The Galapagos Penguin lives right on the Equator. It's an endemic species and the population is estimated to be about 3,000.
Its scientific name is Spheniscus mendiculus. This penguin is endemic to the Galapagos Islands.
With only 20 inches in height it is smaller than the penguins living in the Antarctic.
It is the only penguin species that is found in the Northern hemisphere and breeds in the tropics.
The penguins in Galapagos are unique, because they have adapted to live in tropical land temperatures.
The ancestors of the Galapagos penguin probably found their way to the Galapagos Archipelago by following the cold Humboldt Current. You can see them at Pinnacle Rock, Bartolome Island, and sometimes in Santa Cruz and Rabida Islands.
They are found in the greatest numbers in the colder waters on the western side of the Islands, in Fernandina and Isabela Islands.
Penguins in Galapagos live in colonies feeding on small fish and sardine caught while swimming underwater. They mate for life. Nesting occurs throughout the year, but the majority of nests can be seen between May and January.
Some penguins may mate as often as every 6 months. Female penguins lay 1 to 2 eggs each season. The eggs are laid in holes under the lava and the pair shares the responsibility of watching over the nest. Courtship involves preening of the mate's head, wing slapping, and bill crossing.
Breeding is dependent on the availability of food, which in turn depends on lower water temperatures. They feed in larger groups when fish are abundant or alone or in small groups when food is scarce.
Their body fat and waterproof plumage protect them in the water. Adult penguins have black wings and backs and white bellies. This camouflages the Galapagos penguin when nesting on black lava rocks or fishing.
They have a black band across the breast and a white mark between the eye and the chin. Galapagos penguin beaks are more slender than those of Humboldt penguins.
Although penguins are considered to be flightless, they do not have any of the skeletal adaptations typical of other flightless birds, such as a reduced keel on the breastbone. Indeed, their keel is strongly developed, as are their flipper-like wings.
Penguins, in fact, are not flightless at all. Rather, they are simply adapted for flying through a different medium, in this case the water.
The Galapagos penguin is officially listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. It is estimated that there are only approximately 3,000 penguins living in Galapagos.
The population was much higher but was affected by El Niño events during the early 1980’s and in 1998.
Scientists working with the Charles Darwin Research Station regularly monitor penguin populations and their vulnerability, working to minimize threats to their survival.
This is why penguin numbers have been fairly stable with a slight tendency to increase suggesting the populations are recovering, mostly on Isabela Island.
However, this recovery should be interpreted with caution, as future El Niño events could reduce the population again.
The scientists believe the population can recover from natural events as long as unnatural threats are controlled.
Global warming may place the remaining population in increased danger as populations struggle to recover between frequent climatic variations.
Penguin are vulnerable to predators, such as feral cats, dogs and black rats. They can also be more affected by direct or indirect interactions with fisheries, and other threats such as: visitors, oil spills and habitat degradation.
When swimming on the surface, the Galapagos penguin moves slowly, with most of its body submerged and the head sticking up.
But when they move into action, they dive under the water and move with incredible speed, using their powerful flippers for propulsion and their feet as rudders.
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