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. By their grand name, you might expect the king penguin to be the largest of penguin species. In fact, the emperor penguin outranks the king in stature, although they do look similar. The king stands out because of its striking yellow-orange chest feathers and the matching flash of colour on the side of its head. Kings can be found in Antarctica and on the subantarctic islands, but their only visits to shore are during the breeding season and when it’s time to molt. They have one of the longest breeding seasons for birds: It lasts from 14 to 15 months, and they only raise one chick every other year, as it takes nine months for the baby to be fully fledged.
King penguins hunt for krill, fish, and squid, while they themselves are prey for fur seals, leopard seals, and killer whales. Their hunting prowess is thanks to their large flippers, which power them to the ocean depths where dinner lurks. They can dive about 300 metres below the surface, where little light remains, so they rely on their excellent 'night vision' to locate prey in the darkness of the deep. That dapper tuxedo also serves an important purpose (it’s not just a fashion statement): 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.
April 25 is World Penguin Day, which was created to celebrate these lovable, entertaining birds and to alert people to threats facing this feathered family. Of the 18 (or so) penguin species, 12 are considered endangered or vulnerable. Among the main threats to penguins are climate change and ice melt, overfishing, and oil spills. Happily, our king friends above have seen their numbers rise in recent years.