Penguins are the archetypal Antarctic animals, but only two species, Emperor and Adélie, are truly Antarctic and found nowhere else. The other Antarctic penguins, such as Chinstrap and Gentoo, also occur on sub-Antarctic islands. Elsewhere in the world there are species of penguins which live in warmer climates and one, the Galapagos Penguin, lives practically on the equator. However, they always live where very cold waters feed up from the south. They are flightless birds, well-adapted for life in the sea where they spend most of their time.
Emperor Penguins are the largest, standing over a metre in height and weighing 22-45 kg. Captain Scott, on his 1901-04 Discovery Expedition, was the first to observe the migration of the Emperor Penguin.
They come ashore in April and then walk up to 100-160 km inland to their breeding areas. After laying her single egg, the female returns to the sea to feed, leaving the male to incubate the egg through the severe Antarctic winter.
For nine weeks he endures temperatures as low as -50°C and winds of up to 200 km/h. During this time he cannot feed and by the time the female returns in spring he has lost 45% of his body weight!
The early Antarctic explorers collected penguins for food but some were also collected as scientific specimens. We have several in the collections here at Amgueddfa Cymru.
Peter Howlett and Tom Sharpe.