It's #PenguinWeek at the Two Oceans Aquarium from 23 to 29 April, and we're celebrating penguins (more than usual)! Click here to find out what we've got in store, and how you can win a Penguin Experience for two.
Penguins are special animals, a living contradiction - waddling awkwardly across the land, but gliding gracefully through the water. These bundles of charisma are even more amazing than you may have realised! Here are 10 more things penguins can do better than humans - we hope that this list will encourage you to cherish these endangered seabirds a little bit more this Penguin Week.
11. Losing weight
Emperor penguins breed on the Antarctic ice during the heart of the South Pole winter. Male emperor penguins can spend more than 120 days incubating their egg, giving the females a chance to return to the ocean to fatten up so that they can help with chick rearing. During these four months, males lose over 40% of their body mass, but they can't give up, they need to keep their egg above 30°C, while outside temperatures drop to -35°C. If they leave, the egg will freeze, so the male just waits for the female to return many months later.
This weight loss doesn't just happen in Antarctic species, even African penguins, who share the burden of incubating the egg, lose up to half of their body weight when moulting - a 20-day period where all their feathers are replaced and they lose the ability to swim or hunt.
12. Hide and seek
In 2014 a study began to try to tally the numbers of Adelie penguins in the wild - they had been on a rapid decline. To do this, a special satellite was used that could see the reflective signal of bird poop. What did they find?
For almost the entire human history, a supercolony of Adelie penguins - more than 1.5 million birds, stayed undetected on the Danger Islands. That's more Adelie penguins than the rest of the world combined.
Penguins are famous for the fact that they mate for life... but sadly this isn't entirely accurate. Many penguin species do not have a permanent colony, and males and females will separate and only reunite again during the next breeding season. During this time a lot can go wrong, one of the mates could die or be unable to return to the colony, there may not be enough nesting sites and the couple will be unable to breed unless they form new partnerships with penguins that control nests or, most sadly, one of the partners might arrive at the colony late, leaving the other to assume they had died and thus move on. This does lead to some cases of penguin homewrecking (do not follow the link if you are squeamish or with children).
In most cases, after a brief tussle with the "homewrecker", the odd-partner-out is allowed to choose which partner to stay with, and the jilted lover will just move on with life. No hard feelings.
In case you were wondering, some studies have identified that depending on the species, the "divorce rate" for penguin couples is 18-35%. Some species, particularly African penguins, have almost no divorce rate - mates will wait a very long time for another to return, and about 80% of couples remain together each year (usually only separated by death). The record for staying together belongs to a pair of Magellanic penguins who have been together for 16 years, returning to each other after more than 300 000km of solo travelling.
14. Penguins don't fart or add to global warming
It is a well-known fact that humans fart. Every day, humans release a combined total of 1000 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 73 tons of methane gas into the atmosphere because of farts. Human farts thus produce the same Greenhouse effect as a quarter of a million average cars a year.
Penguins, on the other hand, don't fart. They don't eat high-fibre diets like humans do, and thus have totally different bacteria in their guts - ones that do not produce gas. In fact, if you hear a penguin fart, there is something very, very wrong with the little guy.
15. Staying upright in the wind
While penguins may not fart, they do know a thing or two about winds. We all know what happens when winds reach 75km/h in Cape Town...
And at 100km/h, even our technology starts failing us...
But, the emperor penguins of Antarctica regularly endure the worst weather on Earth - gusts of over 200km/h. How do they survive this? Through incredible teamwork, but we'll let Sir David Attenborough tell you more about that:
16. Banting/Keto Dieting
In recent years, Tim Noakes helped to revive the 150-year-old Harvey Banting diet. Banting (although controversial) is a simple diet to follow - high fat, medium protein, low carbs. Some of the foods that banters usually eliminate from their diets are sugars, grains and fruit.
Penguins hate fruit, so no issue there, but the rest of their diets are pretty great too. The favourite food of various penguin species differs, but most penguins eat krill (30% fat, 70% protein), squid (20% fat, 80% protein) and/or sardines (50% fat, 50% protein). We are sure all the banters and keto dieters would be envious of how easy penguins make it look!
17. Being brave
Penguins might not be able to fly, but they know how to make a leap of faith...
Sometimes that means taking on another penguin that is bigger than you...
Even if you must stand alone...
On a serious note though, penguins face waters teeming with predators far bigger than them - seals, sharks and orcas - every day when they are hunting. They swim into major shipping lanes and brave manmade machines to try to feed their families. When they become lost, they can swim thousands of kilometres to find safety - as some of the rockhoppers at the Aquarium prove.
18. Dad bods are sexier (and makes penguins honest)
There's a reason that a female penguin listens closely to the calls of single males when choosing a mate - the male's birdsong gives away how much body fat he has. And those penguin bachelorettes just love chubby penguin bachelors.
Why would a pudgy male be a better dad? Being chubby is a sign that a penguin is a proficient hunter and can fend for himself more capably than a skinny one. A chunky male would also be able to incubate eggs for longer, as he could use his fat reserves and have to leave the nest less often to find food.
Skinny male Adelie penguins have been found to "fake fat". Because females are unable to judge a male's body fat from sight alone (they are just too fluffy), some skinny males can fake it by changing their song. But, because females are always on the lookout for honest mates, they notice the ones whose voices don't change as they "lose weight" during the mating season - those are the fakers.
19. Making a splash
Another type of jumping, called a porpoise, is when an animal launches itself out of the water without pushing off the ground. Can humans do this? We asked Reddit if the world's fasted swimmer, Michael Phelps, would be able to pull this off. Reddit user u/Ceysir came to the rescue and did the math for us and the results were amazing - if Phelps swam at his top speed, straight up, with no friction, he would be able to leap a whopping.... 40cm out of the water. Yes, Phelps' highest leap would be no more than nipple height.
Penguins don't have nipples, so they aren't limited in the same way Phelps is.
20. Not taking other people's poop
So, what do you think happens if tens of thousands of penguins, who eat lots of yummy fish, keep going to the same little island or bit of coast to nest every single year, for hundreds of years? As the Adelie penguins in point 12 highlighted, they poop everywhere. EVERYWHERE!
Before you judge penguins for being gross - remember that one of the reasons African penguins are going extinct is because humans went to their islands and stole all their poo. No jokes, their nutrient-rich "guano" was in high demand before chemical fertilisers were invented for farmers.
Without this knee-deep guano, built up over centuries, African penguins cannot dig burrows for their nests and are forced to lay their eggs out in the open, where they are at risk of predation, parasites, cold, heat, blowing away, being flooded, being stepped on, etc. You get the point - poop is important for penguins and we stole it. Luckily, great organisations, like APSS, are working tirelessly to create artificial burrows for these penguins to nest in.
Something we can be better at: Making a difference
With penguin numbers declining across the world, it is vital that we all do our part to save these bundles of joy - and that means improving the health of our ocean. Here are a few ways you can make a difference during Penguin Week, and beyond:
- Support SANCCOB or the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) – amazing organisations doing great work to save our wild penguins.
- Have a Penguin Experience at the Two Oceans Aquarium, and part of your fee will go towards seabird conservation.
- Become a Penguin Protector and minimise your impact on the ocean. Here are a few simple examples of things you can do:
- Separate household garbage for easy recycling
- Make EcoBricks from your non-recyclables
- Buy local rather than carbon-heavy imported goods
- Say “no” to single-use plastic drinking straws and shopping bags
- Eat less meat
- Do not litter, and to pick up litter where you see it
- Use the WWF SASSI App to choose only sustainable seafood
Ok, and arguably humans also look better while doing kung fu.