Cuverville Island is home to the largest colony of Gentoo Penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula with around 5,000 breeding pairs. This small island lying in the Errera Channel is only 2km by 2.5km in size. It’s a steep-sided dome, two-thirds of which is covered by a permanent ice-cap.
Why it was called Cuverville Island
The Belgian Antarctic explorer Lt. Adrien de Gerlache discovered the area of the Gerlache Strait, Cuverville Island got its name from J.M.A. Cavelier de Cuverville (1834–1912), who was a vice admiral of the French Navy.
The prolific explorer originally named the Gerlache Strait after his ship “Belgica Strait”. He charted and named several islands during some 20 separate landings before making it across the Arctic Circle on 15 February 1898, so it was only right that the Belgica Strait was renamed the Gerlache Strait in his honour!
Breeding time for Gentoo Penguins on Cuverville Island
Our visit to the snowy spectacle of Cuverville Island at the end of November was timed with the season of breeding and incubation of the Gentoo Penguins. Although the males are a little bigger, it is tricky to tell them from the females with very similar markings and colours. Both parents will share incubation duties which last around 35 days.
Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) use nesting materials ranging from pebbles and molted feathers in Antarctica, this one is carrying pebbles to the nest along the penguin highway!
During courtship, the male will present the female with a pebble as a gift. If the female accepts the generous gift, they bond and mate. Because they live on the frozen, barren Antartica coast, pebbles can be scarce and hard to find. Often, these penguins are notorious for stealing each other pebbles and fighting ferociously over these precious little rocks.
Once the Gentoo Penguins have mated, the female will lay 2 eggs and with seabirds like skuas ready to steal eggs, it works in their favour that they produce more eggs than other penguin breeds. Gentoos are known to head out into the ocean to forage around 450 times a day but that leaves them open to predators such as seals, orcas, and sea lions.
Video of the Gentoo Penguins on Cuverville Island
Watch the adorable Gentoo Penguins waddle around the beautiful landscape of Cuverville Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. As we attempted to get the hang of our snowshoes, I just wonder who was more clumsy as we wandered around the island in awe of these flightless aquatics birds.
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