Can rare tropical penguins survive in the Galapagos?


A Galapagos penguin profile during the last monitoring in 2016. Photograph by Daniela Vilema
Written by: Daniel Unda

Very docile and gentle, Galapagos penguins are unique. They are not only one of the smallest penguin species in the world, but also they are also the only penguins that lives in the equatorial line with a tropical climate. They feed near the coast and their diet is mainly composed of fish and crustaceans. They are excellent divers as they dive to find prey at deeper levels. They have been recorded feeding at 50 meters deep.


But all this diving fun may be coming to an end, because the heating of the ocean is forcing the penguins to swim further and further in search of food. And along these longer journeys they become prey of bigger predators lurking in the open waters.

This is happening due to global climate change and it is one of the main threats to the penguin’s survival.

IMG_0461_WEB.jpgGalapagos penguin posing during the last monitoring developed by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) in 2016. Photograph by: Daniela Vilema

The future for the Galapagos penguin looks bleak

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently assessed the species as “Endangered” (close to extinction) ¹, because its population has been reduced to one of the smallest ever recorded.

IMG_0359_WEB.jpgGalapagos penguin released after being tagged by scientists from the CDF and the GNPD. Photograph by Daniela Vilema

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), a scientific research institution based on the Galapagos Islands, has contributed to catalogue other threats, such as “introduced species preying eggs and chicks. The list of introduced predators includes cats, rats and others. Pathogens and diseases carried by mosquitos and flies are also a concern.

PIN3_WEB.jpgGalapagos penguin ready to get back into the water; the red lines in its chest were drawn with a red marker to avoid its recapture. Photograph by: Daniela Vilema

Besides these existential threats, penguins are not prolific breeders; they typically lay 2 to 3 eggs that hatch after 35 to 42 days, and it depends of the quantity of the food.


There is a silver lining to our penguin story. Since 2010, Charles Darwin Foundation together with Galapagos National Park Directorate has been monitoring and cataloguing individuals and nests, to obtain information such as survival, reproduction, threats, among others.


The leader of this project, Gustavo Jimenez-Uzcátegui mentioned that improved observation records and data sets are the baseline to develop a long term management plan to guarantee the survival of the Galapagos penguin.

PIN4_WEB.jpgPenguins in the sunset at the west of the Galapagos after a tagging day. Photograph by Daniela Vilema

You can also help!

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CDF Galapagos

  1. International Union for Conservation of Nature, Red List of Threatened Species, accessed March 14, 2014, IUCN Red List information for specific penguin species can be obtained by entering the scientific name in the search field "Enter Red List search term(s)."