On April 25, 2017, penguin lovers around the world celebrated World Penguin Day. This annual international holiday coincides with the northward migration of penguins for the summer season. While this day is a happy and adorable one—because who doesn’t love penguins?!—it is accompanied by a sad tone too, as the day raises awareness that our beloved flightless birds are in real danger.
There are seventeen species of penguins around the world, all of which are found in the Southern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, at least ten of these species are considered endangered or vulnerable. While many of them die in the rough oceans going after food for their chicks, most of the danger penguins face is caused by our very own human species.
In addition to oil spills and polluted waters, a lack of food has been killing more and more penguins over the last decade or so. As breeding livestock for meat and other human resources is becoming an increasingly growing business, fishing fleets harvest many fish each year to make feed for their livestock. The result of this is the unavailability of the fish and marine creatures that penguins hunt for and feed on, including sardines and anchovies. Because of the harvesting of their prey, penguins have become extremely close to extinction. Several environmental groups are working together to create solutions for a more sustainable source of food with the goal of protecting our penguins.
In honor of World Penguin Day 2017, here are some fun facts about everybody’s favorite flightless birds:
- Penguins communicate through vocalizations and body language.
- A penguin’s coloring is called countershading and is for the purpose of camouflage from predators. Their black backs allows them to blend into the dark ocean from above and their white bellies are hidden in the bright surface from predators looking up from below
- The earliest penguin fossil found is from about 60 million years ago and was discovered in Antarctica in 1980.
- Many penguins are “monogamous” throughout their lifetime, meaning they will mate with the same penguin each mating season and in the same location.
- Penguins filter out salt water that is absorbed while swimming and excrete it through their beaks or by sneezing.
- Penguins breed in huge colonies called “rookeries,” which can include thousands of birds.
While we here in the northern hemisphere are lacking true penguin habitats nearby, there of course is a way you can have fun watching some of these cuddly and friendly creatures in action without having to pack your parka. Visit the penguins at Central Park Zoo’s Polar Seabirds Exhibit, featuring four species of penguins: King, Gentoo, Rockhopper, and Chinstrap. Even more exciting, they are hand fed twice a day at 10:30am and 2:30pm and anyone can go watch! I would definitely suggest grabbing a friend (or even going by yourself) and taking lots of pictures—they are extremely friendly!