Penguin Awareness Day — January 20th

There are 17 species of penguins in the world and all but three species are considered endangered or threatened1.

Penguins are flightless birds with wing adaptations suitable for swimming.  Their characteristic tuxedo-clad appearance (countershading) enables them to blend into their environment to reduce detection by both predator and prey.  Seen from above, their dark back resembles the ocean waters, while from below their white belly blends with the brightness of the sky, ice or snow.

While all species are instantly identifiable as penguins, each species is also uniquely different, feeding on different prey and occupying different coasts in different regions of the Southern Hemisphere each with different climates.  Their habitat ranges from Antarctica to the Galapagos Islands, which lie at the equator.

PenguinDistributionMap3

Penguins feed exclusively at sea and breed, incubate their chicks and moult exclusively on land.  On land they have few or no predators, except in regions with human-introduced mammal predators.  By breeding in colonies and in synchrony, penguins minimize predation on eggs and younger chicks.  At sea, penguins are preyed upon by Leopard Seals, Sea Lions and Orca (Killer Whales).  Their keen underwater eyesight and fast swimming speeds offer defense from these predators.

Not surprisingly the greatest threat to penguins is humans.  While the once common practice of slaughtering penguins for lamp oil has long since ended, many new perils now exist2,3,4.

Petroleum has devastating consequences, not just from oil spills but also from petroleum pollution released in ballast water that can coat penguin feathers.  Penguins commonly porpoise as they swim (periodically leaping above the surface) and can easily accumulate surface petroleum on their feathers reducing their insulation from the cold.

Commercial fishing practices compete with the food supply of penguin populations.  In some regions, commercial fisheries remove 3-4 times as much food as the entire world population of penguins does, this despite penguins being the major avian predators of the southern oceans.

Destruction of penguin habitat is also a concern.  Human destruction may be from costal development, disturbance of rookeries, harvesting of eggs, or simply removal of guano deposits.  Global climate change also threatens the common habitats of penguins.

What about tourism?
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) is an organization that promotes environmentally responsible private-sector travel to Antarctica and is dedicated to develop, advance and advocate for environmentally responsible travel in the region5Polar Cruises is an Associate B2 Member of IAATO and fully committed to preserving and protecting the natural environment and the habitats of wildlife.

If you are interested in experienceing penguins in their natural habitat, we can help.  Visit our Antarctic travel page and contact us to find the trip that best fits your interests, schedule, travel style and budget.

 

Species

IUCN Red List

Breeding Range

World Population (breeding pairs)

Blog_Erect-crestedPenguin

Erect-crested

Endangered

Antipodes, Bounty, Auckland and Campbell Islands

170,000

Blog_GalapogosPenguin

Galapagos

Endangered

Galapagos Islands

1,000

Blog_AfricanPenguin

African (Jackass)

Endangered

Namibia and South Africa

70,000

Blog_YellowEyedPenguin

Yellow-eyed

Endangered

New Zealand

1,500

Blog_RockhopperPenguin

Rockhopper

  

Northern=End.

 Tristan de Cunha, Gough, St Paul and Amsterdam Islands 350,000

Southern=Vul.

 Falkland Islands, Argentina and Chile 650,000

Eastern=L.C.

 Marion, Prince Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, MacDonald, Macquarie, Campbell, Antipodes and Auckland Islands 800,000

Blog_FiordlandPenguin

Fiordland

Vulnerable

New Zealand

3,000

Blog_MacaroniPenguin

Macaroni

Vulnerable

South Georgia, South Sandwich, South Orkneys, South Shetlands, Bouvet, Prince Edward, Marion, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, Falklands, Chile, Argentina and Antarctic Peninsula.

9,000,000

Blog_HumboldtPenguin

Humboldt (Peruvian)

Vulnerable

Northern Chile & Peru

12,000

Blog_RoyalPenguin

Royal

Vulnerable

Macquarie Island

850,000

Blog_SnaresPenguin.png

Snares

Vulnerable

Snares Islands, New Zealand

30,000

Blog_AdeliePenguin

Adelie

Near Threatened

Antarctica, South Shetlands, South Orkneys, Bouvet, Balleny and Peter Island

2,500,000

Blog_EmperorPenguin

Emperor

Near Threatened

Antarctica

220,000

 Blog_GentooPenguin

Gentoo

Near Threatened

Subantarctic islands and Antarctic Peninsula

320,000

Blog_MagellanicPenguin

Magellanic

Near Threatened

Chile, Argentina and Falkland Islands

1,800,000

Blog_ChinstrapPenguin

Chinstrap

Least Concern

South Sandwich Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkneys, South Shetlands, South Georgia, Bouvet, Balleny and Peter Island

7,500,000

Blog_KinkPenguin2

King

Least Concern

Marion, Prince Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, Macquarie, South Georgia and Falkland Islands

2,000,000

Blog_LittlePenguin

Little (Blue)

Least Concern

Australia and New Zealand

500,000

Resources:

  1. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
  2. International Penguin Conservation Work Group
  3. Pew Marine Fellows, Ocean Science Division
  4. Environmental Defense Fund
  5. International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators
  6. Map of Southern Hemisphere from Wikimedia Commons
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