Penguins are birds that have adapted very well to life in the water. Their wing bones are flipper-like and, while useless for flying, are extremely well-suited to swimming. All penguins are “countershaded”, which means that they are darkly colored on their backs and white on their bellies. Countershading helps to camouflage penguins as they swim through the water; predators looking up from below a penguin have trouble seeing their white bellies against the light surface of the water, while predators looking down from above have trouble seeing their black backs against the darkness of the deep water.
The fairy penguin is the smallest of the penguin species at 16 inches tall. It weighs about 2.2 pounds. The largest penguin species is the emperor penguin, which is about 3.7 feet tall and weighs between 60 and 90 pounds.
Penguins can spend up to 75% of their lives in the water. They do all of their hunting in the water. Their prey can be found within 60 feet of the surface, so penguins have no need to swim in deep water. They catch prey in their beaks and swallow them whole as they swim.
Unfortunately, the earth's temperatures are rising at an alarming rate. In Antarctica, home to the famous Emperor Penguin, the annual sea ice melting season has extended by as much as 3 weeks in recent decades. Less ice means less habitat and the loss of critical food, such as shrimp-like krill, which depend on polar ice to reproduce.
Penguin populations have decreased by nearly 80 percent in some areas, and the majority of scientists agree that rising temperature due to climate change is the primary culprit. Defenders of Wildlife is working with leaders on Capitol Hill and elsewhere to stop global warming and save penguins and their habitat.
In addition to global warming and natural predation by polar bear, sharks, orcas, leopard seals, sea lions and fur seals, other threats to penguins include impacts on habitat due to oil spills, pesticides, construction, destruction of habitat due to introduced herbivores, competition with humans for food and illegal egg harvesting.