Of the 17 known species of penguins, 7 live and nest either in Antarctica or on sub-Antarctic Islands. ATOM, a professional photographer from Japan who has traveled to 63 countries in two years, recently spent 10 days traveling around Antarctica, coming away with an incredible reportage documenting the behavior of these Antarctic penguins.
Interestingly, ATOM didn’t travel to the icy continent intending to photograph penguins; the initial mission of his trip was to document the landscape. All that changed while spending time on the ship from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica. “I was interested in the habits and cuteness of penguins in books I read on the ship,” the photographer tells My Modern Met. “I wanted to convey the behavior of penguins and the severity of wild animals.”
With a new goal in mind, he set out each afternoon to photograph the scenery and take pictures of penguins. Mainly photographing Gentoo penguins—which are characterized by their red-orange bill and white strap across the top of their heads—and the occasional Chinstrap penguin, ATOM photographed all aspects of the behaviors he observed. “Unlike the penguins I’ve seen in the zoo, I was surprised by the strong and sturdy wild penguins.”
This fortitude is necessary in an environment where predators await penguins on land and sea. Skuas, grey sub-Antarctic birds, swoop down and steal eggs and chicks, while leopard seals are predators at sea. One of ATOM’s favorite penguin pictures shows the determination of these flightless birds.
“One of my favorite photographs shows the severity of the wild,” he shares. “A part of the sea was red when he [the penguin] landed—he had injured his body. It seemed that he’d managed to escape from the enemy. He walked slowly, found a piece of ice larger than himself, and stood still to hide there. He was trembling. It showed me the harsh life of wild animals.”
Another favorite moment speaks to the courage penguins have, and how they are ready to sacrifice themselves for the good of the flock. Lined up in single file, the first penguin makes a leap into the unknown. It take, as ATOM describes, “a courageous penguin to jump into the ocean where an enemy might exist.” It’s a truly selfless act that reminds us once again that penguins aren’t only beautiful, but also brave.