As I walked into the Antarctica exhibit at SeaWorld, I felt an overwhelming wave of concern wash over me. Simply remembering the penguin friends I had made in Antarctica in January 2020, thoughts of them lingered and I wondered how their world has changed since then. The National Geographic guides told us the areas we had visited were covered in packed ice only two years before, and the land of Antarctica was being revealed to the world for the first time only a few years prior to that. Now, it’s been two years since I visited and I wondered how much more of their landscape has been revealed since then.
The temperature dropped with every step closer to the penguin exhibit, and I heard several people near me ask if there were ice caves to visit in Antarctica. This question made sense. We were surrounded by fake ice. I hadn’t seen any ice caves on land in Antarctica, but I had seen some in Iceland in 2018 and 2019. I wondered how many people think they can enter Antarctica through an ice cave or even visit ice caves while there.
The 32-degree air hit my face, but it wasn’t the cold causing goosebumps. It was the pure excitement of seeing my little penguin friends again that sent a wave of memories crashing over me and warming my heart. These little guys, the Gentoo, Adelie, Chinstrap, and Emperor, were the species I’d met down south. At SeaWorld the penguins, even though in captivity, might be safer than the ones I saw in Antarctica. I will never look at a leopard seal the same way after watching one fling a penguin into the air only a few meters from our Zodiac, de-skinning it for his meal. I had to remind myself it’s the way the food chain works to keep me from crying, plus I was surrounded by scientists. At the same time remembering the Orca whales I had seen a few days earlier that showed signs of starvation, on the hunt for seals or penguins too. My grown son even commented that Orcas couldn’t be starving, that’s just not true, but the scientists, guides, and my photographs tell another story. So, why is the wildlife having such hardships down in a safe place like Antarctica? Where we would think the food is aplenty?
I read in an article that Antarctica shed an average of 149 billion metric tons of ice in 2021, adding to global sea level rise. The ice shelves I took pictures of that seemed to last for miles and miles are all melted now. They melted to nothing-ness in less than two years. This adding of so much fresh water to salt water is wreaking havoc on our friends of the ocean and causing weather pattern changes and so much more. Some people don’t believe in global warming, and some don’t think about the changes because it’s not right in front of them. If a problem is not “front and center,” it’s not an issue, but isn’t it? Or shouldn’t it be? It’s our planet. Shouldn’t we be responsible for its wellbeing? Or not? Why shouldn’t we be responsible?
All I can tell you is that what I saw, what I heard the scientist say, and the pictures I brought home with me showed plenty that we should all be concerned about. It was strange landing in the US in February of 2020 and it was colder in Atlanta than when I was in Antarctica. I am hoping to go back so I can take pictures at the same locations to document the changes for myself. But for now, I read the articles and hope my little penguin friends are doing well. In a place like SeaWorld where they do extensive research and rescue and care for marine animals, I could see for myself these SeaWorld penguins are happy as can be and people from all over the world can see them, fall in love, and hopefully the education they receive will open their eyes to the world not only around us, in our communities, but also broaden their sights to include the ocean world. It does cover 70% of Earth’s surface.
A King penguin swam circles in front of me, diving below a few feet where I could see him through the glass, and then he popped his little head out of the water as if to say, “Come play with me! The water’s fine!” He made me smile and wish I could do the polar plunge, but then again, I won’t get in my own pool if it’s under 78 degrees. I waved goodbye to my new little friends and continued reminiscing about Antarctica!