Penguins of Antartica


The Adélie Penguin
His name lives on, in various locations, among them, the d’Urville Sea in the Southern Ocean, d’Urville Island, one of the islands off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Dumont d’Urville Station that serves as a center for French research on Petral Island off the mainland coast of Antarctica. Thanks to a devoted husband, Adelie’s does too, as the area of Antarctica d’Urville claimed for France, called Adelie Land, and in the little Adelie penguin he saw in abundance during his travel to Antarctica.

A bit taller and heavier than the Chinstrap species, the Adelie male stands two and a half feet tall at adulthood and weighs a bit over ten pounds. The female is slightly smaller. Its head and back are black, its front white and beak red and black. For the most part, Adelies are shallow divers and feed on krill and fin-fish. They breed far south in a short season spent close to food sources. Beginning in October, Adelies may be found at their shoreline breeding grounds where they fashion a nest of rocks for the two eggs they lay. The male and female share nest responsibilities, alternating every few days. Chicks are born in January and February after an incubation period of a little over a month and leave the crèche at just seven weeks.

Only the Adelie and Emperor species live on mainland Antarctica. Large numbers of Adelies may be seen on beaches along the continental coast, especially in the area of the Ross Sea and along the Antarctic Peninsula. The largest colonies of Adelies are found in McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea and at tiny Paulet Island off the northeastern tip of the peninsula in the Weddell Sea. Visitors on Antarctica tours will also see the Adelie in the South Orkney Islands where it is endemic.

Adelies have been well-studied by scientists in their travel to Antarctica. Though their numbers are estimated at 2.5 million pairs, Adelies live in the harshest of conditions, and their numbers are declining.

The Emperor Penguin
The largest of the penguin species, the male Emperor stands over forty inches at adulthood and weighs as much as eighty-five pounds, and the female is a bit smaller. Its coloring is similar to the King penguin with blackish head, bluish-dark gray back and white belly with yellow at the ears and throat. Because the species can dive as deep as 700 feet, staying under water for more than fifteen minutes at a time, Emperors dine on larger species than other penguins along with the normal penguin diet of crustaceans, small fish and squid.

Emperors may travel up to sixty miles over ice to reach their breeding grounds in March or April. Here they produce one egg each year. By the time the female is ready to lay her egg in May after a two month gestation period, temperatures have plummeted to -80F and winds reach over 100 miles an hour. It is the male that protects the egg during its entire two-month incubation while the female returns to the sea to feed, fasting for over three months and sacrificing almost half of his body weight to the cause. A nest is not necessary. He keeps the precious egg warm by balancing it on his feet and covering it with a fold of his ample abdominal skin. After the chick hatches, parents take turns with feedings and tending the hatchlings together, before the colony forms the crèche. Come spring as the ice melts, in December and January, when the chicks are old enough to hold their own, the colony returns to the sea.

The Emperor is one of just two species that lives on the sea ice that surrounds mainland Antarctica and is the only one to breed here during the harsh Antarctic winter. It breeds in such places as Enderby, Dronning Maud Land and Princess Elizabeth Land in East Antarctica. The movie was filmed near the French research station on Petral Island in the Adelie Land region of the continent.
Emperors live year-round in the waters of Antarctica, in about forty separate colonies, mostly south of the Atlantic Convergence.

The largest concentration is found in the Ross Sea. Colonies exist in locations along both sides of the Antarctic Peninsula including the Dion Islands in Marguerite Bay on the west side and on the east side where a colony of 4,000 breeding pairs was recently discovered at Snow Hill Island. Visitors on Antarctica tours may spot Emperors in the waters between the South Orkney and South Shetland islands or in the Branfield Strait between the Shetlands and the Antarctic Peninsula, though these waters are north of their range.

The Emperor is not considered endangered. An estimated 200,000 to 225,000 pairs inhabit Antarctica, an increase of 50% since the 1970s when a prolonged warming trend dramatically reduced the size of their breeding grounds.

The King Penguin
Kings breed and lay a single egg on coastal beaches of sub-Antarctic islands. Like the Emperor species, the King holds the egg on its feet rather than building a nest, with the male and female alternating parenting duties every few days to two weeks. Eggs are laid starting in November through April and hatch in a little less than two months. The King chicks stay with the parents, sometimes over a year, and since the adults will not breed again until after their chicks are gone, breeding usually occurs every other year. With the abundant food supply available in the nutrient-rich Antarctic Convergence, Kings do not generally stray far from this area, though they may be found at that latitude in very different parts of the world, diving as deep as 200 feet to feed on a diet primarily of krill, fish and squid.

Though the King penguin mostly occupies sub-Antarctic waters, some venture as far north as Tierra del Fuego, breeding in colonies of as many as 50,000 pairs. Visitors on Argentina tours may see Kings in the vicinity of the Magellanic penguin colony near Harberton on the eastern end of Beagle Channel. Though non-endemic to the Falkland Islands, a colony of some 120 pairs is found in an area accessible to visitors during their travel to Antarctica at Volunteer Point northeast of Stanley on East Falkland Island.

Travelers on Antarctica tours will need government permission to visit the site. Some Kings come to the colder waters of South Georgia Island to breed where a colony of 75,000 pairs is found at Royal Bay on the east side of the island, and 100,000 pairs may be seen on Salisbury Plain on the north coast. It is possible to walk among some 100,000 pairs of Kings at St. Andrew’s Bay, always a memorable experience during Antarctica tours. Smaller numbers are found at Gold Harbor during breeding season. Kings are also found on the coasts of sub-Antarctic islands in the direction of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Since acquiring international protection, the King’s numbers have begun to rise. Today the world’s total population has reached over two million pairs.

The Magellanic Penguin and its Range
The Magellanic penguin is a burrowing species, laying two eggs that they care for equally. The species arrives at its breeding grounds in early September and is laying eggs by mid-October. The males and females alternate every one to two weeks during the five to six-week incubation. Chicks begin life on their own two months later.
In July, visitors who travel to Brazil may see Magellanics east of the southern city of Porto Alegre during the winter migratory months and as far north as Bahia, an even bigger surprise during Brazil tours. During this time, visitors on Argentina tours may spot the species as far north as Mar del Plata and San Clemente del Tuyu, just 250 miles south of Buenos Aires.

The species is found as far west as Robinson Caruso Island, 400 miles west of Santiago, and as far east as the Falkland Islands. On the continent of South America, visitors will see Magellanics as far south as Cape Horn on Chile tours and on the Isla de los Estados on the eastern side of Tierra del Fuego if they travel to Argentina.

Some two million pairs of Magellanics are known to exist. The species’ status is “Near-Threatened” due to declines over the last three decades in Argentina and the Falklands.

Magellanic Penguins on Tour
To observe Magellanics, Southern Explorations takes travelers to seven different locations on five Argentina tours, seven Chile tours and six combo-country trips that include stops in both Chile and Argentina. In many of these places, penguins are abundant and approachable.

-Argentina tours
Five of our Argentina tours that include penguins travel to Tierra del Fuego. These are the ten-day Patagonia Highlights trip, the eleven-day Patagonia Hiking Adventure, the twelve-day Patagonia Hiking and Iguazu Falls trip, the thirteen-day Best of Argentina trip and the sixteen-day Patagonia Hiking Explorations trip. These Patagonia tours visit a Magellanic penguin rookery at Martillo Island in the Beagle Channel, sometimes visited by Gentoos.
If you wish to walk among the penguins, check out the Patagonia Highlights trip and Best of Argentina trip mentioned above. In addition to visiting Martillo Island, these itineraries travel to the Valdes Peninsula where Magellanics are found and offer a one-of-a-kind close-up penguin encounter at the Punta Tombo Reserve.

-Chile Tours
To see Magellanic penguins in Chile, consider our itineraries that travel to Torres del Paine National Park. Seven of them include a visit to a penguin rookery at Otway Sound on the way to or after visiting the park. Otway Sound is one of the few places in the world where Magellanic and Humboldt penguins co-habit. Ranging from seven-to fourteen days, some of these trips are lodge-based and others are camping trips. The trips that visit Chile only are: the seven-day Patagonia Lodges trip, the eight-day Torres del Paine W Hike and Lodge-based W Hike trips, the nine-day Patagonia Estancias & Lodges and W Multi Sport trips, the eleven-day Circuit trip and the fourteen-day Patagonia Multi Sport trip.

-Combo-country travel to Argentina and Chile
If your Patagonia dreaming includes a desire to visit sites on both the Argentina and Chile sides of region, it opens up more penguin possibilities. The fourteen-day Patagonia Hiking Panorama and the Patagonia Hiking/Australis Glacier trips and sixteen-day Patagonia Hiking Plus/Australis glacier trip visit Otway Sound. The Australis itineraries also visit a small Magellanic colony at Tucker Islet in Ainsworth Bay as well as Martillo Island in Tierra del Fuego. The twenty-one-day Full Patagonia trip visits three locations during the portion of the trip that travels to Argentina, the Valdes Peninsula, the Punta Tombo Reserve and Martillo Island.

The Chinstrap Penguin
Chinstraps breed later than most other penguin species, arriving at their breeding grounds before the end of October through the first week of November. They seek out cliffs and climb hundreds of feet to build nests of stones, generally laying two eggs between the end of November and the end of December. Visitors on Antarctica tours who get to observe Chinstraps may also see Gentoos and Adelies, since Chinstraps tolerate these species in their midst. The former breeds to the north, and the latter to south, of the Chinstrap. Chicks are born from mid-January to mid-February. By April, Chinstrap chicks are on their way to independence.

Over half of all Chinstraps are found in the uninhabited South Sandwich Islands located 400 miles southeast of South Georgia Island. The largest population, estimated at over a million pairs, is found on the northerly volcanic Zavodovski Island of the Traversay Island group. The Chinstrap is endemic to the South Shetland Islands. One of the world’s largest colonies is located at Baily Head on the southwest shore of volcanic Deception Island at the southwest end of the chain. The island is located on the edge of the Bransfield Strait that separates the islands from the Antarctic Peninsula. Hundreds of thousands of Chinstraps are found here at a site accessible to visitors on Antarctica tours.

Argentina and Spain operate seasonal research stations on Deception Island. Besides offering the opportunity to observe penguins, the island is also a popular destination during Antarctica tours. The thermal waters and steaming volcanic beaches here allow for bathing suit attire, an exotic experience for vacationers who travel to Antarctica.

Smaller colonies of Chinstraps are found near Elephant Island’s Cape Lookout, located about eighty-five miles northeast of the South Shetlands’ King George Island and on nearby Chabrier Rock and Shag Island, islets in Admiralty Bay. The species is endemic to the South Orkney Islands, 375 miles northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Several different breeding colonies exist here, one at Cape Geddes on Laurie Island and another on Signy Island, where the species is studied at the British Antarctic Survey Station. Some 400,000 pairs of Chinstraps have been recorded here.

The total population of Chinstraps has been estimated at some seven million.

The Gentoo Penguin
About the same size as the Adelie and Chinstrap species, its closest relatives, the Gentoo penguin prefers a diet of crustaceans such as krill but is willing to eat fin-fish, fishing cooperatively in mostly shallow dives. Female Gentoos are smaller than males, and their diet differs slightly in composition. In the more northerly areas of their range, the breeding season starts in June and July, but not until October and November in the coldest parts of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Gentoo lays two eggs with an incubation of about five weeks. Hatchlings are old enough to leave the crèche in less than three months.

Gentoos are able to survive in the widest range of any penguin species, and where they live affects their size and life cycle. Most inhabit on the Antarctic Peninsula as far south as Petermann Island. Among the peninsula locations where Gentoos are often observed during travel to Antarctica are Paradise Bay opposite Anvers Island, Port Lockroy at Goudier Island and Cuverville Island in the Errera Channel.

Gentoos are the rarest of the penguins visitors will see on the sub-Antarctic islands during their Antarctica tours in the Southern Indian Ocean. Colonies are located at South Georgia Island, the Kerguelen Islands and the South Shetlands. In the South Shetlands, visitors may see Gentoos at Baily Head on Deception Island and in much smaller numbers on Elephant Island. A colony of 4,000 pairs is found in Yankee Harbor.

Non-endemic in the Falkland Islands, between 65,000 and 100,000 Gentoo pairs live here in large colonies at some breeding sites. During their travel to Antarctica, visitors may see Gentoos in several Falklands locations. On East Falkland Island, Gentoos are found at Volunteer Point and Penguin Walk, three miles east of Stanley, as well as in the West Falklands on Carcass and Sea Lion islands. Though indistinguishable to visitors on Antarctica tours, the Gentoo sub-species that inhabits the Antarctic Peninsula is different from the sub-species found on sub-Antarctic islands.

Adolescent Gentoos travel farther afield than adults, seen on islands in the direction of New Zealand and South Africa. Visitors may also see Gentoos during their Argentina tours. The species travels as far north as Tierra del Fuego National Park and may be seen in the vicinity of Estancia Harberton along the shoreline and on islands in the Beagle Channel.

The population of Gentoos is estimated to be around 300,000 to 350,000 pairs.

The Macaroni Penguin
The Macaroni subsists on a diet of fish, krill and squid. Though the Macaroni can reach depths of over 200 feet, most dives are short and usually shallow. Macaronis lay two eggs. For this species, survival of the fittest is a matter of timing. After the second egg of the season is laid, the first is abandoned. Breeding season begins in October, the Antarctic summer. The female incubates her first egg and shares the responsibility with her mate after she lays the second which is the larger of the two. Eggs hatch in about a month. The young remain in the creche between two and three months.

The greatest congregation of Macaroni species, comprised of almost three million breeding pairs, is found on South Georgia Island. At the northern edge of its range, on the east side of the Falkland Islands, Macaronis are non-endemic but may be seen at Pebble Island, a destination that visitors may reach by air during their travel to Antarctica. This site is actually a Rockhopper colony, but visitors on Antarctica tours may also see a very few Macaronis. Macaronis are also sometimes seen at the Rockhopper colonies on Sea Lion Island in the West Falklands as well as at the Punta Tombo Reserve in Northern Patagonia, though visitors who come here during their Argentina tours do so to see Magellanic penguins. Some, but not many, Macaronis are found at Elephant Island in the Shetlands, the furthest south that Macaronis breed. Macaronis also breed on the South Orkney and South Sandwich islands as well as on the Antarctic Peninsula. Several thousand Macaronis breeding pairs are found at remote island locations in Argentina and Chile as well as on islands on the opposite side of Antarctica, far from places that tourists on Southern America tours will visit.

The Macaroni is the most abundant of penguin species. Though between nine and twelve million breeding pairs are estimated to exist, the numbers are declining.

Breeding Colonies of the Magellanic Penguin
South America’s largest aggregate of Magellanics is found about 100 miles south of the Valdes Peninsula at the 519-acre Punta Tumbo Provincial Reserve. The Reserve is a day-trip from the city of Trelew and a very popular destination for visitors on Argentina tours. Here some 300,000 pairs of penguins come to breed each year between September and March. As colossal as this number is, it is down considerably from the 400,000 to 500,000 breeding pairs that once gathered at Punta Tumbo. Further down the coast in Santa Cruz Province is Argentina’s newest national park, Monte Leon, where the world’s fourth largest colony of Magellanic penguins is located, and increasing numbers of visitors are including the park in their itinerary for their travel to Argentina.

About 140,000 breeding pairs, ten percent, of Magellanics breed in the Falkland Islands. Colonies are found at Penguin Walk three miles east of Stanley and at Volunteer Point on East Falkland Island as well as on the West Falkland island of Sea Lion, all popular destinations for visitors on Antarctica tours.

The best spots to observe Magallenics during their travel to Chile are located near the Southern Patagonia city of Punta Arenas. Otway Sound, seventy miles to the northwest, is home to 5,000 breeding pairs. At Los Pinguinos National Monument, northeast of the city, 63,000 pairs are found. Most visitors reach this location during their Chile tours while traveling from Punta Arenas through the Straits of Magellan to reach Ushuaia, Argentina. Commercial fishing is prohibited in a zone around the Monument’s Magdalena Island, a national nature reserve.

Some tourists visit Grand Island of the Chiloe archipelago off the coast of Northern Patagonia to view Magellanics during their travel to Chile. Conservation efforts are underway here among the island communities to protect the penguins and other species that inhabit the nearby waters. Directly south of the Chiloe archipelago lies the Chronos archipelago where Magellanics also breed.

The Rockhopper Penguin
Like the Macaroni penguin, the Rockhopper is a crested species but at a little under two feet is shorter in stature with a slimmer physique, weighing five plus pounds. The Rockhopper’s back feathers are black and its front white. Its head and crest are black with yellow feathers that look like exotic yellow eyebrows. Its eyes are red. Most distinctive of all is the Rockhopper’s hopping gait that allows it to come ashore and get around on land and from which it obviously derives its name.

The Rockhopper subsists on a diet of fish and krill. The Rockhopper makes its nest by burrowing on shorelines and breeds during the summer months from December to March. It lays two eggs but the first usually suffers an unfortunate fate. Once the second egg of the season is laid, the first is abandoned. Incubation lasts a little over a month.

Some 650,000 of the world’s Rockhopper breeding pairs are of the southern subspecies, found in Chile, Argentina and islands further south. To see Rockhoppers during travel to Argentina and on Chile tours, visitors stop at Isla Pinguiero in the Straits of Magellan. This island is a popular destination for passengers during their Patagonia tours who cruise through the straits from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. Rockhoppers also breed on sub-Antarctic islands along rocky shores. They may be seen at Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands. Though the species is non-endemic to the Falkland Islands, over two million pairs once came to breed here. Today that number has diminished to about 200,000 breeding pairs. A small colony is found on Kidney Island off the east coast of East Falkland Island. The site is a reserve that visitors can reach by boat from Stanley during their travel to Antarctica, but government permission is required. Rockhoppers may also be seen on Pebble and Sea Lion islands in the Falklands, both of which may be reached by air during Antarctica tours as well as on West Falklands‘ Westpoint Island.

Though populations are dwindling, Rockhoppers are still plentiful, estimated to number around two million breeding pairs. Reductions in some locations have changed the species’ status to “Vulnerable” in recent years. In some areas, colonies in more northerly latitudes have shrunk from millions to fewer than 100,000 over the last half-century. Consideration is being given to changing the status of Rockhoppers in the southerly latitudes to “Threatened.”