When Australian explorer Eddie Gault mistakenly left his video camera out on a glacier, he didn’t expect a pair of penguins to get to it first—let alone start taking selfies.
Gault, a polar explorer for the Antarctic Australian Division, had been traveling near the Auster rookery, a penguin colony near Antarctica’s Mawson Research Station. It was a routine trip, but he left his camera out on the ice by accident. Before he could return to retrieve it, the penguins got to it first.
“It didn’t take long for the naturally curious birds to seize the opportunity for a selfie,” the Antarctic Australian Division wrote when they posted the video to their Facebook page in 2018.
In the footage, an emperor penguin walks up to the camera, kicks it to angle the lens upward, and then spends the next few seconds inspecting the device. Before long, another penguin walks up to get in on the action. The two spend the next 38 seconds turning their beaks this way and that and shaking their heads at the camera.
The video soon went viral. It’s now been “liked” almost 40,000 times, and has been reposted by BBC, The Guardian, National Geographic and others.
Emperor penguins aren’t the only animals known to take selfies. Just last year, a black bear made international headlines by taking 400 photos of itself with a trail cam in Boulder, Colorado. Bear cubs in the Pacific Northwest sometimes try to climb atop camera equipment. Macaques, Gentoo penguins, and other birds have also been known to photobomb scientists’ trail footage.
The Auster rookery is one of only about 60 emperor penguin colonies on mainland Antarctica, though scientists are using satellite technology to find more every year. The birds are critically endangered due to climate change, but videos like this give us hope that they’re clever enough—and curious enough—to find ways to adapt.