The Galápagos Islands are home to many fascinating creatures, from giant tortoises to the colourful blue-footed booby. However, there is one resident you might be surprised to encounter on the islands’ golden shores — the Galápagos penguin.
While penguins are usually found in the icy wilds of Antarctica, the Galápagos penguin is the only of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere, making it one unique bird. Here, we’re taking a closer look at why this penguin is so special.
Meet the Galápagos penguin
This streamlined bird comes in at an average of just under 50 centimetres in height, weighing around 2.5 kilograms. Its scientific name is spheniscus mendiculus, marking it as part of the wider order of penguins.
The Galápagos penguin is discernable by its black-brown feathers and white front, as well as a band of black feathers across the top of its chest. Another white band curves out from the penguin’s eyes to its neck.
If you were to look at the feet of the Galápagos penguin, you’d find that on the under side of their black flippers there are individual black and white patterns. The penguins have a pale pink and black bill, with the males having slightly thicker bills than their female counterparts.
They live up to 10 years on average, feeding on small, schooling fish close to shore as well as crustaceans. Unlike their Emperor Penguin cousins, when the Galápagos penguin dives for food, it is usually a brief endeavour of less than a minute, to relatively shallow depths of under 6 metres. Interestingly enough, they have been found to feed alongside several other species such as noddies, boobies and pelicans, according to Penguin Sentinels.
Where to find them
The Galápagos penguins are endemic to the islands, situated some 1,000 kilometres off the Ecuadorian coast in the Pacific Ocean. The population is spread out over an area of 4,600 square kilometres – 95 per cent of the birds are found on the islands of Isabela and Ferdinandina to the west, while the rest reside on Santiago, Bartolome and Floreana.
This tropical penguin is able to exist due to the cool ocean temperature brought about by the Humboldt and Cromwell currents, bringing nutrient-rich waters to the Galápagos.
When Galápagos penguins mate, it is for life. Penguin pairs will reinforce this bond by tapping bills and preening each other. Unlike other species, the Galápagos penguin has no single breeding period, and instead will attempt to have several clutches of eggs throughout the year. This is part of their adaptation to make the most of their unpredictable food supply.
Threats to the Galápagos penguin
Unfortunately, the Galápagos penguin has one of the smallest populations in the world. With an estimated population of under 2,000 birds, the Galápagos penguin is considered to be endangered.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), some of the challenges the penguins face include other introduced species that can transmit various diseases,as well as prey upon the birds. In addition, various environmental factors can pose a threat such as climate change and pollution.
Furthermore, El Niño events have also had a significant impact on the penguins, reducing their prey and interfering with breeding. Fortunately, there are a number of groups fighting to protect this special penguin, so that we’ll be able to visit them for years to come.
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You can encounter the Galápagos penguin, plus many other incredible animals on a Galápagos cruise with Aurora Expeditions. Our Galápagos Odyssey departs the Ecuadorian capital of Quito to sail around these beautiful islands onboard the Isabela II for nine days of discovery. To learn more, take a look at our brochures online, or contact our helpful team today.