Penguins are awesome, right? As we celebrate #PenguinWeek at the Two Oceans Aquarium, and World Penguin Day throughout the world, take the time to learn about these wonderful animals with our favourite facts. There's more to adorable, yet endangered penguins than meets the eye...
Where do penguins live?
From the ice-sheets of Antarctica to the shores of the Atacama Desert of South America and the tropical islands of the Galapagos, penguins have adapted to life in all the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere.
Penguins are excellent parents. Males and females share the responsibilities of incubating their eggs and feeding their chicks. When the chicks are old enough, they form crèches, with a few adults always standing guard.
A panoply of penguins
Most taxonomists agree that there are between 16 and 19 species of penguin divided into 6 families: Banded penguins, crested penguins, great penguins, brush-tailed penguins, little-diver penguins and large-diver penguins.
The oldest penguin fossil found is 62 million years old - its ancestors may have waddled beside the dinosaurs. Some ancient penguins grew larger than humans, and some had red camouflage.
Why the tuxedo?
Penguin’s black and white plumage helps them with thermoregulation and can be used as armour against abrasive winds. It also serves as countershading camouflage. This allows them to coordinate movements when hunting in a group.
Penguins rely on their feathers for warmth and waterproofing. Once a year, a penguin will eat a lot to stock up on body fat. It will then spend up to three weeks on land losing all its feathers and growing new ones.
Most penguin species eat a combination of fish, squid and krill. Overfishing and climate change are forcing penguins to swim further to find food, leading to starvation and chick abandonment.
Mates for life?
Most penguin species are monogamous, with females choosing the same male every season. Penguin couples will only “break up” if one mate fails to return to the colony at the beginning of the breeding season.
Penguins are in trouble
Most penguin species are declining in numbers and most are vulnerable to extinction. For example, in the past 100 years, the African penguin population has declined from millions, to just 21 000 breeding pairs.
Pollution, food scarcity, human settlements, melting ice sheets and rising sea levels are all affecting penguin colonies. Penguins are able to form new colonies, but changes as a result of human activity are happening too quickly for them to recover.
You can help:
Choose WWF SASSI Green seafood:
Sardines and anchovies are the seafood choice of African penguins. Overfishing of sardines and anchovies is contributing to the number one threat facing penguins: food scarcity. You can help by downloading the WWF SASSI app and eating only sustainable seafood options that are Green listed.
Incredible local organisations like SANCCOB and APSS help save the lives of hundreds of African penguins that are affected by disasters such as oil spills, avian diseases and entanglement. By supporting these organisations you help give penguins a second chance.
Fight climate change:
Human-caused climate change is affecting the movements of the fish that African penguins eat. This means that adults have to abandon their chicks and swim greater distances in search of food. Contribute to the fight against climate change by using less electricity at home, changing to a plant-based diet, recycling your waste, and driving and flying less– the penguins need your help.
BirdLife South Africa has a plan to relocate penguins from the Atlantic Ocean where food is increasingly scarce as a result of overfishing and changing ocean temperatures. BirdLife plans to create new penguin colonies in the Indian Ocean, where food is more plentiful and there are safer breeding sites away from potential predators. You can help BirdLife SA save penguins by making a donation.