Meet the penguins
January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day, and what better time to celebrate these amazing birds? Penguins delight and charm nature lovers of all ages. But, many penguin species face serious, human-caused threats. Here, you'll meet 9 penguin species and learn what they're facing.
African penguins live on rocky islands offshore of the South-western coast of Africa, feeding on small cold water fish like anchovies and sardines. Unfortunately, their populations plummeted in the late 20th century, and they are currently endangered. Their biggest threats are all man-made: oil pollution, fisheries, human disturbance of burrows, and climate change.
The Little or Blue penguin is just 12 inches tall, and the smallest of all penguin species. They live on sandy, rocky islands on the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand. They are most at risk in Australia from wildfires sparked in hotter, drier conditions brought about by climate change, and in New Zealand, from predation by introduced mammals.
Emperor penguins are the tallest and largest penguins alive today, and the only penguin species that breed during the harsh Antarctic winter. They are thought to be threatened by climate change-induced melting sea ice, on which many colonies of emperor penguins rely for breeding.
The rare Galápagos penguin has a very restricted range, living in the Galápagos Islands year-round—farther north than any other species of penguin. They build nests out of pebbles and twigs along the archipelago's rocky shores. But fishing has posed a threat, as these penguins have been accidentally drowned by floating nets. In addition, they're put at risk by oil spills, cats brought to the island by humans (which pose a predation threat), and diseases brought by human-introduced mosquitoes. Many of these threats are exacerbated by an expanding human population and tourism.
Humboldt penguins get their name from the Humboldt Current they swim in, along the coasts of Chile and Peru. They are experiencing extreme fluctuations in population size, with their main threats all being man-made: overfishing, accidental death in fishing nets, predation from introduced animals, and burrow disturbance from human development.
Magellanic penguins live along the southern coasts of South America, though in the winter they can migrate as far north as central Brazil. They live in groups, and their colonies can range from just a few to 200,000 pairs. But these large breeding colonies are extremely vulnerable in the face of oil pollution, which kills adults and juveniles every year. This threat, along with overfishing and climate-related threats, are causing continuing population decline.
Northern and Southern Rockhopper penguin species are almost identical, with their only physical difference being body size and the length of their crest feathers. Historically used as fish bait and heavily impacted by egg collection, Northern Rockhopper penguins are now threatened by fisheries and climate change, as ocean temperatures affect their survival. Southern Rockhopper penguins may be suffering from similar threats.
Royal penguins have a very limited range, breeding only on Australian islands. Historically, they were hunted for their oil, but their populations recovered and stabilized. Now, climate change could pose a long-term threat to their food supply.
Snares penguins get their name from the Snares archipelago south of New Zealand, where they breed. They face threats from commercial fisheries, oil spills, and warming oceans that affect prey distribution.