I’m thinking about those penguins as seen in March of the Penguins and how they trek inland into Antarctica each year. And that many of them freeze to death. And that it’s really, really cold there year round so I’d assume the dead penguins freeze. And that there isn’t anything else there to really nibble on them and the frozen situation should handle the microbes so…
From what I’ve read, it doesn’t really break freezing anywhere except along the some northern parts where it might scrape the thawing point. I’m not a penguin expert by any stretch but my impression was that the penguins travelled inland on the ice several miles, putting them firmly into “real friggin’ cold” territory.
I just wanted to say, March of the Penguins is stupid, emotional claptrap. Pneguins don’t “love”. And this from an affirmed penguin lover. Watch “Life in the Freezer” with David Attenborough. Much, much better.
I have to say that this isn’t necessarily the case. I presume that penguins have some exceptional means of insulating themselves against their antargctic environment with materials such as fur and thick skin which are actually dead. While the outside could be -60 C, the pengin’s body temperature itself might be 15 or 20 C.
Once the bird dies, the bird cools below where bacteria can replicate.
The type of microorganism extremophile that likes cold conditions, psychrophiles, actually do live in Antarctica, but under the sea-ice and I don’t imagine that they could make fast work of a newly dead penguin. Their bottom temperature limit seems to be around -20 C. Certainly, once the penguine warms up in the summer months it might be possible for the penguin to start decaying, but in the middle of winter I think it’s staying put.
Perhaps some scavengers like the albatrosses that attack the adorable little baby penguins in March of the Penguins are involved in clearing penuin corpses.
But don’t the bacteria live inside a warm, living penguin being kept warm by an endothermic metabolism? I’m not trying to be argumentative or dismissive but I’d think that if the penguin dies, it freezes. If it freezes, it doesn’t decay. It might not look pretty or taste fresh, but it shouldn’t decompose (I don’t think).
I’m sure that they do rot, even if more slowly than they would in if they were in Texas, but I’m trying to wrap my mind around how. Do they just sit there and wait for the temperatures to get slightly above freezing (the “slightly positive in the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula” bit from my quoted section)? Do their black feathers absorb enough sun to keep the outer layer just thawed enough to decompose?
It snows. They are covered by snow, which never melts. The level of the ice increases every year, to the point that the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station has to rebuild every few years.
In Dr. Jerri Nielsen’s book, Ice Bound, she relates a story of tunneling down to an older site 10 feet under the ice.
Good question. I think it was in that same Life in the Freezer documentary where they showed a corpse of a seal that looked like it had died that day, but was in fact well over a hundred years old. I don’t know how common it is, but corpses really do get deep frozen and survive a long time.
If I had to WAG, I’d point out that the penguins breed so far inland to make sure they’re still on land in midsummer when the ice retreats - in other words, in summer, their colonies are fairly close to water. Close enough, perhaps, that birds of prey, seals, and other scavengers can take care of the bodies. I seem to recall that that seal I mentioned was unusually far inland, but that’s a vague memory, and I could be wrong.
Why would it be impossible for them to love? They’re social animals, and love is a very simple emotion which has a big evolutionary benefit. (You take better care of offspring you love.) Perhaps they don’t display love/grief openly, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of it.
If you paid attention to the documentary, you would have seen that it established that the penguin breeding grounds is atop ice that melts in the summer (that’s how to babies get to the sea, or, rather, how the sea gets to them). Any frozen penguin carcasses would fall into the sea with the melting, where there is plenty to eat them.
I believe penguins have a layer of blubber under their skin, which, combined with their feathers, enables them to keep warm even in Antarctic winter and in the Antarctic seas. Swimming in the ocean is also a dangerous environment, thermally speaking.
That was a Giant Petrel rather than an albatross, but close enough.
As has been mentioned, there are scavengers such as Giant Petrels, Skuas, and Sheathbills that frequent penguin colonies and scarf up dead penguins, eggs, and just about anything else. While Emperor Penguins lay their eggs in winter, by the time the chicks are grown the area of the colony will be above freezing and any carcasses that remain will either fall into the sea (if on ice) or else be subject to bacterial decay.
I suspect that the seal carcass you saw was one that had wandered inland into the Antarctic Dry Valleys. These are areas free of ice and snow where animals that die become virtually mummified due to cold and lack of moisture.
Obviously penguins don’t have anywhere near the brain capacity that humans do, and therefore the qualia they experience is most likely going to be substantially different from what we experience. But surely the instinct for preservation operates by causing penguins to feel certain urges to do certain tasks (mating, feeding their young, etc.) and to feel pleasant emotions when they complete those tasks. Couldn’t that include something similar to what we think of as “love”?
When humans fall into frozen lakes, say in Wisconsin while ice fishing, and drown, they do not rot until spring brings the thaw.
When a human shoots another human being three times, once point-blank, and puts her still warm body into a standard 8.8 cubic foot chest freezer, covers it with a tarp, and places a box of Soya Burgers on top of the tarp, the body does not rot.
Said body takes three days to thaw out most of the way at 40 deg F, with innards still frozen. Autopsy is begun at 68 deg with the body in a preserved state. By the end of autopsy about 2 hours later, the body has begun to show greening of the abdomen, superficial skin slip, and other signs of early decomposition.
Basically, normal bodies (those inhabited by bacteria happy at living-body temperatures), once frozen, do not rot while in the frozen state. But once thawing occurs, decomposition is speeded up, and they rot faster than never-frozen bodies. I don’t know why this is except to hazard a WAG that the damage done to cell membranes by ice crystals speeds bacterial access.