Penguins are flightless birds perfectly designed for the marine environment. They are excellent swimmers with a torpedo shaped body, feet and tail that act as a rudder and flippers that act as propellers. A waterproof coat of feathers with an under layer of woolly down plus a layer of fat protects them against the cold.
Penguins eat mainly small fish and krill. In turn, penguins become food for other marine animals, namely leopard seals and killer whales. On land their main predators are skuas and sheathbills - carnivorous birds that take both eggs and chicks.
There is still debate about the classification of some penguins, and depending on which authority is followed, there are 17, and perhaps up to 20, species of penguin. Four of these species live and nest on and around the Antarctic continent and the rest are found in sub-Antarctic regions.
The four populations of penguins that live and breed on the Antarctic continent – Adélie
– are under escalating pressure. For some, global warming
is taking away precious ground on which penguins raise their young. For others, food has become increasingly scarce because of changing environmental conditions.
What is clear is that these unique, hardy and charismatic creatures face an extremely tough battle to adapt to the unprecedented rate of climate change.