Penguin Pandemonium

African Penguing from the Adventure Aquarium in 2005

Here are some random facts about penguins that I’ve come across in the last few days of preparing my talk:

Penguins can drink sea water!  While most of their water needs come directly from their food they are able to take in salty fluids without harm.  Excess salt is secreted from glands just below their eyes and collects in small droplets.  This has the strange effect of making penguins appear to cry!

All seventeen species of penguin live in the southern hemisphere only.  They typically colonize land masses that are remote, lack land predators, and are near cold water upwellings and currents that drive productive marine foodwebs.  Not all penguins live in freezing conditions.  The Galapagos are home to thousands of penguins basking in tropical breezes. 

All adult penguins feature countershading, the same camouflage trick seen on most ocean predators like sharks, orca, dolphins, porpoises and whales.  Their bellies are white so that when seen from below they blend in with the lightness of shallow waters above them.  Their backs are black to blend in with the inky deep below them when seen from above.  The black feathers on the back also help to warm up penguins once they are on land.

Male emperor penguins brave one of Earth’s harshest winters for sixty days to incubate their chicks.  Weather on the pack ice in Antartica may feature air temperatures of -70 degrees F and Category-3 hurricane force winds topping 120 mph!  The fathers do not eat and lose up to half of their body weight waiting for winter to break and the females to return with food for the chicks. 

All penguins swim for their food and most make shallow to mid-water dives to hunt.  Emperors usually travel to 70 ft. and hold their breath for just a few minutes.  However, one emperor was tracked to 1,755 ft during a 22 minute dive!  I wonder what he was hunting down there in the frigid dark!

Finally, weather patterns like the El Nino Southern Oscillation can have dramatic impacts on penguin populations because they effect plankton populations and the larger marine foodweb.  During the 1982-1983 El Nino event, Galapagos penguin populations fell over 75% to just 460 birds!  The colonies slowly recovered until the 1997-1998 El Nino when they were walloped again and lost another two-thirds of the population.  They are currently recovering, but the Galapagos penguin is considered endangered by the Endangered Species Act.

Finally, a herd of penguins isnt called a pandemonium, but one of their long lost avian relatives IS called a pandemonium when they gather together.  Which long lost relative?  Parrots!