Compared to the ragged-tooth sharks of our Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Exhibit, it's easy to forget that beneath their cute, lovable exteriors, penguins are competent carnivores, and although they are not truly the top of the food chain, they come pretty close! Let's look at their hunting tactics:
African penguins forage in groups, bunching schools of fish together at the surface into a "bait ball" that they can then sweep through to catch prey. Their contrasting colours confuse the fish, and allow the penguins to coordinate their strikes.
Some penguins go a step further and can actually communicate using sounds underwater. Studies carried out by Nelson Mandela University revealed that king, gentoo and Macaroni penguins all vocalise underwater.
Taking every opportunity
Penguins always aim to catch the most calorie-rich food available. But, they will take an inferior snack if it is easy to catch. For example, little penguins that dive unsuccessfully to catch krill will prey on jellyfish on their way back up to the surface.
Stealing from other birds
Small penguins have an easy tactic for finding fish - watch the skies and see where the flying seabirds are gathering. This is a common trick used by our local African penguins, which follow storm petrels, Cape cormorants and terns if possible. But some penguins take a little more advantage than that: Gentoo penguins have been observed stealing caught fish from each other.
Penguins are fast - often faster than the fish they prey on. Gentoo penguins are the record holders, reaching maximum speeds of 40km/h and Adélie penguins have one of the fastest strikes and are able to catch two krill a second!
Attacks from the deep
Emperor penguins are the deepest and longest divers of all seabirds, able to reach depths of over half a kilometre or 25 minutes. If they can't find prey, they strike from below instead, using their countershading camouflage to get close and trap small fish beneath the ice.
Follow the March of the penguin:
If you missed the QR code tour during your Two Oceans Aquarium visit and would like to catch up on the extra penguin information that was shared, you can do so here:
- What do penguins eat?
- African penguin colonies
- Microscopic threats to penguins: Parasites
- The bioaccumulation problem
- How to speak the penguin language
- How do we prepare food for the penguins?
- Penguins of Marion Island: The "other" African penguins
- Why do rockhopper penguins have crests?
- Biodiversity and penguins
- Penguins are predators too: How penguins hunt