Prior to my recent trip to Antarctica, I confess that I had not given penguins much consideration. Not beautiful. Smell bad. Can’t fly.
Really, what was the point of a penguin?
Now, however, I have a new appreciation for the penguin.
As our ship lay at anchor off Deception Island in the Antarctic Ocean, we looked at its black volcanic rock-covered beach where we planned to make our landing. From a distance one could see tens of thousands of chinstrap penguins marching in and out of sea. White breasts headed in. Black backs headed out.
Once on the shore, the sound of the birds cheerfully chatting and squawking at each other soon distracted from the smell. We made our way up the beach, to the nesting area, where we observed what could best be described as the shift-change between parents.
While one parent tends the nest and their chicks, the other parent makes its way down to the sea to fish for their offspring. During the fishing expedition, taking the penguin as far away as 50 miles, the penguin gorges on food, returning to relieve its mate and feed its offspring.
After a brief check in and handoff, the other parent heads down to the sea for its turn to fish. The remaining parent takes its place on the nest and supervises the chicks. Male and female penguins share this responsibility equally.
Watching well over 50,000 penguins do this over several hours, I began to reconsider the penguin. Several things impressed me then and remain with me still.
Penguins are loyal. Penguins commit to a mate and then their offspring. Moreover, a penguin can find and recognize both its mate and its chicks amongst tens of thousands of others, even after wandering miles away on land and sea.
Penguins are humble. Not known for its beauty, vanity is not a vice in which a penguin can afford to indulge. It sits in its own guano patiently waiting and tending its offspring while its mate fishes.
Penguins are determined. As a penguin makes its way single-mindedly back and forth between the ocean and its nest, it encounters many obstacles. Rocks, icebergs, predators, rain, sleet, snow, other penguins. And yet, the penguin presses on in its mission to take care of its family.
Penguins are brave. The penguin world is full of bigger and meaner beasts than they are. Leopard seals stalk the shoreline as penguins dive into the sea to fish. Skua birds cruise the skies looking for a moment to swoop in and snatch a chick. Yet the penguin goes about its business with courage.
Loyalty. Humility. Determination. Bravery.
These are not choices a penguin makes. Evolution has made them necessary characteristics for their survival.
However, they are choices we can make.
What would our world be like if we all chose to be unfailingly loyal, humble, determined, and brave?