3 January 2021

#AntarcticLog: Happy New Year!

Posted by Shane Hanlon

#AntarcticLog is a series of comics by Karen Romano Young. You can find the originals here

Happy New Year! 

Let’s share a cup of something-or-other for days of time gone by — even if it’s champagne to express our joy at seeing the back of 2020. 

In Antarctica, the past is always present.  How prevalent are penguins of auld lang syne?  I looked deeper into that question during a talk I did at a nearby local library about my experiences  in Antarctica — and the comics I brought back.  That’s where I met Isabel Bigda, age 11. She raised her hand and asked me whether it was true that there were penguin skulls littering Antarctic beaches. 

And so, penguins present (or recently passed): 

Eh? Kids say the darndest things.  And darned if I had no idea. So I sent an email to Sarah Kienle, a scientist then at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I met her, when our ship picked her team up from a beach where they’d been camping for three weeks, doing research on leopard seals…which feed on penguins, so…

Isabel had the idea that penguin heads — hard and bony — got spat back by anything that fed on Adélies or emperors (who live their lives there)  or any of the other species of penguin found in Antarctica (5 in total). Sarah reported that penguin heads were abundant — along with wings and tails, other parts not worth the energy it takes to eat them. Here’s the #AntarcticLog comic that resulted — just in time for Halloween — from my conversations with these two science-minded people, Isabel and Sara. 

As for penguins less recently passed: 

As climate change shrinks Antarctic glaciers and lays bare beaches, relics from auld lang syne of the even more distant past emerge.  Cold storage has meant that paleontologists find clear evidence of penguins of the past. . . bigger than the biggest we see today. In 2017, as I got ready to go to Antarctica for the first time, I realized that if climate change in the future is the first concern for research, the second concern is learning about the past — as a clue to what’s to come. So I put together this New Year’s comic that places two penguin species eye to eye. 

And penguins of the future? 

But here’s something ever present for an Antarctic comic artist: the pressing need to draw penguins.  Among the research I’ve covered is breeding problems for penguin parents. On World Penguin Day, 2019, I covered sea loss on the Brunt Ice Shelf that caused breeding to fail. I drew a parallel to the problem of education about climate change in the U.S. and laid out my hope for the future, for penguins and people: that we’ll become more aware, more understanding, and more active regarding what’s happening in our world. 

Happy New Year! With good wishes for penguins and all who love them. 

Karen Romano Young is a writer, artist, deep-sea diver, and polar explorer. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram