25th April is World Penguin Day. It began when scientists at McMurdo Sound in Antarctica noticed that the Adellie penguins returned to their nesting grounds every year on the same day. Now it is used by the Global Penguin Society to raise awareness of the 18 species of penguins most of which are threatened or vulnerable.
So where can the wildlife traveller go to see these adorable, waddling, flightless birds in their natural habitat? The Southern Hemisphere is the quick answer. Penguins are found almost exclusively south of the Equator. The Galápagos penguin is the exception which are found just north of the Equator which runs through the island group.
However, it is not necessary to travel to Antarctica to see penguins. They are also found in the southern temperate regions. All the land masses bordering the Southern Ocean have colonies of penguins much more accessible than Antarctica. In South America there are colonies as far north as Peru and Ecuador if you include those on the Galápagos Islands. The reason they are found so far north on the western coast of South America is the cold, nutrient rich Humboldt Current.
Penguins are also found on the Southern Ocean islands such as South Georgia and the Falklands.
Below is a selection of places to see penguins.
These are the tallest and heaviest of the penguins and are only found in the Antarctic. They are the only species of penguin to breed during the Antarctic winter trekking between 50km and 120km to breeding colonies of thousands of individuals. Such colonies are a spectacular sight.
Emperor Penguins are the species seen in March of the Penguins and, in CGI format, in Happy Feet. Of course nothing beats seeing them in their natural habitat. To do this you need to embark on a mini expedition involving flights to the southern tip of the South American continent, a two day trip across the wild Southern Ocean to the Weddell Sea and ship-to-shore helicopter flights to visit the penguin colony.
Fortunately all this is included in a trip with Natural World Safaris, Experts travelling with the group help in understanding the penguins, the stunning landscape and other wildlife found in the inhospitable environment of the Antarctic. Although the purpose of the trip is to see Emperor Penguins you are also likely to come across Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins.
Prices start from £6,425 per person excluding international flights. Trips run from November to February
These are the second largest of the 18 penguin species and in appearance are similar to the Emperor Penguins. They are found on all the sub-Antarctic islands; the most accessible being The Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Macquarie Island (NZ). Where ever the breeding colonies are found the numbers are vast. South Georgia has 100,000 birds in one colony.
Swoop Antarctica operate two trips a year to South Georgia. These 15-17 day Photographer’s South Georgia trips visit the breeding colony as well as many of the places connected with the expedition led by Earnest Shackleton.
Prices begin at £8705 and includes flights from Punta Arenas in Argentina. Future dates 15 October 2016 and 28 January 2017.
These smaller penguins like to nest on an ice free surface among tufts of grass and stones. They are found on the Antarctic land mass as well as the sub-Antarctic islands and the southern tip of South America.
You are likely to see these penguins on most trips that have an element of bird or penguin watching. Swoop Antartica’s Penguins and Seabirds: Fly and Cruise takes you to the Falkland Islands were, in addition to Gentoo Penguins you will encounter Magellanic and Rockhopper Penguins. Prices start from £8595 and include flights from Punta Arenas in Argentina.
This species is a South American penguin inhabiting the coasts of Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands. They are a black and white penguin with very rigid wings used to swim underwater with great agility.
The best place to see these adorable little birds is the Punta Tombo Peninsula. It is here that you find the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins. Several operators feature this as part of wildlife trips in Patagonia. World Expeditions include Punta Tombo in their Patagonia Parks and Wildlife trip. Prices start at £4490 not including flights to South America.
As their name suggests there is a thin band under the chin making these penguins look like they are wearing a helmet. They are distributed in all of the circumpolar region and can be found on the Antarctic continental land mass as well.
Most of the trips mentioned above have a good chance of spotting the Chinstrap Penguins. In addition Journey Latin America have a trip to Antarctica that lists Chinstrap Penguins as one of the species encountered. Prices start from £9010 excluding flights to South America.
The Humboldt Penguin is found along the coasts of Peru and Chile and is named after the nutrient rich Humboldt Current which flows up the western seaboard of South America. They nest on ice free land and their colonies are more accessible than those on Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic Islands.
On Peru’s southern coast, the Paracas Nature Reserve and the small Ballestas Islands just offshore are one of the principal habitats of Humboldt penguins. The area is only around 3 hours’ drive from the capital, Lima, so it’s possible to visit on a day trip from there; a longer stay is better though. Real World Holidays include trips to see the Humboldt penguins on the Ballestas Islands in several of their holidays in Peru.
Closely related to the Humboldt Penguins these are found in the Galapagos Archipelago and are probably the most threatened, in terms of numbers, of all the penguin species. Only 1500 of these lively little birds remain though numbers are recovering.
Real World Holidays have a range of Galapagos cruises and island-hopping holidays which visit Fernandina and Isabela where the penguins nest.
These small penguins are found along the south-west coast of South Africa and Namibia. there are colonies on several islands along this coast. There a a couple of mainland colonies in South Africa and one in Namibia.
The mainland colonies are the most accessible for tourists with the colony at Boulders Beach close to Cape Town being the most popular. More information on Boulders Beach can be found on the Cape Town Tourism website and accommodation in Camps Bay from the Luxury Travel Book
Rockhopper Penguins and Royal Penguins
Rockhopper Penguins are crested penguins which makes for easy identification. They are found on sub-Antarctic islands as well as along the offshore islands of Chile and Argentina. One of the largest colonies is on the Macquarie Islands south of New Zealand. These are also the most accessible to penguin watchers.
The Royal Penguins are another tufted penguin. The tufts are a golden yellow colour giving them their “royal” name. They breed on the Macquarie Islands in large numbers.
World Expeditions operate a trip to the Macquarie Islands to see the Rockhopper and Royal Penguins. The voyage calls at several other island groups to see other sub-Antarctic wildlife. The Macquarie Islands Expedition starts at $6600 (Note: price is in USD) excluding flights.
This is the smallest penguin species and is also known as the Blue Penguin because of its slate blue plumage. It is found on offshore islands along the southern coast of Australia and New Zealand. The largest and most easily accessible colony with an estimated 32,000 breeding pairs is Phillip Island near Melbourne, Australia.
The little birds parade up the beach to their burrows every night. There are brand new viewing facilities here were visitors can watch the nightly “parade” with out disturbing the birds and the surrounding conservation area. If visiting Melbourne it’s easy to book a ticket to visit Phillip Island.
Aurora Expeditions, in addition to spotting penguins from on board a ship, are pioneers of an innovative and stimulating sea experience; polar snorkelling. Below the surface snorkelers can now swim alongside penguins diving into a cloud of sparkling bubbles.
Which penguin species is your favourite? Mine is the Rockhopper Penguin simply for their whacky appearance.
Attribution: The featured image (top of the post) is from www.alamy.com