Galapagos penguins are commonly found north of the equator. These flightless birds are restricted to the temperate Galapagos Islands and the waters in the area. They are closely related to penguins that live on the African and South American coasts. Antarctic penguins are also relatives, though more distantly.
Even though Galapagos penguins live in a warmer climate, the three ocean currents that converge around the islands keep the water surprisingly cool. Galapagos is also home to one of the largest and biologically diverse marine sanctuaries globally, giving the penguins a safe place to swim and hunt for a meal.
What Do Galapagos Penguins Eat?
Galapagos penguins are smaller than other penguin species, but this doesn’t mean that they skip meals. These temperate climate birds have healthy appetites similar to their larger relatives in Africa, South America, and Antarctica.
The small black and white birds are foragers. These penguins do not hunt prey on land for food, but they eat plenty of small fish. Like their relatives, Galapagos penguins are awkward on land. In the water, it’s a different story. They are graceful and surprisingly agile.
Galapagos Penguin Diet
Galapagos penguins depend on the three ocean currents, the Panama Flow and the Humboldt and Cromwell Currents, to bring fish to the islands. Galapagos penguins do not migrate, even for food.
The non-migratory birds do not swim far from shore, so they rely on the currents to bring the fish closer to them. Mullet and pilchards, a type of sardine, are staples of the penguin’s diet, along with other kinds of small fish. The penguins may also eat small crustaceans, though researchers are still studying the birds’ special diet.
How Do Galapagos Penguins Find Food
These are ingenious and creative foragers. Most Galapagos penguins hunt in groups. It’s easier to herd the small fish into a large school. The penguins attack the fish from below and the side. It helps ensure the penguins don’t miss a meal.
Another reason penguins hunt in groups, close to the shore, is for protection from predators. Sea lions, sharks, and fur seals prey on the small penguins. Staying together makes the individual penguin a smaller target for predators.
Dangers to Galapagos Penguins Food Source
The primary threat to Galapagos penguins’ food supply is climate change. Warmer waters caused by El Nino currents deplete their primary source of food. The small fish the penguins depend on don’t come close to shore.
Since the penguins stay close to land, there is a danger of starvation. A lack of food also forces female penguins to stop laying eggs, putting additional strain on the threatened species.
Galapagos Penguins Today
Galapagos penguins are unique to a set of 10 islands located 1,000 miles off of the Ecuadorian coast. Measures are in place to protect the Galapagos Islands and the native penguins. It includes limiting tourism and fishing. The El Nino current and climate change continue to be threats, but awareness of the penguins and the islands’ biodiversity helps ensure the small birds’ survival.