Three king penguins on the shore of St Andrew's Bay, South Georgia Island
© Paul Souders/Getty Image
King confab. World Penguin Day
For World Penguin Day, we're dropping in on these three kings, who are conferring on matters of state, no doubt. You might expect the king penguin to be the largest but the emperor penguin outranks the 3ft king in stature, although they look similar. The king stands out because of its yellow-orange chest feathers and the matching flash of colour on its head. Kings can be found in Antarctica and on the subantarctic islands, only visiting the shore during the breeding season and when it’s time to moult.
King penguins use their large flippers to power them down to the ocean depths, hunting for krill, fish and squid. They can dive about 1,000ft below the surface, where they rely on excellent ‘night vision’ to locate prey. That dapper tuxedo serves an important purpose: Predators looking down see the penguin’s black back when he’s swimming, which helps him blend in with the dark water; prey looking up from below see his white tummy, which matches the sunlight above. We’d call that a very versatile outfit.
Of the 18 or so penguin species, 12 are considered endangered or vulnerable, facing combined threats of climate change, ice melt, overfishing and oil spills. Happily our king friends have seen their numbers rise in recent years.