The Galápagos Penguin is a penguin endemic to the Galápagos Islands. It is the only penguin to live on the equator in a tropical environment.
The Galápagos Penguin survives due to the cool ocean temperatures resulting from the Humboldt Current and cool waters from great depths brought up by the Cromwell Current. (See Galapagos Ocean).
The Galapagos Penguins nearest relatives are the African Penguin, the Magellanic Penguin and the Humboldt Penguin.
The Galapagos Penguin occurs primarily on Fernandina Island and the west coast of Isabela Island, but small populations are scattered on other islands in the Galapagos archipelago.
Galapagos Penguin Characteristics
The Galápagos Penguin is the smallest of the warm weather penguins. It stands only 16 to 18 inches (40 to 45 centimetres) tall and weighs only 5 pounds (2 to 2.5 kilograms). Galapagos penguins have a thin white band that runs under their chin. They have a black upside down horseshoe shape around their belly. Although the pattern of banding on Galapagos penguins is similar to that on Magellanic penguins, the Galapagos penguins are considerably smaller and the main black band around their front is much thinner.
The Galápagos Penguins beak is longer and more slender than the beaks of its other temperate region cousins. Adult penguins have a bluish-black head, back and flippers when new. Older worn feathers, dull to a brown color and are somewhat ragged in appearance.
Galapagos Penguin Diet
Galapagos penguins eat mostly small fish such as mullet and sardines. They are dependent on the ocean currents to bring fish to their feeding grounds. Severe weather from El Nino (a global coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon) caused a severe shortage of food about 20 years ago. At that time over 70% of the Galapagos penguins died.
Galapagos Penguin Behaviour
Galapagos penguins are not migratory, they stay in temperate waters year round. One of the main problems for this penguin is keeping cool. Living close to the equator, the temperatures can rise to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) during the daytime. Galapagos penguins keep cool by swimming and hunting for food in the cold water of the Cromwell Current in the Pacific ocean during the day.
During the cool nights they sleep and nest on the land. Galápagos Penguin hold their flippers out to help the heat escape their bodies. They protect their feet from getting sunburned by holding their flippers over their feet when on land.
Galapagos Penguin Reproduction
Galapagos Penguins use burrows and two eggs are usually laid. They only mate and breed when there is plenty of food. Often only one chick is raised. Both parents tend the eggs for 38 to 40 days. Chicks are cared for by both male and female. The chick is guarded for about 30 days after hatching. The chicks then molt and get their adult feathers and become independent in around 60 to 65 days.
Galapagos Penguin Predators
Predators include the Galapagos shark and the occasional seal. On shore, penguin eggs and chicks are subject to predation by the Galapagos hawk and introduced rats.
Galapagos Penguin Conservation
The Galapagos Penguin is endangered, with an estimated population size of around 1,500 individuals in 2004, according to a survey by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The population underwent an alarming decline of 65% in the 1980s, but is slowly recovering. It is therefore the rarest penguin species (a status which is often falsely attributed to the Yellow-eyed penguin).
Population levels are influenced by the effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which reduces the availability of shoaling fish, leading to low reproduction or starvation. However, anthropogenic factors (e.g. oil pollution, fishing by-catch and competition) may be adding to the ongoing demise of this species. On Isabela island, the introduced cats, dogs and rats may attack penguins and destroy their nests.
Check out more of our Galapagos Marine Life posts!