The breeding cycle of king penguins, and refresher training on station for lay surgical assistants.

The breeding cycle of king penguins

In late summer, our king penguins are demonstrating a peculiarity of their breeding cycle. King penguins have a long chick rearing period of around fifteen months. This allows them a relatively leisurely time over the following winter to raise their chicks while breeding ashore, as opposed to the Antarctic emperor penguins which must raise their chicks to fledging by mid-late summer before the seasonal sea ice on which they breed has melted. However this means that the kings cannot rear a chick every year. 

Pairs which have not reared a chick the previous winter will lay an egg in early spring around October-November. The egg hatches in December, and the chick is reared through the following winter to fledge by mid-summer the next year. Pairs which reared a chick the previous winter will lay in late summer around February if they fledged their previous chick early enough, or will miss a year. Those that fledged their previous chick later in the summer will all miss a year. The result is that they generally breed twice in three years.

King penguins are serially monogamous though less than half of pairings each year are with the same mate as the previous year. Both parents share all hatching and rearing duties. They first breed when around three years old. Birds with chicks remain on the island through the winter, and non-breeding birds spend longer periods out to sea.

So currently we are seeing some birds with chicks around two to three months of age, and some birds with eggs. Benny took some great photos at the Sandy Bay king penguin colony last weekend.

Lay surgical assistant training

On Antarctic stations we have to constitute our own fire team and SAR (search and rescue) teams. We also need a trained team of hospital assistants to help our station doctor with any major surgical eventualities. 

Four wintering expeditioners completed a two week intensive training course at Royal Hobart Hospital during our pre-departure training period, two to train as anaesthetics assistants to help the doctor with induction and maintenance of the anaesthetic, and two as surgical theatre assistants to set up the sterile surgical field and surgical instruments. We then do regular on station training to maintain the skill level. 

Bureau of Meteorology staff Evelyn and Sean are our anaesthetics assistants, and electrician Paul and station leader Ivor are the theatre assistants. Station doctor Malcolm conducted a training session last week, to ensure all skills are kept fresh. 

Other happenings on station

We enjoy a nice evening dinner with set tables in the mess every Saturday night, and chef Benny produces fantastic meals. Last Saturday night’s chili/teriyaki eye fillet with a kaffir lime and wasabi jus was no exception. Our hydroponics unit — lovingly cared for by Evelyn, Sean, Mal and Ingrid — produced our accompanying greens!