The Emperor Penguin

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Polar Season Factsheet No 4 of 5.

The Emperor Penguin
SPECIES AND HABITAT: There are 17 species of penguin in

total but only four of these breed on the Antarctic continent

itself. Of these, only one species, thanks to its amazing

endurance, is synonymous with the coldest place on earth:

the Emperor penguin. They withstand average winter

temperatures of minus 50 degrees centigrade and winds of

up to 112 miles per hour. They are the only penguins of

Antarctica to breed during the dark, freezing winter months.

                                                                                     Penguin trivia:
BREEDING: In early April, while most of Antarctica’s wildlife is heading north to
                                                                                       Penguins have no knees, hence the
warmer climes, the Emperor begins its journey south to the breeding grounds.           comical waddle!

The females lay their eggs in May and leave them in the care of the male               The Emperor is less faithful than other
                                                                                       penguin breeds. Over three quarters of
colony while they head to the sea to fatten up. For nine long weeks the males
                                                                                       them find a new mate each year.

huddle together taking turns to hold the warmest positions at the centre of
                                                                                       Penguins only mate once a year – and
the colony. When the chick hatches, the male produces its first meal by                even then it lasts for just 10 seconds.

regurgitating food stored in his gullet.                                               During the Antarctic winter, a cup of
                                                                                       boiling water thrown into the air will
                                                                                       immediately freeze into a cloud of ice
                                                                                       crystals before it reaches the ground.
Timing is now critical. The females return to take over the feeding while the
                                                                                       The total population of Emperor
males - near starving, having lost up to one third of their body weight - make
                                                                                       penguins is thought to be about
the long trek to the sea for feeding. After August, the parents take turns             160,000 breeding pairs.

(about two weeks each) to rear the chicks.                                             It is thought that all penguins have
                                                                                       evolved from petrel-like flying birds
                                                                                       which existed 50 million years ago.

                                    The chicks venture out from the warmth and

                                    safety of the mother’s pouch at about seven

                                    weeks, but it is not until January when the

                                     sea ice starts to break that they are able to

                                     fend for themselves. In spring, the chicks      Vital statistics
                                     will take to the sea and not return to the        WEIGHT: The Emperor penguin can
                                                                                       weigh up to 33 kilograms (83
                                      breeding ground for a few years.                 pounds). Their size means they can
                    : Ice Worlds                                                       store enough fat to survive the fierce
 Watch Planet Earth
 on UK TV Documentary                                                                  winter without feeding regularly.

                                                                                       HEIGHT: The Emperor stands 100 to
                                                                                       130 centimetres tall (40 to 50 inches).

                                                                                                                     Page 1 of 2

Polar Season Factsheet No. 4 of 5.

The Emperor Penguin (continued)
COMMUNICATION: Penguins have a large repertoire of flipper

waving, calling, bowing and preening skills. The parents locate

chicks by the sound of their individual call even among

thousands of other breeding pairs. In any colony there are

                                                                                                                       rth : Ice Wo
usually more females than males and while the male is busy
                                                                                                        Watch Planet Ea
attracting a mate by puffing up his chest, waving his flippers and                                                 cumentary
                                                                                                        on UKTV Do
‘braying’, the females squabble amongst themselves (typical!).

IN MOTION: The Emperor penguin can reach speeds of up to 60

kilometres per hour under water and averages six minutes at 100                                                                Penguin tourism
metres for each dive. On returning to the surface, the Emperors                                                                     The smallest of the penguin species
                                                                                                                                    can be seen as they come ashore at
make a series of leaps known as porpoising, which enable them to
                                                                                                                                    The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony in
                                                                                                                                    New Zealand.
breathe and can help foil a predator. Their wings are not useless
appendages but highly evolved and sturdy flippers. On land

however they are not so adept; their awkward waddling gait is due

to their legs being set far down on their bodies. Often, as a break

from walking, they will ‘toboggan’ along on their bellies.

ENEMIES: The penguin has no enemies on land, although their

eggs and vulnerable chicks can fall prey to Skua gulls. Their main

water predators are sea lions, killer whales and leopard seals. In

turn, penguins feed on fish, squid and krill. They have little fear of

humans but their breeding grounds can be threatened or

destroyed by human interference, as was evidenced by the

building of the French airstrip Dumont d’Urville on the Adelie



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