I'm Ron Naveen, the Penguin Counter! I want to get you pumped about penguins! And psyched about the KICKSTARTER campaign my colleagues at Getzels Gordon Productions have underway for THE PENGUIN COUNTERS film. The film is about me and the work my Antarctic Site Inventory project’s been doing for 20 years and, hopefully, will inspire people to think more positively and proactively about climate change- and inspire a whole new generation of penguin counters!

We're not explorers, climbers, or athletes. The weather we face is grueling. The terrain is hostile and we're only kitted out with golf-ball-sized tally-whackers and waterproof spiral notebooks. But our data has been instrumental in conserving Antarctica and we want you to get involved. Our campaign slogan is: COUNT ME IN! And we want to COUNT YOU IN! Let’s talk it up!

Edit: Thanks everyone. Taking a big penguin break here. Appreciate all your interest and questions. And for sure, don't hesitate to check out "THE PENGUIN COUNTERS" campaign on Kickstarter!

Tackling climate change, one penguin at a time . . .

Proof: http://imgur.com/JPOAi9M or direct facebook link

Can provide a more current proof if necessary.

Comments: 528 • Responses: 97  • Date: 

timaaay228 karma

Do you ever fall asleep whilst counting? I've heard this is a serious issue for sheep counters.

PenguinCounter97 karma


LuckyASN154 karma

Ever mistake a robot in a tux for a penguin?

PenguinCounter100 karma


guppycommander85 karma

What's the funniest thing you've seen penguins do?

PenguinCounter300 karma

Fall flat on their face, then stare at the ground like it was the ground's fault!

thedjotaku55 karma

seriously, birds are the best. I love their expressions. I wish I had a bunch of penguins.

PenguinCounter82 karma

I wish you could too, but the customs folks aren't going to let you bring them in!


Is this you? (Source)

Just kidding.

Actual question: Have you ever intervened in a life threatening situation for a penguin? I don't mean like it is going to get eaten by a predator. I am specifically talking about if one gets stuck in the ice and it can't climb out of a crevasse.

PenguinCounter73 karma

The official watchword (and the way we're permitted by the government) is: Hands off. I once had the experience of counting a large group of Adélies when a huge elephant seal started lunging upslope and in my direction. The ellie finally noticed me and then, stopped, right where it was, meaning that it didn't proceed past me and into a large group of penguins, many of which it would have crushed.

penny-lane-64 karma

Is that when you became king of the penguins?

PenguinCounter36 karma

If only!

Salacious-77 karma

Do you ever name them? If so, which one has the most unusual name?

If not, please go name them.

PenguinCounter159 karma

Ha! I've certainly tried doing that, but of course, they speak "penguin" and I don't. So, whether I give them a friend's name or that of some Antarctic explorer, I get the same non-response. They seem more interested if I kneel down (to their size) and start doing imitations of their mating calls.

The_G66 karma

Have you ever gotten any "interest?"

Edit: And a more interesting question (in my opinion), did you get more males or females interested?

PenguinCounter90 karma

They ALL look alike, males and females. And both sexes do the same displays.

scottyftw66 karma

Do they ever attack you or appear hostile? I always thought penguins could bring it if they needed to.

PenguinCounter128 karma

Yes, they can bring it. Always wear protective glasses in the field. And if you get too close — they'll "flipper-whack" you. Which hurts. And really hurts if the penguin's a king penguin that's 3-4 feet tall and weighs 30 pounds. They're fiercely protective of their nests and chicks.

TempestofChaos80 karma

So essentially, it makes you its bitch.

PenguinCounter135 karma

You can walk away and not get whacked!

GastroPilgrim63 karma

How many penguins are there?

PenguinCounter90 karma

chinstrap, 7.5 million breeding pairs; Adélie, 2.5 million breeding pairs; gentoo, 350-500,000 breeding pairs

lula248856 karma

How many penguins have you counted?

PenguinCounter84 karma

Millions. We sometimes count up to 1/4 million nests and/or chicks each season.

IbbleBibble42 karma

If I wanted a job in an Antarctic research station, how would I go about doing it? I'm just about to start my zoology degree and such a job would be quite heavenly for me.

PenguinCounter70 karma

Get in touch with the folks at the Office of Polar Programs at the US National Science Foundation. They run 3 stations — Palmer, McMurdo, South Pole — and are always looking for help (from cooks to carpenters).

IbbleBibble22 karma

Is there a UK equivalent? Thanks a lot for your time!

PenguinCounter58 karma

Yes, the British Antarctic Survey.

Jerk_Comments39 karma

Now, in my opinion, I think that lax gun laws are to blame for the current state of climate change. My colleague Wayne Lapierre of the NRA says that we need MORE guns in order to combat the spread of climate change (which obviously isn't even real anyways). Your thoughts on arming the penguins?

PenguinCounter62 karma

Don't get me started! Suspect that penguins can't shoot straight anyway.

tunernewb9237 karma

No real question. Just thank you for not calling it "global warming".

PenguinCounter62 karma

A great comment. I've been using "climate change" forever because, as you assuredly know, whatever warming we're experiencing on the planet, it's not uniform. Western Antarctica, where I work, is warming faster than — or almost as fast as — anywhere else, except the Arctic; but Eastern Antarctica, well away from my study site, isn't warming.

blueboybob31 karma

Maybe the only one paid for it, but I like to count them at the Boston aquarium all the time!

PenguinCounter26 karma


explodingbarrels30 karma

whereabouts do you do most of your counting? I was lucky enough to visit Aicho and Deception Bay about 15 years ago, and it was absolutely unreal -- though frankly the sheer number of penguins would NOT make me want to have your job, especially at the latter location.

PenguinCounter40 karma

Deception is, truly, a miserable place. Which will be perfectly obvious when THE PENGUIN COUNTERS film comes out. That was the toughest counting experience I've had in 20 years. Bad weather. Couldn't use our zodiac. Hiking. Whiteouts. You name the bad circumstance, we had it.

dhumplopoka23 karma

Do they mostly smile and wave or is it much harder to count them because they are sneaky and keep hiding?

But seriously, thanks for your contribution and efforts for making people aware of climate change.

PenguinCounter30 karma

2 of my 3 species (Adélie and chinstrap) are going to hell in a hand basket, while the third species (gentoo) is thriving. Trying to understand "why" is what we're into now . . . could be food, too much ice in the Antarctic spring (September/October) when they're trying to get back to their nests from the previous season, and try mating again. Yes, they do wave . . . but it's just part of their mating routines, not saying hello to me!

_Quaternion_22 karma

Hi Ron. How many socially awkward penguins do you count in this thread?

PenguinCounter27 karma


IPostWhenIWant20 karma

Have you read "The Man Who Counted"? In short a man who counted sheep for a living developed incredible mathmatical ability because he was so used to it. That is how I am imagining you right now.

PenguinCounter15 karma

Will have to check it out!

Ozone_Ranger16 karma


I would like to second the question of climate change impacts on penguins (that you have seen personally).

Have you found that individual birds have personalities/traits (other than physical differences) that allow you to recognize them over and over? Do they show fear of you (or are they indifferent or even react positively to your presence)?

Has the calving of major ice sheets in the Antarctic had a significant effect on penguins (population, habits, habitat, etc.)?

What is your educational, etc. background that prepared you for this career, did you aim for this or is it more something that just sort of came along?

Ever gone swimming with penguins? Stupid sounding, but honestly the footage I've seen makes them so graceful underwater, I just had to ask....

PenguinCounter41 karma

Climate change impacts I've seen personally: The populations of 2 of my species (Adélie and chinstrap) falling significantly in my Antarctic Peninsula study area; Antarctic glaciers receding (Paradise Bay); ice shelves collapsing (part of the Larsen Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea).

Personality traits: On the species level, yes. Chinstraps are pretty fearless, marching right up and wanting, seemingly, to yell at you and check your passport! Adélies do a lot of growling before lunging or snapping their beaks at you. Gentoos are more laid back, and seem much more relaxed about you being in their vicinity. As noted above, they're fiercely protective and fearful of us big, tall humans towering over them. Better to hunch down to their level, which "lowers their temperature" quite a bit!

Calving of ice shelves, effects on penguins: The climate change in my study are is huge: over the last 50 years, an increase of 5˚F year-round and 9˚F in winter. We're still sorting it all out but populations have shifted (in my study area, 2 species declining significantly, one increasing significantly); warmer weather means more precipitation and could be that gentoos are adapting better to more variable snow/ice/wind conditions when they return in October to start another breeding season. The fair answer, again, is that we're just sorting this out, and hoping to paint a more detailed picture as we proceed.

Educational background: I've been a birder all my life, which probably explains what I am "doing biology" today! That said, I majored in political science in college, went to law school and practiced law (including a stint as the US government's marine mammal attorney, in which job I learned all my statistics and population dynamics), I've been an expedition tour leader, and since 1987, when I founded Oceanites, doing what I can to provide the data so Antarctica may be conserved for future generations. Happily, I've learned both science and policy, which provides a great perspective on what to do (and what might happen) with the data my Antarctic Site Inventory project is collecting.

Swimming with penguins? I really try NOT to swim in freezing water with my penguins! But I've had them porpoise more times than I can count into my zodiac. Penguins are quye near-sighted on land, but remarkably agile and, as you say, graceful, in the water.

davidcunteron15 karma

have you got any pictures for r/aww?

PenguinCounter35 karma

Check out the pictures associated with our KICKSTARTER campaign!


THE PENGUIN COUNTERS - Tackling climate change, one penguin at a time . . .

And join the campaign, which will get you in line for photos sent out with all campaign updates.

Edit: How's this?

PenguinCounter3 karma

Check out the pictures associated with our KICKSTARTER campaign:

THE PENGUIN COUNTERS - Tackling climate change, one penguin at a time . . . Kickstarter: http://ow.ly/oSANX On Facebook: http://ow.ly/oSAXq Penguin Counters Website: http://penguincountersmovie.com G2 in Bethesda Magazine: http://ow.ly/oWspU Chevy Chase Gazette: http://ow.ly/oYPkW

And join the campaign, which will get you in line for photos sent out with all campaign upodates.

Nomad_Shifter4214 karma

what is your definition of "tally-whacker"

PenguinCounter15 karma

Handheld clicker, like the ones you see airplane attendants using to count up the number of people onboard. There's a picture of one on ourFacebook page: http://ow.ly/oSAXq

iwanttofork11 karma

How do you cope with being away from family/friends for so long?

PenguinCounter20 karma

It was worse during the years we camped at Petermann Island, at 65˚S. That was a month or more at a time. Now, utilizing expedition ships and yachts, time's a bit more manageable. That said, the worst pair is lack of communication — WiFi's not yet as big in The Ice as we're used to everywhere else.

Br0nto10 karma

Your team gathers data, but who makes use of it? Is there a place you post it for other scientists or organizations to analyze it?

PenguinCounter21 karma

Our data are posted publicly in various places — data banks that the US National Science Foundation utilizes, and most especially in a raft of scientific papers and publications we've done. Many of these papers can be found at the Oceanites website (http://www.oceanites.org/science/index6.php).

yokiatsu10 karma

Favorite Batman villain?

PenguinCounter16 karma

Easy . . . the Penguin!

Penisburgers9 karma

Are they black with white feathers , or white with black feathers?

Also, do you need an assistant?

PenguinCounter9 karma

White and black feathers . . . and with the crested penguins (e.g. macaroni penguin in the Antarctic), orange-yellow feathers. I so very much appreciate your offer, but, for the moment, all the counting is done by grad students and experienced, long-term staff.

DrMacnificent7 karma

Were you cruising in Antarctica one day and thought "I like watching penguins. Maybe I should make this a career"? Did you have a long dream of becoming a penguin counter, or was it just something that happened?

PenguinCounter10 karma

In a fashion, it just happened. I burned out leading Antarctic expeditions, and started Oceanites in 1987, hoping to give something back, somehow, some way, to this incredible place I loved. Then, in the early '90s, the Antarctic Treaty parties passed a new Environmental Protocol that required environmental impact statements for all human activities, including tourism. But, at the time, there was no compilation of data and information to take this forward, and so . . . the Antarctic Site Inventory was born. I'm happy to say that, now, almost 20 years later, EVERYONE in the Treaty system uses the data and information we've compiled.

joebob8016 karma

Do you struggle to stay awake on the job, or is that only a problem encountered by people who count sheep?

PenguinCounter11 karma

Ha! The cold, howling wind always conspires to keep us counters awake and on our toes!

stanleyfeinbaum5 karma

What are some examples (if any) of the effects of climate change on the penguin populations that you observe?

PenguinCounter7 karma

Gentoo penguin numbers way up, Adélie and chinstrap numbers way down. We will discuss the effects in THE PENGUIN COUNTERS, but we have to fund the movie first! Help us out by donating!

JerabTheTerrorist5 karma

How many have you counted?

PenguinCounter8 karma

My counters and I probably count around 1/4 million penguin nests or chicks each season, which means about 5 million penguin nests/chicks in a couple of decades of work! And once we fine tune some of our satellite photo analyses, the numbers will jump even higher!

DrOpossum5 karma

Great AMA - love penguins and recently published a paper with collaborators regarding climate change in Australia and the impact on parasite infections in Little Blues.

My question is with the increase in traffic to Antarctica, both research and tourist, is there concern about about spread of Infection Bursal Disease Virus to these large penguin populations? Do you think climate change will contribute to an expansion in viruses and disease vectors in penguin populations that previously had little risk because of the environmental conditions?


Edit: grammar

PenguinCounter5 karma

Definitely worried. At our Petermann Island campsite (2003-08), with snow cover melting away earlier and earlier, we saw an increase in avian tick infestation during the breeding season. No question that climate change may contribute to an expansion in viruses and disease vectors in penguin populations — and it's a factor we've got underlined in red to follow!

eddieboomstick5 karma

so let me just understand here. you are located somewhere in the antarctic and count penguins? how do you live and what do you eat there? how do i get this job, i love cold weather and im good in places of solitude and with animals.

PenguinCounter8 karma

No, I live in Washington DC. My nonprofit, Oceanites, is based in Maryland, and my counters and I travel south each season, between November and February, to count the Antarctic Peninsula's penguins. We work from ships of all kinds/sizes, which is usually where we get our food.

ZombieMayhem4 karma

How in the world do you keep count!? How accurate do you think your count is? Would it be easier to take a high def photo of an area and count them vs. while they are waddling around? Awesome job btw, sounds lonely yet rewarding!

PenguinCounter3 karma

As noted above, there's a specific technique to counting, and the accuracy is never worse than 3-4%! And too, again as noted above, lots of analyses now being done with satellite photos, which is taking us toward higher levels of achievement.

patssle4 karma

How many have you seen go on the suicide walk?

PenguinCounter3 karma

Meaning . . . into the jaws of leopard seals?

PenguinCounter8 karma

Ah . . . Herzog! Yes, some of them just march away and that's it. Where I work in the Peninsula, it's mostly islands, not the mainland, so . . . walking across one of these islands isn;'t suicide, it's actually getting to the water and food!

rallioul4 karma

I guess you see a lot of the same penguins. Do they ever remember you or form attachments? If I had a penguin friend, I don't think I'd ever need human friends again.

Also...if you're ever in the market for an intern, I am a penguin loving number cruncher who would love to leave my day job!

PenguinCounter16 karma

They don't seem to remember us counters, other than wanting all of us to keep a fair distance from them (Which we do). The penguins are really good at recognizing each other, but they look all the same to us. Some colleagues band penguins and those banded birds, of course, can be recognized. Don't hesitate to send in a C.v. to Oceanites, but . . . at the moment, all the counting is done by grad students and experienced, long-term staff.

Im_xoxide4 karma

What do you find the most frustrating part of the climate change "debate"?

I can't decide between the fact 'hired-guns' exist or the fact that people actually believe the bullshit data they come up.

PenguinCounter10 karma

There shouldn't be a debate. The scientific evidence is there. Some parts of our planet are warming. Glaciers are melting, etc. But, as noted in an answer above, arguing who caused it or whether it's a cycle perhaps isn't key. Are we humans going to be like the gentoo penguins, who are adapting well to their warming climate? Or like the Adélies and chinstraps, who aren't? The question in my mind is whether we humans will be flexible and be able to adapt, if and when we're faced with the same kind of changes my Antarctic penguins are now experiencing.

Illbjammin4 karma

Have you seen any Leopard Seals eating Penguins?

PenguinCounter15 karma

All the time! Quite a gruesome sight.

thedjotaku4 karma

I know this may seem a bit silly, but I'm curious - given that they all look the same and whenever I see mass shots of them, it appears to be a sea of black and white - how often do you lose count? I feel like I would go mad if I had your job.

PenguinCounter9 karma

Counting huge numbers is hard, but there are ways to avoid being driven mad. To elaborate a bit (per one of our Facebook posts):

it requires a lot of concentration, patience and a whole lot of training. To keep the margin of error down, our research protocol requires three counts of each penguin group within 3-5% of one another. With smaller groups of 10 to 50 nests or chicks, that goal is not too difficult to achieve. But when you get huge colonies with many hundreds of nests and chicks, that 3-5% target is a challenge. And requires oodles of practice.

To avoid double counting and keep track of what's been counted and what's not, you have to find one singular vantage point from which you do all the counting; or you have to walk the same line right to left or left to right, while holding your free hand or field-book in front of you.

And of course you need to know what is being counted! In the nest phase, the three penguin species we monitor all construct stone nests, some more elaborate than others. But there are always "fakers" sitting tight in their nests, looking like they have eggs, when they really have nothing!

And of course, we don't count in our heads. We use those little hand-held tally whackers, clicking the plunger for each nest or chick.

All the time, we're aiming for complete, site-wide counts and even if we're good and efficient, it sometimes takes a very long time to get an entire site counted. At a place like Petermann Island, which is about a mile long and a half-a-mile wide, it will take two of our best counters at least 4-6 hours in decent weather to count the entire island which has about 2,400 gentoo penguin nests and 450 Adélie penguin nests. The huge Baily Head chinstrap penguin colony at Deception Island had more than 50,000 nests and took us two days to count.

thedjotaku3 karma

that's pretty incredible. But if you're going from left to right or however you orient yourself, how do you account for the penguins roaming about?

PenguinCounter5 karma

In the spring, the nests don't move. But later on, yes . . . the chicks can wander and it can be really tough.

alexinedh3 karma

Have you ever been out counting and encountered an attack by polar bears? What's your protocol for this scenario? How do the penguines react?

PenguinCounter9 karma

No polar bears in the Antarctic. When the supercontinent Gondwana split apart eons ago, land predators evolved to the north, not south. Nor are there foxes or wolves in Antarctica. Penguins didn't need to fly to survive. Up north, their flying counterparts are the puffins, murres, and guillemots.

thegreatgazoo3 karma

Are they all catholic?

PenguinCounter9 karma

Catholic in their tastes . . . in that they eat almost anything they can get their beaks on.

Hyper1on3 karma

So how many penguin rapes have you seen?

PenguinCounter8 karma

Happens a lot actually. What we think are young males, late season, attempting to mount whatever they can find.

JokeTwoSmoints3 karma

how many penguins do you think you could defeat at once, if they decided to attack?

PenguinCounter4 karma

Goodness, they bite and stab hard! I might be able to handle 20 chinnies!

imetapenguin3 karma

Did someone ask this already? As a penguin lover, who lives in Florida, is there something an ordinary person like me can do to help our waddling friends?

PenguinCounter5 karma

You've asked a really important question . . .

Everywhere, including Antarctica, assessment and monitoring are the keys to long-term environmental protection. So . . . whatever support can be given to projects like the Antarctic Site Inventory, the more data and analyses are in place to, hopefully, sway the mangers to conserve whatever they're intending to conserve.

We're hoping, indeed, that the more attention is given to THE PENGUIN COUNTERS campaign on KICKSTARTER, the more awareness will be raised and we'll get the support to keep our valuable work going.

The process is hard, but making available the BEST SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE available is the only way forward.

DingoMontgomery3 karma

Has anyone come up to you while you were counting and started saying numbers to mess you up?


"12! 32! 7! 66!"


PenguinCounter5 karma

I don't understand those gabby penguins, so it's like white noise and they don't bother my counting.

b4theprophet3 karma

Who pays for you to count penguins? What do you think about central banks trading carbon credits and making huge sums of money ?

PenguinCounter10 karma

I only keep the Antarctic Site Inventory project going by raising funds via my nonprofit organization, Oceanites. And when possible, I can draw a salary. Paychecks are irregular. I don't work for an educational institution or environmental organization.

wryshab3 karma

Naveen is a very Indian name. Are you in anyway related to India?

PenguinCounter5 karma

This was first pointed out to me by Zubin Mehta, who, of course, was born in Mumbai. I am not Indian, but, rather, of Lithuanian descent. My grandparents came to the US from Europe and "Navenitsky" was a little too complicated for the processing station at Ellis Island. So I am a Naveen.

wryshab2 karma

Zubin Mehta, that's amazing.

I am sure i don't completely understand how much pain you go through doing what you're doing, but great job. How did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?

PenguinCounter2 karma

Just love being outside and not at a desk! But is was all a process . . . college to grad school to lawyering (private practice and government), environmental consultant, expedition leader and . . . voila, finally, penguin counter.

eddieboomstick3 karma

so serioslly can you help me get a job there (i can cook too)

PenguinCounter5 karma

Please inquire at the US NSF Office of Polar Programs or the British Antarctic Survey.

Daysian3 karma

How much is your annual salary for Counting Penguins?

PenguinCounter11 karma

I probably make what a good teacher makes (in a good year), but certainly not as much as what good teachers really should be making!

Noisyfoxx3 karma

I always wondered what pinguins act like if they see a human approaching.

They dont have natural enemys, so I was wondering if they are like whatever, if they approach you or if they walk away from you.

Also, do they remember you if you come back after a while?

PenguinCounter4 karma

They're fearful of us (we're so big and tall) and they'd rather have us go away. They'll flipper-whack you and stab with their beaks, at whatever part of your body they can reach. And it can hurt. Don't think they remember us . . . they're too near -sighted.

ker91893 karma

I am so jealous! Penguins to me are the most amazing creatures on earth!! I'm a sociology major and all I want to do is study the sociology of penguins but not sure that is possible!!

PenguinCounter7 karma

Love it! They of course have brains the size of peas, so . . . doing such a study will be quite a challenge.

RobBobGlove3 karma

are penguins cuddly ?like plush toys?
I want to know how does it feel to hug a penguin,what's the closest feeling like it?

PenguinCounter11 karma

No way! They're like little Arnold Schwarzeneggers, tough and muscle-bound all over.


How historically accurate is the feature length film "Happy Feet" and what did you think of the portrayal of penguins in relation to their fierce promotion of song and and dislike for dance?

PenguinCounter3 karma

The penguins I camped with couldn't care less for my music . . . and I've never seen them dance!

mommynerd3 karma

Zoology grad student here. Can you elaborate on why those species' numbers are falling? Is their prey population also dwindling? Can they adapt to warmer conditions? Could they relocate where they breed?

What in your opinion, would you say the average citizen can do to help?

Thank you!

PenguinCounter3 karma

We're now into the "why" question. Certainly, there's a strong correlation between the increased temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula and the changing penguin populations (gentoos up; chinstraps and Adélies down). Some suspect the krill population has shrunk? Others suggest that the weather conditions when the penguins start breeding in October has become too variable. Gentoos, obviously, have adapted (if krill's the issue) by eating more fish. But chinstraps and Adélies also can eat fish . . . why don't they eat more? Maybe they will, over time. Lots still to investigate.

chillybird3 karma

As a penguin lover, thanks for putting penguins on the front page! There isn't enough penguin love on Reddit :)

PenguinCounter3 karma

Happy to do so. Please spread word about our KICKSTARTER campaign.

Not_A_Time_lord3 karma

Has anyone ever told you you look like Steven Spielberg?

PenguinCounter3 karma

Yes . . . and/or Richard Dreyfuss. What do you think?

Thanks for writing in and please support our KICKSTARTER campaign — and Mr. Spielberg, too!

plausible-rationale3 karma

I'm an avid waterfowler, so I'm familiar with counting populations of certain duck species. Do you know the science that goes into it? And do you have any recommendations for improving their estimates?

While I know it's all estimates, some tomfoolery went down a few years ago where they totally mis-estimated the population of some ducks. If you look at the historic trends of certain species (the trends of estimates) there's insane swings. While disease could certainly cause a population to decline, the rebound wouldn't be so dramatic (see for yourself here http://www.flyways.us/status-of-waterfowl/population-estimates/2012-population-estimates).

They make these estimates by plane (generally) and I think a Ouija board, but do you know any of these guys and can you tell them to get their shit together?

PenguinCounter7 karma

I'm not familiar with the methodology the duck folks are using . . . but on our side, we're on the cutting-edge using remote sensing technology, particularly, satellite photo analyses. Colleagues already have done a world emperor penguin census by satellite, and located populations never before known. We've started similar analyses regarding our 3 species (Adélie, chinstrap, and gentoo) and the next few years, in these regards, will be quire exciting. This work involves lots of ground-truthing by continuing our counting from ships/yachts, so, hopefully, we'll be avoiding some of the difficulties experienced using other methods.

TempestofChaos2 karma

Did you ever just decide to move to Antarctica and become a penguin because this world is too damn complicated?

PenguinCounter10 karma

That's impractical, of course! But I will say that one of the best parts of working there is that there are no distractions — no radio or TV, no politicians or newspapers . . . just you, the penguins, the fresh air, incredible scenery, and hearing your heartbeat thumping loudly through your parka. It is, truly, biological (and emotional) overload to be there.

Not_a_Nautilus2 karma

Which penguin species is your very favourite?

PenguinCounter6 karma

I started out being a total chinstrap crazy — I loved how they ran right up to you, screamed, asked for my passport, and just wouldn't leave me alone. Working with chinstraps requires earplugs. Since, I've become quite fond of gentoos, likely because I camped next to them for 5 seasons at Petermann Island.

ChromeBoom2 karma

Is it happening?

PenguinCounter7 karma


youkeepthe_money2 karma

What is a normal workday for you like?
In the 20 years you have been working as a penguin counter I'm sure you have some fun incredible stories, what is your most memorable one? Why are you the only one?

PenguinCounter6 karma

Get ashore soon as you can, work as late as you need to, to get the work done. We do site-wide counts of every location we census, so . . . that could take a while. We did one site last year where we counted almost 50,000 penguin chicks, but it took 1 1/2 days to get it done. And make sure we weren't double-counting.

MaxxedMan2 karma

At the New England Aquarium, there is one person who feeds the penguins, and another that counts and checks off each bird to make sure it's been fed. Kind of a bold statement to assume no one else on the entire planet is counting penguins.

PenguinCounter3 karma

The only assumption here is about counting full time in the field. That is all I do. But yes, sure . . . conservation everywhere, as noted above (whether in the wild or at the NE Aquarium) does require some investment in counting.

CapricornAngel2 karma

Are you afraid that someone will develop some type of unique scanner-counter program that would make your job obsolete?

On a side note, you are a very handsome man!!! Keep the beard, it definitely works for you!

PenguinCounter4 karma

At the moment, the beard's off (northern summer). Thanks for the compliment! The Australians have embedded little devices in some of their penguins, in one case, in a colony where each penguin has to go through a narrow passage to get to sea. And right there is a scale, so they know which penguins have gone to sea and what their outgoing weight was, which, then, is compared to what they weight on return (i.e. how much food they've brought back).

Se7enLC2 karma

How many are there?

PenguinCounter1 karma

chinstrap, 7.5 million breeding pairs; Adélie, 2.5 million breeding pairs; gentoo, 350-500,000 breeding pairs

fappyday2 karma

What is your response to climate change deniers? Seriously. I have to listen to their crap all the time. I'd like a bite-sized retort that will actually shut them up and make them really think.

PenguinCounter2 karma

Gotta soldier on! Arguing who caused it or whether it's a cycle isn't helpful, really. The questions and messages from my work are:

Are we humans going to be like the gentoo penguins, who are adapting well to their warming climate?

Or like the Adélies and chinstraps, who aren't?

Will we humans will be flexible and be able to adapt, if and when we're faced with the same kind of changes my Antarctic penguins are now experiencing?

Thanks for writing in and please support our KICKSTARTER campaign.

DogKnowsBest2 karma

There are few, if any, "climate change" deniers. There are multitudes of "global warming" deniers. Al Gore is a "global warming" snake oil salesman. The rest of us understand that our planet cycles from warming to cooling to warming, etc.

PenguinCounter2 karma

Perhaps . . . but the uptick in carbon since the Industrial Revolution is unprecedented. But again, my caution is that the real concern is our being able to adapt to changed conditions, if and when.

adrianitc2 karma

Did you ever make friends with a penguin?

PenguinCounter14 karma

That would be nice, but they're too busy being penguins!

pulifrici2 karma

How many penguins are there if you're counting them for 20 years?

PenguinCounter6 karma

Current population estimates of the 3 species I count are:

chinstrap, 7.5 million breeding pairs; Adélie, 2.5 million breeding pairs; gentoo, 350-500,000 breeding pairs

RogueX72 karma

How does one go into this profession?

This sounds really fun, yet grueling at the same time

PenguinCounter6 karma

I don't know that we're an official profession as yet! Everywhere, including Antarctica, assessment and monitoring are the keys to long-term environmental protection. So . . . whatever organism might be of interest, the scientists studying that organism will have to do some serious counting and analyzing. As for me, running this little nonprofit, Oceanites, and managing the Antarctic Site Inventory . . . it simply has become a full time job.

doomladen2 karma

Why don't you also count Emperor populations? I know there are a couple of colonies there on the Weddell side of the peninsula near Esperenza.

And congratulations on having the best job I can imagine. I would love to go back again and spend more time there.

PenguinCounter3 karma

Yes, near Snow Hill Island deep in the Weddell Sea. We count NOV-FEB, which isn't the empies' breeding season. That's in mid-austral winter.

sully33332 karma

Being that there are so many penguins to count in so little time, how do you go about making sure that you don't count the same penguin twice, or accidently skip a penguin every once in a while?

PenguinCounter3 karma

To avoid double counting and keep track of what's been counted and what's not, you have to find one singular vantage point from which you do all the counting; or you have to walk the same line right to left or left to right, while holding your free hand or field-book in front of you.

PenguinCounter1 karma

A bit much . . . gang rapes, eating young? Don't think so.

Penguin6191 karma

Can I be your apprentice?

PenguinCounter2 karma

I wish we had the funds and wherewithal to take you on!

TheBobHatter1 karma

We only have accurate weather data for 100 or so years, yet the earth is millions of years old, and our solar system older then that. So therefore we have a very small percentage of data in the climate changes through out history. How do we know what people call man made climate change isn't just a part of the Earth's and Solar System's weather pattern cycle?

PenguinCounter6 karma

The spikes in airborne carbon since the Industrial Revolution are clear and unprecedented. Yes, the Earth is millions of years old, but what we're seeing now is quite different. The new IPCC report will shortly be out and, again, will give us pause. What's important, I believe, isn't necessarily arguing who caused it or whether it's a cycle, but rather . . . will we humans be flexible, and be able to adapt, if and when we're faced with the same kind of changes my Antarctic penguins are now experiencing.

birdlessbob1 karma

Hi, I want this job more than anything ever. Once I'm out of high school (I'm a sophomore right now), what steps should I take to pursue this career?

PenguinCounter1 karma

Get to college, and then, however possible, take biology, statistics, ecology, and environmental policy. Up your options by being tuned into to a variety of disciplines, then find a grad program that does some of this kind of work. You will get there!

dbzmah1 karma

How many are there today?

PenguinCounter2 karma

chinstrap, 7.5 million breeding pairs; Adélie, 2.5 million breeding pairs; gentoo, 350-500,000 breeding pairs

rather_dash1ng1 karma

How many penguins are there right now?

PenguinCounter1 karma

chinstrap, 7.5 million breeding pairs; Adélie, 2.5 million breeding pairs; gentoo, 350-500,000 breeding pairs

penguintheology1 karma

I love penguins! What if your favorite thing about counting penguins as a job?

PenguinCounter1 karma

Being out with my favorite animals, in my favorite location, with no noise from airplanes or politicians . . . and being able to hear/feel my heart pumping through my parka!

OldCrowMedicineBowl1 karma

How's Jessica Alba been lately?

PenguinCounter1 karma

Got me . . .

Rizzoriginal1 karma

So considering global warming is real and accelerating, do you have a projected map of Antarcticas shore line post ice/melt and ocean rise. I imagine that will probably be some nice real estate with localized terraforming.

PenguinCounter1 karma

Haven't seen one yet, but sure it's out there.

AdventureTim2071 karma

How many penguins have you seen? rough estimate, off the top of your head.

PenguinCounter2 karma

Certainly in the millions of individual animals. But I'm an unusual case. I've been working south since the 1982-3 season and have only missed two seasons in that 32-year span. Also helps that I've been fortunate to have flown in helos in The Ice with the British Navy.

emz9981 karma

What is the cheapest way to get to Antartica?

PenguinCounter2 karma

Getting some work with the US or the UK Antarctic programs!

sarabridge781 karma

What was your exact path to penguin counter? So jealous, not of the weather though!

PenguinCounter2 karma

small town, to big city university, grad school, law clerk, law practice (private and with the government), consultant, expedition leader . . . voila, OCeanites in 1987, the Antarctic Site Inventory in 1994.

bilboofbagend1 karma

How did you come about this job? What's your salary like (If you don't mind me asking)? Cheers :)

PenguinCounter1 karma

It all stems from being a birder/bird-watcher all my life. As for making a living, well . . . I probably make what a good teacher makes (in a good year), but certainly not as much as what good teachers really should be making!

apz11 karma

Have you ever seen a deranged penguin like this one? How often do penguins wander toward certain death? Why?

PenguinCounter2 karma

Ah . . . Herzog! Yes, some of them just march away and that's it. Where I work in the Peninsula, it's mostly islands, not the mainland, so . . . walking across one of these islands isn't suicide, it's actually getting to the water and food!

tweedlymustache1 karma

How exactly does one become a Penguin Counter? I have wanted to work with these little guys for years!

PenguinCounter1 karma

Practice, practice, practice! Hopefully, you'll find a penguin research project that has some openings.

AdventureTim2071 karma

Also, whats the single most fucked up thing you've witnessed while observing these penguins? A classy penguin dinner party perhaps?

PenguinCounter2 karma

Perhaps some folks getting all dude-d up in tuxes and trying to imitate the way penguins walk. Which, of course, we humans can't do so well, because we have wobbly knees and they don't.

secondphase1 karma

How many are there?

PenguinCounter1 karma

chinstrap, 7.5 million breeding pairs; Adélie, 2.5 million breeding pairs; gentoo, 350-500,000 breeding pairs

thelast_timelord1 karma

Penguins are by far my favorite animal. I have one tattooed on my shoulder (dressed in a pirate costume).

What's the most interesting thing you've ever seen a penguin do?

In what ways have you seen climate change affect penguins in the antarctic?

PenguinCounter3 karma

I just heard of someone who was trying to have all 17 species of penguins tattooed on his body! Which species do you have? I'm most fascinated by the way they live — my three species perhaps live 10 years in the wild, live in the world's coldest climate (air and water), and somehow survive. It's a testament to how some creatures succeed, evolutionarily speaking. And where I work in western Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula, it's warming faster than anywhere else on the planet — over the last 50 years, an increase of 5˚F year-round and 9˚F in winter. That's HUGE. The change is causing lots of adaptation and those penguins who are showing some flexibility (e.g. in what they eat, or when they start breeding) are making it. More specifically, Adélie and chinstrap penguin numbers in the Peninsula are falling significantly, while gentoo penguin numbers are rising significantly.

yellowgreenred1 karma

How can I get that job?

PenguinCounter2 karma

Research funds are way down and all penguin projects, ours included, are suffering. With more research funds, hopefully, you'd have a better chance of snagging a counting job!

functionOfY-1 karma

Have you had a real job before?

PenguinCounter1 karma

Yes! Been a lawyer both in private practice and with the government, and have held a variety of consulting jobs.

tunernewb92-4 karma

I thought of one: Would you rather fight ten penguin size horses, or one horse sized penguin?

PenguinCounter1 karma

This reminds of my two worst dreams: A "potpourri" of hundreds of mad raving penguins chasing me across the ice? Or . . . of that ginormous, humongous penguin who's about to step on me and squash me to smithereens.