The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the world’s rarest and most enchanting animal species. The endemic marine iguanas and tortoises, amongst countless others, have thrived on these isolated islands for millennia. However, there is one animal on the Galapagos that really stands out for its ability to adapt and overcome: the Galapagos penguin.
With a global population of around 1,000 breeding pairs, there may not be many Galapagos Islands penguins (Latin name Spheniscus mediculus) left in the world but it’s really incredible that there are any at all. Only occurring in the western Islands of Fernandina and Isabela, their breeding grounds are very small.
Galapagos Islands penguins are equally small, with an average length of less than 50 cm, and weigh less than 2.5 kg – making them the smallest of all the South American penguins. Their markings – black heads with a white line running from the throat to the corner of the eye – are very distinctive. But it is not just how they look that makes these incredible animals stand out.
Unlike most other species, the Galapagos Islands penguins have no defined breeding season, having as many as three clutches in one year. What this means at a practical level is that they can take advantage of fruitful periods where there is an abundance of food. It’s also a useful mechanism for coping when food is scarce.
The Galapagos Islands penguins also moult just before breeding. In most cases,birds that are moulting avoid the water. But in the Galapagos the warmer equatorial waters allow even moulting birds to go hunting for food rather than face starvation if the food supplies fail. This gives the adult population the greatest chance of survival, which as any naturalist will tell you, gives the species the biggest chance of surviving.
When weather patterns create unseasonably warm waters it means that the nutrient levels in the water are low. That means fewer fish, which in turn makes it harder for the penguins to feed. However, the ability to postpone feeding and swim when moulting has allowed the penguins to survive against the odds.
The penguins also combat the effects of the sun by increasing blood flow to the underexposed parts of their bodies, such as under their flippers. It’s evolutionary elements like this that so fascinated Darwin but, more importantly, allowed these magical penguins to survive in the Galapagos.
You can view these amazing birds today with a Galapagos cruise on board vessels like the lovely Tip Top II Catamaran for an unforgettable experience of nature. Contact Us to receive a personalized attention and offers based on your needs and preferences.
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