Although there are 18 species of penguin in the world, only 7 live in the Antarctica region. These adorable looking birds vary in size and markings although they all have the ‘tuxedo’ black and white feathers. With this colouring, when swimming through the water from below they look like the light surface of the water, while from the sky, they blend with the darker colour of the sea.
Bentours offers a number of packages that will take you on an expedition cruise to incredible Antarctica and the surrounding islands, where you can discover these seabirds for yourself.
Adélies live in Antarctica all year round although the best time to see them is from spring to autumn, as in the winter they mostly spend their time in the water. Adélies were named by French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville after his wife Adélie. They are the smallest Antarctic species and the male and female are impossible to tell apart in either appearance or behaviour – they both take equal share of the care-giving of chicks. Like many penguins, Adélies build their nests from stones stolen from the nests of rival pairs and can be quite territorial.
Emperors are the largest and probably most recognisable penguin, with yellow or orange plumage on their heads. They are usually about 115cm tall (that’s about the size of a six year old!) and weigh around 23kg. Like Adélies, they stay in Antarctica year round although they rarely actually set foot on land in their lifetimes, instead breeding on the sea ice. Emperors can dive to depths of 500m and hold their breath for 22 minutes at a time!
Emperors do not build nests but rather, once the female has laid the egg, the male will look after it for up to two months on its feet. During this time it regulates the egg’s temperature with its collection of excess feathers that form a brood pouch.
Gentoos are the speediest penguin underwater, travelling at up to 35km/h. They are the third largest penguin and weigh in at about 5kg. Gentoos make nests from molted feathers, stones and vegetation (when breeding on islands around Antarctica). Probably most interesting about Gentoos is their ability to slow down their heartbeat on deep dives from 80-100 bpm to 20 bpm!
As their name suggests, Chinstraps have black markings that make them appear to be wearing a helmet, with a strap under the chin. There are at least 8 million in the world making them one of the most common. Male chinstraps will race to claim the best nest in the breeding grounds and then wait for five days for his mate to arrive. If the female does not arrive in that time, the male may take a new mate. Watch out though if the original female finds her mate with ‘another woman’ – fighting ensues to win the affection of the male. Males who are unable to find a nest, may force other couples out of theirs.
Macaronis mostly live on islands surrounding Antarctica such as South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. They are very territorial and aggressive and fights between males are very common. They have bright spiky orange eyebrows (called crests) and lay two eggs, although usually only one develops.
As their name suggests, Rockhoppers move very distinctively, jumping from stone to stone on the rockier north Antarctic islands. They make their nests between the crevices of rocks in rough terrain to deter predators. Rockhoppers have bright yellow or orange eyebrows that extend all the way to the crown of their heads and are known for having a rather erratic temperament. Like all penguins, they can rest on their bellies but they additionally cover their face with their flippers when they find a comfortable rock to snooze on.
Kings are the second largest penguin and, like the Emperor, do not create nests but use the same brood pouches to protect their eggs during incubation. King penguins have more a dark grey than black back and live in large colonies. During the winter time, they will often leave their chicks for weeks unattended, while during the summer they migrate to the South. When the chicks are fully grown but unfledged they appear bigger than the adult Kings – so much so, in fact, that originally they were mistaken as an entirely different species of ‘woolly penguins’.