A king penguin cuddle, Antarctic

Penguins galore!

You cannot fail to be entertained by these amusing inhabitants of Antarctica. Enjoy them in their natural habitat.

A king penguin cuddle, Antarctic

© OProsicky,Shutterstock

The penguins of Antarctica

For most people who visit this vast and practically deserted continent, it will be a bucket list voyage, a once in a lifetime trip.

Each person will have a different reason for wanting to undertake such a voyage.  For many it might be the scenery, the towering icebergs that rise from the shimmering ocean. It could be the fact that so few people have ever been here before and set foot on this this white, ever changing wilderness area.  For others it might be the wildlife that is the draw card of this seemingly eerie and desolate region – and there is more than you might think.

Penguins galore! There are seven species of penguin that can be seen in Antarctica and it’s easy to while away quite a lot of time watching their amusing antics. You’ll get to watch them strutting their stuff, quite literally, on land and gliding elegantly through the waters next to your Zodiac.

  • See penguins in their natural habitat
  • How many species will you see?
  • Glide through the waters on a zodiac
  • Perhaps kayak amongst the penguins
  • What's your favourite penguin species
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King penguins, Antarctic © sharptoyou,Shutterstock

Penguin fun facts

Penguins are the fastest swimming and deepest diving of all the birds - they can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes.

Emperor Penguin

The largest and at heights of over a metre, they tower over the other penguins. Their striking bright yellow and orange plumage on their heads and chest sets them apart. They huddle together for warmth and survival, taking their turn at the outside of the group, so they all get a turn in the cosy middle. Another interesting fact is that emperor penguins rarely set foot on land, if at all, they breed on sea ice.

King Penguin

King penguins are the second largest penguin standing 70-100cm tall. Their markings are similar to those of the emperor penguin with colourful plumage around the head and chest and the black and white ‘tuxedo’ that that all penguins sport. They are found further north than the emporer penguin and also their black plumage is not as dark as other species and rather than black, is more dark grey in colour. King penguins only spend part of the year on Antarctica. In breeding season they come ashore and form gigantic colonies which can number in excess of 180,000 birds.

Gentoo Penguin

From the largest penguins we move to the fastest, the gentoos. Whilst not great runners, in the water they can reach speeds up to 35km per hour. Gentoo penguins are the third largest penguin species, weighing in between 4.5 and 8.5kg and reaching heights of up to 90cm. These speedy chaps spend most of their day in the water hunting krill and fish, diving as many as 450 dives per day, sometimes as deep as 200m.  Gentoo penguins are the only species of penguin in the Antarctic that is expanding in both numbers and area where they are found.

Chinstrap Penguin

These little chaps get their name from the unique markings which make it appear as though they are wearing a little helmet held in place by, you guessed it, a strap which goes under their chin. Chinstraps are in decline in the Antarctic Peninsula area with climate change the probable cause. These little guys are relatives of the gentoo and have a reputation as one of the most aggressive penguin species. They are sometimes referred to as ‘stonebreaker penguins’ but not for the obvious reason, it’s because their screech is so high pitched and piercing it is said it can break stones.

Adelie Penguin

These are probably the most common species found in the Antarctic region and it’s the most widely spread species too. Adelies (above) are the smallest penguin in the Antarctic and look incredibly cute, but as we all know looks can be deceiving. These little bides are incredibly feisty and will take on potential predators by attacking them with their flippers. Male adelies build their nests from small rocks and attract females by building the biggest and the best. They have been known to steal rocks from their neighbours in a bid to make their own nest more attractive. The males and females are similar in size and difficult to tell apart. They both sport the traditional tuxedo and have white rings around their eyes, they also share the raising of the chicks. Adelies are great divers, often reaching depths of 150m which is pretty impressive for a small penguin.

Macaroni Penguin

Small, stout and rather eccentric looking. They are easily recognised by their spikey, long, orange eyebrows and orange beaks. These little characters don’t spend all their time in Antarctica but some of the islands feature on their southern migration route. Macaroni penguins will spend six months at sea. When on the hunt, krill being a firm favourite, they usually dive between 15 and 70 metres, their dives can last around two minutes. During the summer months the macaroni penguins return to colonies that can number up to 100,000 individuals, they usually return to their previous mating partners. Their nests are shallow craters in the ground which get the odd bit of grass as lining. Macaroni penguins are not waddlers, they hop to get around on land.

Rockhopper Penguin

Rockhopper penguins, complete the picture. These comical birds, as the name suggests, get around by hopping from stone to stone. They don’t travel south far enough to be found on Antarctica itself, but you may come across them on your travels. Like the Macaroni penguin, rockhoppers have the spikey orange crests but with added black crests giving them a slightly dishevelled appearance. Their beaks start of black, but gradually turn orange as they age. Rockhoppers have strong, sturdy little legs which help them scramble up steep rock faces. Often, to get onto dry land, they launch themselves from the water and land with a belly flop – a typical rockhopper trait.