Emperor penguins on the White Continent

This elegant penguin species is the largest of them all, and it is sometimes confused with the King Penguin because of their similar appearance. Emperors are also the hardest penguin species to encounter, as they live inland from the coast in the mostly icy, inaccessible Weddell Sea region. Emperor Penguins are exclusively Antarctica birds: they are born, they breed and they feed on the White Continent and its surrounding waters. The smaller King Penguins breed in the sub Antarctic islands, South Georgia, Falklands (Malvinas), Tierra del Fuego and other locations.

Photo Credit: Ted Cheeseman/ Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris

Most Antarctica voyages will give you the opportunity to get close to Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie penguin colonies, which are in the South Shetland Islands and on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Although many travelers hoping to join an Antarctica expedition may be attracted to visit the Emperor penguin colonies, only a few expeditions each season have the ice capability and helicopters needed to potentially reach the Emperors. These voyages take a different route to the Weddell Sea where passengers and team go on a helicopter ride to get further inland where Emperors can be found with their chicks during the austral spring/summer. Since weather and ice are very unpredictable, there is no guarantee travelers will reach the colony.

Photo Credit: Ted Cheeseman/ Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris

Take a look at some fun facts below:

  • Lifespan: up to 20 years!
  • Predators: chicks are vulnerable to predators such as the South Polar Skua, while adults can be attacked by the leopard seal or orcas
  • They spend their whole lives in the coldest and windiest continent on Earth
  • They feed on fish, squid and krill
  • Special adaptations to survive temperatures of up to -60ºC: scale-like feathers + insulating body fat + reduction of metabolism & blood flow + they form vast colonies where adults take turns to be at the coldest and windiest outermost layer.
  • Feeding season: January to March (austral summer)
  • March of the Emperor Penguin from the sea to their breeding grounds: April
  • Mating season: May
  • Mothers produce a single egg and once laid they go back to the sea to feed for two months
  • The father incubates the egg for two months

Antarctica expeditions give you the chance to get up close and personal with various different penguin species. The Emperors are the biggest but most elusive penguins in Antarctica.

Photo Credit: Ted Cheeseman/ Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris

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