The two king penguins on the pebbled beach at Macquarie Island were obviously courting. As penguins do, they assumed poses in which they mirrored each other.
These poses are stunning and moving to watch. One of the pair will, say, lift its head point to the sky, and hold the pose. The other will do the same, mirroring its partner. After a minute or two, they will break and move to another pose. It is ritualized behavior. Frans de Waal, a well-known primatologist, calls such mirroring in animals the biological origins of empathy.
My wife Susan and I watched the king penguin pair show each other a startling tenderness and intimacy. Then they did something we had not seen before. They began to walk down the beach, stopping occasionally to pose again. What was so moving to us was that they walked flipper to flipper. They were like human lovers on a romantic stroll, holding hands. This was not accidental. They resumed holding hands after each pose, making sure their flippers touched.
The photo I took of this pair reveals a body language that is eloquent. The suggestion of an emotional bond is inescapable.
- - From my new book Every Penguin in the World, coming out April 14.
Available for pre-order now on Amazon