Galapagos Penguin

galapagos penguin

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.

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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.

Galapagos Penguin Facts

  • Species: Spheniscus mendiculus
  • Class: Endemic to Galapagos
  • Weight: 4 to 5 pounds
  • Size: up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) in length
  • Habitat: rocky shores and coastlines and open sea
  • Diet: fish, sardines and crustaceans

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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.

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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.

Recommended Reading

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides). Click to order from Amazon

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides)

With 250 photos and tons of great information, this is an essential addition to your pre-Ecuador and -Galapagos reading!

There are better guides if you are only interested in the islands, but for a combination trip taking in Ecuador as well, it's hard to beat.


Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands. Click to order from Amazon

Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands

Small enough to fit into your pocket, yet containing comprehensive information and pictures of all the species you will encounter in the islands, this book is a must-have for nature lovers.

Let's face it, Galapagos is largely about the wildlife. This book will NOT disappoint, and you'll have a great memento of your time with the seals, penguins and tortoises!


Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World. Click to order from Amazon

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World

Definitely NOT a tourist's guide, but if you're like me, and find the history and geography of the islands irresistible, then this is a title you ought to invest in.

Stunningly illustrated, and painstakingly researched, those of you who have been there will be enchanted again -- and those of you who have not will begin planning your trip!


Moon Spotlight Galapagos. Click to order from Amazon

Moon Spotlight Galapagos Islands

If you're a seasoned Galapagos regular, then you will probably prefer something weightier.

But for first-timers looking for simple, down-to-earth advice on where to go, what to see and the best shopping and eating on the islands, this is the book for you.

Small, well-priced, and reliable!


Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire. Click to order from Amazon

Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire

The 10th anniversary edition of this photographer's tour of the Galapagos Islands is a stunning book, worthy of anybody's coffee table.

This is a perfect post-trip talking point -- a great way to remember what you've seen, and spread the word amongst your envious friends!


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