Fly Like a Penguin, Volume 1, Chapter 10

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Hoping to find a way to his family going north, Hopper begins a migration with his new friends, but his plans and hopes are interrupted…

To read from the beginning, click here.

Chapter 10

 

Maggot and the Seal

 

Soon after coming to live with the Magellanic penguins, Hopper gained their respect, in spite of the initial ridicule. The only exception was Maggot, who continued to make fun of him whenever he could. When the others commented on Hopper’s great swimming and fishing ability, Maggot would say he must have had enough practice wandering around the ocean. If the others marveled at Hopper’s great agility on the rocky cliffs behind their burrows, Maggot would say he didn’t have any reason to fear falling, because if he did, those ridiculous yellow feathers on the side of his head would cushion the fall.

The day arrived for their migration to the north. Hopper was excited to be moving again with the possibility of heading home. He walked silently with Magellee and her parents while his mind raced with the thoughts of meeting his real parents and his relatives.

Thousands of Magellanic penguins and one Rockhopper dove into the sea and began porpoising in a generally northerly direction, eating breakfast as they went. They would be at sea for about four months. Their route would take them along the many coastal islands for about 400 miles. Then they would head out to sea to catch the northerly-flowing Peru Current, which would take them far to the north along the South American coast. Another advantage of heading farther out would be to avoid the many seals lurking among the islands.

So they continued for many days, swimming and eating. One morning as he swam next to Magadon, Hopper dove under for breakfast, and as he did he heard that eerie sound again. “What is that?” he wondered to himself.

When he resurfaced he noticed a grim look on Magadon’s face. He glanced around at the others and saw that no one was smiling, except a few young penguins. “These,” he thought, “are on their first sea journey, but the older ones know something.” Then he asked Magadon, “What’s the matter, sir?”

He replied, “In a few miles we’ll be able to head out to sea, but first we must pass by these islands where the seals seem to wait for us. Last year we lost many of our friends here. We’re hoping we can make it by here this year without being seen by the seals.”

On they went nervously for a few hours, hoping they wouldn’t be spotted. Then ahead on their right was an island where Magadon said the seals lived in great numbers. If they could get past that island they could then head out to sea and begin to catch the northbound current. If they headed out now they would be swimming against the current, which flowed to the east. Progress would be difficult and slow, and they would be much easier prey for the seals. Farther along they could get away from the effects of the eastbound current, but in those few miles they had to risk being spotted by the seals.

As Magadon was explaining these things, Maggot swam over to Hopper and said, “Hey there, Hop! I hope the little cliff-lover isn’t wishing he was back in the burrows, heh-heh.” After a few other similar remarks he swam off to the right.

Suddenly, of the corner of his eye Hopper saw out a round, brown shape appear near Maggot. Instantly he knew a seal was closing in on his persecutor. Now the seal had Maggot in his mouth and was diving under water.

Without much thinking Hopper dove under and swam in the direction of the seal. He saw Maggot struggling to free himself as the much larger and stronger seal was diving deeper. Hopper swam with all his might after them.

Deeper and deeper they went, but with a great effort Hopper was able to catch up and take the seal by surprise by biting his back left flipper with his strong beak. Not being used to this sort of attack by a penguin, the startled seal turned around to see the source of the pain in his flipper, and as he did so he let go of Maggot, who was badly shaken up and bruised, but not seriously hurt. He floated back up to the surface and then limped after the other fleeing penguins.

Hopper swam a quick ring around the seal, which caused the confused fellow to turn in circles. Hopper circled him again and then took off. When the seal stopped turning and realized what had happened—that he had been attacked and fooled by a penguin, and he would be the laughing stock of seals—he was furious. He swam after Hopper who by now had a good lead.

Hopper couldn’t out-swim his bigger foe for long. The seal was closing in. Hopper called out quick and silent, “Help!” Then up ahead he saw some kelp, a long tube-like plant that grows on the sea-bottom and grows up to the surface in thick patches. He swam desperately to reach it before the seal caught him.

The seal was not many feet behind him when Hopper entered into the kelp where he was able to hide from the seal who pushed himself madly through and around the plants, looking for the little penguin.

Hopper, finding himself concealed from the seal, swam to the surface to get some air and to look around. He could see no penguins. To the west was open sea. To the east in the distance was land, the South American continent. To the northeast not far away was an island. All around in the water he could see the round forms of seal heads. He could hear them arfing.

What should he do? It was a long way to land. To head out to sea was to swim against the current and to be easy prey for seals patrolling the area. His best plan, he decided, was to head for the island. They wouldn’t expect him to enter their territory. He figured he could swim under water, coming up for air only a few times. Then maybe they wouldn’t see him.

He didn’t know exactly where his pursuer was now. The problem with the kelp was that even though he was hidden, so was his enemy. He needed to head for shore without the seal’s knowing which way he was going, so the seal couldn’t warn his comrades.

He decided to wait until he knew where the seal was. He stayed motionless at the surface, looking periodically under water. Then not far from him a black whiskered nose poked out of the water, drawing in deep breaths. Hopper remained motionless, forming a plan in his mind.

Then he skimmed on top of the water to the outer edge of the kelp patch. When he saw that the seal spotted him, he dove under water. The seal was after him, swimming furiously.

Hopper darted back into the weeds, swam among them to the left and waited. Soon the seal dashed into the weeds at the same place Hopper had and proceeded straight ahead to the middle of the kelp patch.

When Hopper saw he wasn’t going to be seen he swam out of the kelp, all the way around the patch and headed for the island. He figured the seal would be looking for him in the weeds long enough for him to make it to shore unannounced.

In a few minutes, Hopper could see his plan had worked. He had eluded the seal in the kelp, but now as he poked his head out of the water about 10 yards from shore, he could see a whole colony of seals lounging on the beach.

It was a sandy beach with a few large rocks from which seals scanned the waters for potential victims. Beyond the sand was a good-sized rocky hill about 100 yards from the water. He counted about 40 adult seals and many pups. He watched the crowd for a few minutes to see what they were doing. The mothers were mostly preoccupied with watching the pups. Many of the others were sleeping, talking together, or looking out at the water.

He looked up, saying, “Help!” and then, “Well, here goes!” He swam slowly to shore and nonchalantly began waddling and hopping toward the hill. No big seals were near him where he landed, and none had spotted him. Some pups were playing not far away. He walked past them, but when they noticed him, he said, “Hi there, fellows. What are you playing?”

One youngster responded, “Hi. I’m See. These are my friends, Si and So. We’re playing Nosepush. The first one to push a kelp bulb with his nose from here to where the sandy beach becomes rocky up there toward the hill, wins. Do you want to play with us?”

Hopper looked quickly around. Apparently no adults had seen him yet. He answered, “That sounds like fun!”

“What’s your name?” asked See. Hopper told him his name and took his place between See and Si, who provided him with a kelp bulb.

“All right, go!” yelled So. The four began nosing their kelp up the beach toward the rocky part. Hopper did amazingly well for someone who had a beak instead of a seal nose, but he fell behind the others.

Up on a rock the pups’ mothers were talking about their pups and other seals. Si’s mother noticed the race going on and that Si was winning. “That a way, Si, Honey,” she called. Then she noticed Hopper following along. She asked the other mothers, “Who’s that little slow fellow there. He’s a strange-looking one.”

So’s mother said, “He looks a little deformed, doesn’t he?  Poor fellow. It’s nice of our boys to play with him.”

See’s mother, who had a little better eyesight, said, “I don’t believe that’s a seal, girls. I believe that’s a…a penguin, maybe a Rockhoppper penguin.”

Hopper finished the race and said, “Thanks for the good time, fellas. It was really kind of you to let me play.”

“Would you like to play some more?” they asked.

Hopper replied, “I’d love to, but I must keep going.” Off toward the hill he continued.

Soon he heard a lot of excitement among the seals on the rocks. He heard the word, “penguin,” spoken many times with great excitement. “Here they come,” he thought as he continued hopping as fast as he could toward the hill. All the adult seals were now after him.

One was coming out of the water behind him, yelling, “There you are, you little trickster! You’ll pay for taking a good meal from me! You’ll take its place as my meal!”

Hopper kept hopping toward the hill. The sound of the seals’ arfing was getting closer and closer. The hill was slowly getting closer. They were closing in from the sides with no seals in front of him. All he could do was go straight ahead toward the hill. Now as he approached it he could see it was actually a cliff about 50 feet high. He looked up at the cliff, and then turned around to see the seals. The whole crowd of them had him surrounded on three sides, now 15 yards away.

The seal from whom he had escaped yelled at him, “I guess you’re not tricky enough! We’ve got you now!”

The seals closed in on him, closer and closer. Suddenly a little seal voice was louder than the rest, “Daddy, daddy, what is everybody doing to my friend, Hopper?”

Hopper’s foe answered, “See, my boy, don’t you know what this Hopper is? He’s a penguin! We don’t have penguins for friends. We eat them!”

“But Daddy, he played with us!”

This discussion created a diversion for Hopper to quickly examine the cliff, find a route up, and begin hopping his ascent. The seals were shouting, “Hey, look at that! Hey penguin, you can’t do that!” They rushed at him and lunged up at him. One narrowly missed grabbing him, but he had just gotten above his reach.

Up and up he hopped with angry arfs sounding farther and farther below him. Finally he was at the top of the cliff. He looked down at the angry mob. “No hard feelings, I hope!” he called down.

The little voice called up to him, “Goodbye, Hopper!”

Hopper called down, “Goodbye, See! Goodbye, Si and So! Thanks for the nice game!” Then he hopped out of sight toward the other side of the island.

Now that he was out of danger, he realized how tired he was, and he remembered all that had happened that day. He was separated from his friends and had narrowly escaped with his life. He missed Magellee, Magadon, and Magdalena and wondered if he could catch up with them. He wanted to keep going to find them, but he knew he couldn’t go any farther today.

Lying down near the top of the cliff, he could hear the seals below talking about him. “So you let one get away, ay Seep? That little runt sure pulled one over on you, heh-heh.”

Seep answered furiously, “You better watch your tongue, and that goes for the rest of you sorry group of seals! You let him walk right past you, playing with our pups! Well, we’ll get him! You in with me on this? That penguin won’t get off this island! He’ll be heading for the northern side. We’ll be waiting for him there!”

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