Emperor penguin

  • Common name

    Emperor penguin

  • Scientific name

    Aptenodytes forsteri

  • Habitat

    This species is marine and pelagic feeding mainly on fish in Antarctic waters (although krill and cephalopods can be important in places).

  • Height

    Up to 1.15 m

  • Weight

    Up to 40 kg

  • Did you know?

    Under 2°C global warming and the projected decrease in sea ice thickness and increase in open water area, around 40% of the emperor penguin population may be severely challenged to find suitable nesting areas.

 / ©: Fritz Pˆlking / WWF
Emperor penguin chick (Aptenodytes forsteri), Dawson-Lambton Glacier, Antarctica.
© Fritz Pˆlking / WWF
The largest of the penguin species, the emperor grows up to 1.15 metres tall and weighs up to 40 kg. They are very deep divers, often diving to about 250 metres with dives lasting on average 3–6 minutes. Their menu is varied and includes fish, krill and squid.

A truly a hardy animal, it is the only warm-blooded animal that breeds during the Antarctic winter, surviving blizzards, darkness and wind chill equivalent of temperatures as low as -60 C. Every year around late March, adult emperor penguins leave the pack ice and may walk up to 200 km over its frozen surface to their breeding sites. They need stable, long-lasting fast ice on which to breed. In May or June, the females lay one egg and then make the long walk back to open water, eating again for the first time in about two months. In the meantime, the egg is kept on the feet of the father, protected under the layers of feathers and fat of its abdomen. During the next two months, the father fasts while keeping watch until its chick hatches. Miraculously, at that time the mother returns with food. By that time of year (July-August), food can then be obtained more easily because adjacent ocean areas have been swept free of sea ice by strong winds.

Two of the northern most emperor penguin populations are located at Pointe Géologie, Adélie Land, and Dion Island located on the northwestern Antarctic Peninsula. In this warmer part of Antarctica, both emperor penguin populations have declined over recent decades. At Pointe Géologie, the population has declined by about 50% over the past 50 years. High mortality occurred during the late 1970s, the cause of which is not yet known, and the population has not recovered since. The decrease in the Dion Island colony was brought about by large-scale disappearance of sea ice in that region.

Under 2°C global warming and the projected decrease in sea ice thickness and increase in open water area, around 40% of the emperor penguin population may be severely challenged to find suitable nesting areas. The king penguin may also easily displace the emperor penguin because of its extended breeding season which allows it to exist in areas with lower food availability.
Emperor penguin adults (Aptenodytes forsteri) and chick, Dawson-Lambton Glacier, Antarctica. / ©: Fritz Pölking / WWF
Emperor penguin adults (Aptenodytes forsteri) and chick, Dawson-Lambton Glacier, Antarctica.
© Fritz Pölking / WWF
Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) lying down on stomach Dawson-Lambton Glacier, Antarctica. / ©: Fritz Pölking / WWF
Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) lying down on stomach Dawson-Lambton Glacier, Antarctica.
© Fritz Pölking / WWF