Are you curious about penguins? We are! We collaborated with our kids to do some research into penguins around the world. You can learn about what makes our penguins so remarkable. You will also discover why penguins are vulnerable to climate change, oil spills and more.
Penguins are native to the Southern Hemisphere. They live in Oceania, South Africa, South America and Antarctica. Large penguin populations are found in Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.
Penguins live on islands and coasts near oceans where food is plentiful. Penguins spend around half their time in water and the other half on land. Different species thrive in varying climates, from Galapagos Penguins who live on tropical islands near the equator to Emperor and Adelie Penguins who live on the ice in Antarctica.
Penguins are adapted to living at sea. Penguins have good underwater vision and can drink sea water! Some species of penguins spend months at a time at sea.
Although penguins are birds, they cannot fly in the air. Penguins are clumsy on land, but they are graceful in the water. Penguins use their strong flippers like wings to fly underwater. They use their tails and webbed feet to turn and break.
There are 18 unique species of penguins! All penguins are birds that are adapted for life at sea. Instead of wings, penguins have flippers that are perfect for swimming. Penguins have streamlined bodies, webbed feet and short tails so they can go fast in water!
While most penguins have black and white feathers, each species has unique markings. The Little Blue Penguin has slate blue feathers with a white chin. The Macaroni and Rockhopper Penguins have orange or yellow feather crests on the sides of the head.
The Emperor Penguin is the tallest of all penguin species and can be up to 4 feet tall and weighs 80 pounds. The smallest penguin species is the Little Blue Penguin and is only 15 inches tall weighs 2 pounds. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can swim up to 22 mph!
Penguino is a Humboldt Penguin. Humboldt Penguins live on islands off Western South America and along the coasts of Peru and Chile. Humboldt Penguins are typically about 2 feet tall and they weigh about 9 pounds. They love to eat small fish, such as herring, smelt and anchovies. Humboldt Penguins are classified as a vulnerable species.
Scientists believe penguins have evolved over millions of years. The oldest penguin fossil is nearly 60 million years old. This means penguins could have lived at the same time as dinosaurs. The largest penguin fossil ever found was similar in size to a grown up man!
White feathers on the abdomen and flippers help to camouflage a penguin against the lighter sky when viewed from below. Black or grey feathers on the head and back help to camouflage the penguin against dark waters from above. This makes it harder for both predators and prey to spot penguins.
Most penguins live in cold climates. Penguins are uniquely adapted to stay warm in cold weather and water. Penguin feathers are waterproof. Each feather has a tiny muscle that holds the feather tight against the body when the penguin swims. When on land, the feathers trap a thick layer of warm air around the penguin to provide insulation against cold wind.
Emperor Penguins live in Antarctica. They huddle together to say warm in the extremely cold weather.
Penguin chicks start out as eggs. When baby chicks hatch, penguin parents – both male and female – take turns caring for their young. Baby penguins have different plumage than adults. Chicks relay on adult penguins to keep them warm. Baby penguins stay with their parents for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.
Penguins eat fish, crustaceans and squid. Penguins hunt for food in the sea. Penguins dive underwater to find prey and they swallow it whole. All penguins can dive at least 100m below the surface of the water. Some bigger penguins, such as King Penguins, can dive as much as 500m underwater.
Penguins can hold their breath for a long time. The Emperor Penguin can stay underwater for as long as 20 minutes!
Penguins are vulnerable to changes in the environment caused pollution, overfishing and global warming. Several species of penguins, including the African and the Galapagos, are endangered and face a high risk of extinction. Many other species of penguins, including the Humboldt, are vulnerable and likely to become endangered in the near future.
Global warming is responsible for the melting of sea ice and glaciers, the rise in the level of oceans, changing sea currents and the decline in some of the food sources of penguins.
Climate change is a growing concern for penguins that live in Antarctica – Emperor and Adelie. These penguins depend on sea ice for access to food and nesting. As sea ice is disappearing, so are the penguins.
The melting of sea ice is affecting krill, a shrimplike crustacean found in abundance in Antarctic waters. Krill is food for penguins, seals, whales, squid and fish. Krill graze on the algae that grows underneath icebergs. As the ice melt, there will be less krill – which means less food for penguins.
Global warming is also changing ocean currents. Penguins who live in Africa, Oceania and South America depend on cool ocean currents that bring abundant fish to penguins’ habitat. As a result of global warming, the fish-rich currents are moving away from the coast. Penguins have to swim longer and farther off shore in search of food.
More than 75% of the earth is covered by oceans. Oceans are filled with life and millions of people worldwide depend on the oceans to earn an income and feed their families. All of this is endangered because of unsustainable fishing. People are taking far more fish and seafood – around 70 million tons per year – out of the ocean than can be replaced.
Penguins around the world need to eat about 25 million tons of fish, squid and crustaceans every year – but this seafood is being harvested for human consumption at an unsustainable rate.
When there is too much fishing close to penguin habitats, the penguins struggle to find food. Penguins are particularly sensitive to this during breeding season. When penguin parents have chicks, they need plentiful food near their nests. Otherwise the parents will struggle to feed their chicks.
Adult penguins will travel long distances to find the cool sea currents that full of fish. When the penguins reach the fishing grounds, there are far fewer fish to found as a result of overfishing.
The ocean can be contaminated by both visible and invisible pollution. Visible pollution includes ocean trash. Most trash in the ocean is plastic. While some ocean trash comes from ships, most of it washes out to sea from when people dispose of it on the beach or near rivers that lead to the ocean. Penguins and other sea creatures may eat or get caught in this trash.
Invisible pollution includes dangerous chemicals, such as pesticides. When penguins swim in contaminated water, they ingest these chemicals. The chemicals can make the penguins sick or make it hard for them to reproduce.
Oil pollution is a constant danger to penguins. Penguin populations in South America and Africa have been devastated by oil pollution coming from both ships discharging oil and accidents.
Penguins are very sensitive to marine oil pollution. Because penguins do not fly and they have to surface regularly to breathe, they are unable to avoid being coated by oil when it is in the water where they are swimming.
When penguins get oil on their feathers, the oil decreases the insulating and waterproofing properties of the feathers. As a result, penguins may freeze to death in cold weather and water. If a penguin covered in oil tries to groom itself, the oil with enter its body and damage its internal organs.
Are you wondering how you can help Penguins? When we learned more about why penguins are vulnerable, we decided we needed to learn how to help! Head to our next blog post to read 8 simple things every family can do to make a difference for penguins around the world.