Penguins are aquatic flightless birds belonging to the order Sphenisciformes and the family Spheniscidae. Most of the bird species live in the Southern Hemisphere, although one species lives in habitats that lie on the northern side of the equator. Physically, the birds have a plumage that is dark on the upper side of the body and lighter on the underside. Since they do not fly, their wings are now flippers that are mostly used for steering the bird while in water.
Contrary to popular belief, not all penguin species live in extremely cold areas like Antarctica. The reality is that only a few species of penguins live in the extreme south. Currently, depending on the source of data, penguin species number between 17 and 20. Of these species, most of them live in temperate regions of the earth while one of them, the Galápagos penguin, lives close to the equator. Larger penguin species generally live in habitats that are colder while smaller species, such as the little blue penguin, live in relatively warmer areas.
Best Spots for Penguin-Watching
The Antarctic Peninsula
The peninsula is among the best places to see penguins in the world if the cold is not a problem for interested parties. About six species of penguins can be seen in this region in places including the Falklands and South Georgia. Some of the penguin species that live around these regions include the rockhopper penguin, king penguins, the chinstrap penguin, gentoos, and plus adélies. Emperor penguins live even further south around the coastal pack ice across the Antarctic Circle.
The South American Mainland
This region is among those that are located in warm climates. Penguins can be seen around the shores of the mainland without having to cross the Drake Passage, which is one of the world’s most dangerous sea crossings. Around the shores, several species reside including rockhopper penguins, Macaroni penguins, and Magellanic penguins. These particular species live in the wild islands around the shores as well as Patagonia’s inlets. Generally, most of these penguins live in the region that is between Argentina and Chile in habitats that offer some spectacular views and scenery.
This region also harbors one of the planet’s most impressive gatherings of penguins. This gathering happens at Punta Tombo, which is an area along Argentina’s Patagonian coast. In this region, at least one million Magellanic penguins have dug burrows below the sand for their habitats. Another place where visitors can observe penguins is at Tierra del Fuego. Aside from the penguins, one can also see plenty of other wildlife species such as southern right whales, Andean condors flying over the Moreno Glacier, elephant seals, and guanacos.
The Cape Coast of South Africa
This place offers one of the most relaxed sites for penguin watching in the world. People wishing to see them are treated to other sights such as the Table Mountain, which is along the country’s Cape Peninsula. African penguins live in large numbers mostly in Boulders Beach, which is in Simon’s town. Other names for the African penguin are the black-footed penguin and the jackass penguin. Visitors usually view penguins from a boardwalk that offer great views. In fact, due to the large numbers of penguins that find their way to the parking lots, visitors are warned to make sure that there are no penguins beneath their cars before driving off.
Unfortunately, the large number of visitors to the place and other factors have led to a decline in the number of the penguins. Within the past five decades, the number of penguins has gone down by at least 80%. Other reasons for the decline include climate change, irresponsible visitor behavior, development projects, and other factors. Today, the bird is classified as endangered with the beach playing a crucial role in the protection of the bird.
Aside from the penguins, visitors get to enjoy other attractions nearby such as the southern right whales as well as cage diving in waters that have great white sharks.
Located in Ecuador, these islands play host to the world’s northernmost penguin species, which is the aforementioned Galapagos penguin. This penguin is endemic to these equatorial regions and prefers to reproduce in cracks below old and dry lava flows. They mostly live on the islands of Fernandina, Isabela, and maybe the island of Bartolomé. Unlike other penguin species that migrate depending on the seasons, these penguins live on the islands throughout the year. Unfortunately, this species is classified as engendered due to dwindling numbers. In addition to the penguins, visitors get a chance to enjoy other attractions such as giant tortoises, sea lions, marine iguanas, and other bird species. Other tour operators in the area offer snorkeling activities in their tour packages.
Phillip Island in Australia has been a popular tourist destination since the 1920s due to the presence of the planet’s smallest penguin species. These penguins, which are known as fairy or little penguins, spend the entire day fishing at sea and then come back to shore with food in the evening for the young ones. These diminutive birds weigh less than three pounds and have a height of about 12 inches. Others live in scattered habitats in places like Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island. Kangaroo Island is also home to kangaroos as well as other species like the rare glossy black cockatoos, echidnas, and wallabies.
New Zealand is home to some of the planet’s rarest penguin species as well as other rare animal species. The islands, such as the Bounty and Antipodes islands, are habitats for five penguin species such as the rare yellow-eyed and the erect-crested penguins. Along the fjords in South Island, it is common to see the cautious Fiordland penguins around the coastal rainforest. Illegal and excessive logging are two factors that have contributed to the dwindling penguin population in the area. Nature and bird lovers also get the opportunity to soak in the beautiful scenery as well as bird species such as the native albatross.