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Penguin

Overview

Penguins are a family of 17 to 19 species of birds that live primarily in the Southern Hemisphere. They include the tiny blue penguins of Australia and New Zealand, the majestic emperor penguins of Antarctica and king penguins found on many sub- Antarctic islands, the endangered African penguin and the Galápagos penguin—the only penguin to be found north of the equator.

  • Scientific Name
    Spheniscidae
  • Height
    15 inches to 3 ½ feet
  • Weight
    2 pounds to 80 pounds
  • Habitats
    Oceans, Coasts

Though they are birds, penguins have flippers instead of wings. They cannot fly and on land they waddle walking upright—though when snow conditions are right they will slide on their bellies. In the water they are expert swimmers and divers, and some species can reach speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. The penguin’s distinctive coloring—black body with white belly—helps camouflage the bird in the water as it searches for meals of small shrimp, fish, crabs and squid.

The Antarctic Peninsula, where half of the world’s emperor penguins and 70% of the Adelie penguins can be found, is heating up faster than the global average and melting the sea ice that the penguins depend on for places to breed and access to food.

Last Chance to Save 'The Last Ocean'

A joint United States-New Zealand government proposal to protect more than 770 thousand square miles of the Ross Sea was put forward last year, but did not gain full support.

antarctic ice

Why They Matter

  • The Birds that Swim

    Penguins may not be able to fly across the sky, but they can fly underwater as well as any fish. Instead of wings, these birds have flippers that can propel their streamlined bodies up to 15 miles per hour through the sea in pursuit of a meal.

Threats

Penguin tracks

Bycatch

Commercial fishing in the Southern Ocean region can force many penguin species to compete for the fish they eat. The practice can also lead to accidental capture and drowning in fishing nets.

penguin bycatch

Climate change is a growing concern for penguins that live in Antarctica—the emperor penguin and the Adelie penguin. These species depend on sea ice for access to food and for places to breed. But the sea ice has been disappearing, and penguin populations along with it. A 2008 WWF study estimated that 50% of the emperor penguins and 75% of the Adelie penguins will likely decline or disappear if global average temperatures rise above pre-industrial levels by just 2 degrees C—a scenario that could be reached in less than 40 years.

“From polar bears in the Arctic to penguins in Antarctic, climate change is having a devastating impact on animals around the world.”

Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf WWF’s Managing Director of Species Conservation

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