1. The Galápagos penguin is the only penguin species found north of the equator and in the Galápagos. They are also the rarest species of penguins with fewer than just 2,000 left on Earth today. The Galápagos penguin is currently listed as an endangered species meaning that they are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. This penguin species is threatened by pollution, bycatch, and climate change. Introduced species, such as dogs, carry diseases that can spread to penguins as well, and cats pose a threat as predators. Past strong El Niño events have caused mortalities of up to 77 percent, with dramatic declines of prey species and reduced breeding success. The increasing risk of climate change has already proved fatal for this species, especially as population numbers are dwindling. You can see Galápagos penguins in their natural habitat on the Classic Galapagos: The Natural Habitat Experience
  2. Despite penguins being in the bird family, they are unique in that they are unable to fly. They have flippers instead of wings that allow them to waddle, swim, and slide, rather than be airborne. In the water, they are expert swimmers and divers, and some species can reach speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. Even though they don’t fly, you may see them launching themselves in the air at an impressive speed, appearing as though they are flying. This typically happens when they are escaping predators or cutting down their commute time up an icy hill. The penguin’s distinctive coloring—black body with white belly—helps camouflage the bird in the water as it searches for meals of small shrimp, fish, crabs, and squid. This type of camouflage is known as countershading, which helps penguins stay hidden from their predators. When seen from below, penguins’ white belly’s better blends in with light-filled surface waters and from above, their black back helps them camouflage with the dark of the deep ocean.
Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) jumping up, Antarctic Peninsula, January 2018.

An Adélie penguin jumping up in the Antarctic Peninsula. © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

  1. Commercial fishing in the Southern Ocean region can force many penguin species to compete for the fish they eat. With people seeking the same food sources as penguins, there is an increased risk of penguins not being sufficiently nourished. The practice of commercial fishing may also lead to accidental capture of penguins and cause them to drown in the fishing nets, further risks the already scarce penguin populations. This practice is also known as “bycatch” meaning that commercial fishermen catch marine animal species unintentionally.
  2. In the natural world, the concept of monogamy in sexual partners remains largely with birds rather than mammals. Among the most monogamous birds are penguins, cranes, pigeons, parrots, swans, geese, doves, and albatrosses. With penguins, the male breeds only with one female during a mating season. However, it is common to find that some female penguins may have one to three partners in one season and some males may have one or two partners during that same period. Most penguin species have an annual breeding season from spring through summer and can range anywhere from 50 days to 14-16 months depending on the species.
  3. The chinstrap penguin got their name because of the narrow black band under their heads connecting to a large black area on top of their heads. This gives off the appearance as though they are wearing a chinstrap and helmet that you might see players wearing in your typical football or hockey game.
Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus) on the Antarctic peninsula in Antarctica

A chinstrap penguin on the Antarctic peninsula. © Mathieu Simon

  1. Climate change is not just a concern for the Galápagos penguin species, but it is having negative consequences for species living in Antarctica as well, specifically the emperor penguin and the Adélie penguin. These species depend on sea ice for access to food and for places to breed. But the sea ice has been disappearing, and penguin populations along with it. A 2008 WWF study estimated that 50 percent of the emperor penguins and 75 percent of the Adélie penguins will likely decline or disappear if global average temperatures rise above pre-industrial levels by just about 3.6°F—a scenario that could be reached in less than 40 years. Sea cover has reduced by over 60 percent in some parts of Antarctica over the past 30 years which has threatened one of the Adélie penguin’s main food sources, krill. With a decline of krill in some areas and warmer temperatures causing differing penguin hatching times, a lack of food sources can be devastating for Adélie penguin populations.
  2. The typical lifespan for a penguin is 15-20 years, varying based on the species. A large exception to this is during the first year of a penguin’s life. There is a much higher risk of death within the first couple of months due to the potential scarcity of food and increased threats. About 50 percent of king penguin chicks will not survive due to winter starvation and the emperor penguin chicks may experience a 90 percent mortality within the first year of life.
  3. The southern rockhopper penguin weighs less than 10 pounds! They can be found on islands such as Heard Island, the McDonald Islands, and Macquarie Island, all located between Madagascar, Australia, and Antarctica. They were named for their distinctive hopping movements over the rocky hills and cliffs where they live and breed. In the last 30 years, it is estimated that the population of rockhoppers has fallen by nearly 25 percent—and now climate change could place them at even greater risk. The southern rockhopper species is considered to be “vulnerable” meaning that they are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild however, they have yet to reach “endangered” status.
  4. Growing to four feet tall and known as the giant of the penguins, emperor penguins live on the floating ice packs and islands of Antarctica. Their scientific name, aptenodytes forsteri, means “featherless diver” and was coined by a naturalist and colleague of Captain Cook in the 18th century who was one of the first to describe penguins. This penguin species is also known to dive deeper and stay underwater much longer than other penguin species. Emperor penguins are inherent nurturers and when breeding season comes around, male emperor penguins protect and keep the eggs warm for nearly five months, as extreme cold temperatures put eggs and hatchlings at risk of survival.
  1. Penguins likely could not exist if carnivores such as polar bears, arctic foxes, or arctic wolves were present. Penguins primarily eat krill, squids, and fish; however, this varies across the different species and where they are located. The smaller penguin species of the Antarctic and the subantarctic primarily feed on krill and squids. Species found farther north and, on the islands, tend to eat fish. However, there is reduced competition among species because the larger species of penguins tend to eat larger krill and squids while smaller penguin species can live off an abbreviated diet of small krill and squids. For example, in Antarctica, Adélie penguins feed primarily on small krill, while chinstraps forage for large krill. Would you be able to identify what penguin species it is by their diet? Get a chance to test your knowledge and see penguins firsthand on the Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent Natural Habitat Adventures trip.

You can support penguin populations by symbolically adopting a penguin through World Wildlife Fund. This adoption will help to save some of the world’s most endangered animals from extinction and allow you to support WWF’s conservation efforts across the globe. You have the opportunity to select any penguin species of your choosing including the African Black-Footed Penguin, the Chinstrap Penguin, the Macaroni Penguin Chick, and many more.