the snow and looking all cute, or to perfectly blend in when there is no need to attract attention. It's all about perspective and awareness.