Penguins – they are charming, they are resilient, and boy are they cute! One of the biggest reasons people travel to Antarctica on a cruise is to see wildlife, and penguins are right up there at the top of the list.

Penguins are amazing animals, and their characteristics have long fascinated the world over. For instance, did you know that their stomachs are adapted to allow them to drink saltwater? Each species is unique its appearance and habits.

There are 8 species of penguins in Antarctica and the surrounding region: Emperor, Adélie, Gentoo, Rockhopper, Macaroni, Magellanic, Chinstrap, and King. Let’s learn a little more about each one.

Emperor Penguins

Emperor Penguins are the tallest and the heaviest of all the penguin species. After the female lays a single egg, she leaves it behind, and the male will keep it warm by balancing the egg on his feet and covering it with his feathers. Emperor Penguins can diver deeper than any other bird, and their thick layer of fat, along with their rigid waterproof feathers, assist them in staying dry and warm. Emperor Penguins are the least seen on Antarctic voyages as they mainly found inland.

Emperor Penguin in Antarctica

An Emperor Penguin waves hello

Counting penguins in Antarctica

King Penguins in South Georgia

King Penguins

The second largest penguin species are King Penguins. These penguins live in dense colonies, called rookeries, among tussock grass and gently sloping beaches. One colony in South Georgia is estimated to have over 200,000 birds! They have the longest breeding cycle of all the penguins and can live between 15 and 20 years. They can dive over 100 meters in search of prey (mainly krill and other small aquatic species) and though graceful underwater, they are less so on land, preferring to waddle or ‘toboggan’ as a means to get around.

Rockhopper Penguins

In the Falkland Islands, Rockhopper Penguins can be spotted hopping and bounding along the rocks, hence their name. The smallest of the crested penguins, Rockhoppers stand at just 20 to 22 inches tall. Unlike other species of penguins, Rockhoppers can become quite aggressive with each other, slapping each other with their flippers when an argument ensues about mating, nesting sites, and food. They are well known for being very loud and communicating signals to each other. They live about 10 years in the wild.

Macaroni Penguins

Macaroni Penguins look similar to Rockhoppers and also hop. They have an orange crest of feathers that flows back from the center of their forehead and are the largest of the crested penguins. They will ease their way through their colony, chin to chest, in order to keep things calm, as male Macaroni’s are known to fight each other. This species can live up to 20 years and have been recorded to dive as deep as 300 feet.

Magellanic penguins 

Named after Ferdinand Magellan, an explorer who was the first to see them in 1519 while voyaging around the bottom of Chile and Argentina, Magellanic penguins are found in the Falkland Islands but also higher north. These penguins stick together in their flock when hunting, joining larger colonies on land when breeding season begins. Magellanic penguins can live up to 25 years, as they have few predators on the beaches where they breed. However, at sea they can fall prey to seals and killer whales.

Adélie penguins

On the Antarctica Peninsula, Adélie penguins show off their amazing swimming abilities. They can travel as far as hundreds of miles to find food. Adélie penguins have been known to migrate tens of thousands of miles, as they follow the sun around the Antarctic. These highly athletic penguins start training their chicks at a young age, making them chase before they feed them. They are curious creatures and will not hesitate to come over and inspect you, should you be sitting still on shore nearby.

Adelie Penguins in Antarctica

Adelies playing on the Peninsula

Counting penguins in Antarctica

Chinstrap Penguins on Deception Island

Gentoo Penguins

Gentoo Penguins are seen in the hundreds of thousands and are thriving on the Antarctica Peninsula. They may seem awkward on land, but underwater they are unrivalled. They can propel themselves at 22 miles an hour, which helps them evade leopard seals, orcas, and sea lions. They can make hundreds of dives in a day in search of food, diving as deep as 650 feet. Gentoos use stones to make their nests, and although they are generally well-socialized, fighting does ensue over the stones. Their stones are even gifted to the females on occasion in an attempt to woo them.

Chinstrap Penguins

Called so because of the thin black band under their chins, Chinstrap Penguins are very recognizable and the most abundantly found penguin in Antarctica. The largest colony found in the Sandwich Islands holds 1.2 million breeding pairs! Chinstraps are the social butterflies of penguins, gathering in large numbers and communicating by means of bowing, preening, and gesturing with their heads and flippers. 

Interested in seeing these amazing creatures for yourself?

Join us on a voyage. At least 1 penguin sighting is guaranteed!