The African penguin might be the only penguin on the African continent, but they are not the only penguins in South Africa.
That is because South Africa also includes the Prince Edward Islands, technically a part of the Western Cape, although being almost 2 000km away from Cape Town. These islands, which include the better-known Marion Island, are home to South Africa’s “other” penguins. Let’s meet them:
Macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) are the most abundant penguin species in the world, with almost 24 million penguins in 260 colonies spanning South America, Australia, Antarctica and Marion Island - more than all other penguins combined. They inhabit the rocky cliffs of Marion Island and forage for tiny shrimp-like animals called krill. They are slightly larger than the related rockhopper penguins.
King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are the second-largest penguin species and the second most common on Marion Island. They do not have permanent colonies - instead, they spend most of their lives at sea, journeying up to 1 600km away in pursuit of lanternfish and squid. These penguins are stunningly beautiful, but their fuzzy brown chicks may just be the ugly ducklings of all penguins.
Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) are the rarest penguin residents of Marion island, with only a few hundred pairs calling the island their permanent home, nesting at many small protected bays and beaches on the island’s eastern side. They feed on a mix of large shrimp and rockcod, but are very opportunistic! Recent evidence suggests that these Gentoos may in fact be their own species!
Eastern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes filholi) are very closely related to southern rockhoppers - in fact, they can only be differentiated by their DNA and their unique birdsongs. They only come to Marion Island to mate and raise their young, but like the larger king penguins, they also journey thousands of kilometres to forage - meaning they are not in competition with the similar, but resident Macaroni penguins.
That’s right - the Aquarium’s “northern” rockhoppers don’t come from Marion Island and aren’t actually South African penguins at all!