SOME STORIES, it's been said, tell us more about Penguins than we want to know. But last Thursday a dispatch in this paper told us less . The story, from the Associated Press in London, reported that "an iceberg 36 times the size of Bermuda" is "drifting slowly in the South Atlantic from the Antarctic toward the coast of Africa" - with a number of penguins aboard.
There is something grand about the image of a gigantic iceberg, 32 miles by 24 miles in bulk, ambling through the Atlantic on an unprogrammed path. Lest you worry about threats to shipping, the AP said that British scientists and the defense ministry have been watching the berg by satellite and believe it is likely to break up harmlessly "when it hits warmer waters."
Which raises the crucial question AP ignored: When the iceberg breaks up, what happens to its passengers? It's not clear how many penguins are afloat; the AP cited only a third-hand report that the iceberg "is covered with penguins." But even if there should only be a couple of these wonderful creatures present, we would not like to think they are going to be stuck as the climate gets warmer and the iceberg dwindles . . . Is a rescue mission in order?
According to experts we hastily consulted, there's no need to worry. Although penguins can't fly, they are excellent long-distance swimmers, it seems. Dr. William Sladen of Johns Hopkins University, who has been to the Antarctic 11 times, supposed that this party of penguins is probably "having a good time there and would jump off" whenever the novelty fades. Dr. Stors Olson, an ornithologist at the Smithsonian, offered a slightly less cheery view. As the penguins get farther asea and have more trouble finding the fish they prefer, "they're going to get discouraged," he said. But he hastened to add that eventually they would "just go back home."
We thought you would want to know.