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Blog articles on fun facts and interesting information written by our penguin experts.

Honoring Kevin Blakely ‘The Penguin Guy’

Honoring Kevin Blakely ‘The Penguin Guy’

In Memory of

Kevin Blakely

Lead Penguin Zookeeper

Seneca Park Zoo, Rochester, NY

Kevin Blakely was the lead penguin zookeeper at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY for 10 years.  It was never a job for Kevin, it was a privilege and a dream of a lifetime.  This was Kevin’s second career and the career that meant the most to him.   He was able to be a part of the conservation of penguins and educate our communities on the importance of conservation and our environment.   A favorite quote of Kevin’s was from Richard Louv, an American author and journalist:

We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see… and touch… and hear.”

Kevin hatched many penguin chicks during his 10 years, and four of those chicks became education ambassadors at the Seneca Park Zoo – his beloved Gizmo, Ikulu (Icky), Drumstick and Toad.  Kevin’s daily educational talks featured all the penguins; however, you could always find Gizmo on Kevin’s lap while the other three were trying to find a spot near or on Kevin.  

The bond Kevin had with his four buddies, especially Gizmo, caught the attention of the visitors and contributed to the power of his educational talks.  Kevin affectionately became known at the zoo and in our community as the “Penguin Guy” because of his talks and the visible bond and passion he had for the penguins.  Even outside of the zoo at supermarkets, restaurants, people would say, “Hey, aren’t you the Penguin Guy.”   

In December of 2019, Kevin received the gift of a lifetime being selected by Seneca Park Zoo to travel to South Africa to be a volunteer zookeeper at SANCCOB.  This experience reinforced the extreme importance of penguin conservation as he saw first-hand the impact of humans and environmental changes on the survival of African Penguins.  During his two weeks at SANCCOB, Kevin aided in feeding rescued chicks whose parents could not find enough fish in the oceans, penguins with missing limbs and saw the amazing impact of the work SANCCOB does when he participated in the release of several rehabilitated penguins back to the ocean.   Kevin brought this message back home through virtual presentations and his everyday talks at the zoo.  Kevin called upon his colleagues and friends of the zoo to contribute selected/needed supplies to SANCCOB – supplies he noted they needed while he was volunteering.  The response was overwhelming and meant so much to Kevin.

In July of 2023, just three months before Kevin’s passing, Kevin and Gizmo had the privilege of bringing the message of penguin conservation to our local minor league baseball park for Penguin Day.  Kevin and Gizmo threw out the first pitch of the game alongside Thurman Thomas of the Buffalo Bills.  Kevin lovingly carried Gizmo to the mound, Gizmo watched Kevin throw the pitch and together they waddled back to the sidelines.  A once in a lifetime for Kevin, his best buddy Gizmo, and the baseball fans.

Though Kevin’s time with us was far too short, he quietly and humbly left his footprints for all of us to follow, recognizing the importance of conservation and the environment.  Following is an excerpt from one of Kevin’s educational talks:

“What is the importance of zoos and aquariums?  In a few minutes you will go down to an indoor gallery and meet a couple of penguins up close.  You will fall in love with them and every time you think of penguins, you’ll think about the penguins you met, saw, heard, and got to know and from now on will want to protect and save them.”

In Kevin’s memory, let us all save some penguins. 

Credit: Seneca Park Zoo

A Letter from Penguins International Ambassador, Katherine Hobbs

A Letter from Penguins International Ambassador, Katherine Hobbs

Hey there, Penguin Pals!


My name is Katherine Hobbs. I’m a public media journalist, the co-founder of 18 Species Productions and a penguinologist studying the intersection of penguin’s breeding behavior, climate change and mitochondrial DNA. I am so honored to be Penguins International’s ambassador of the year.


I’ve loved penguins for as long as I can remember. I’m autistic, which means human interaction can be really difficult. Like many autistic folks, I’ve had to find ways to make sense of my peers and, for me, penguins make sense. They’re close enough to humans that I understand their basic needs and desires. They want food and safety, and most species want a partner for life and chicks and to avoid danger. 


Their intricacies make sense to me, and not because they lack social complexity, which they have oodles of, but because studying penguins allows me to observe social behavior in a way that feels safe. As a kid, it didn’t always feel safe to ask questions about human behavior. I was frequently met with annoyance when I didn’t understand social conventions, but when I sit in front of a penguin colony, it feels safe to ask questions. My hypotheses about their behaviors are interrogated rather than shamed. For these reasons and so many more, I’ve dedicated my scientific career to ensuring penguins are around for many more generations to come.


Penguins International shares my mission to inspire folks to champion penguin conservation through an understanding that what’s good for the penguins is good for the humans. I hope our partnership will inspire you to become an everyday conservationist, making choices and changes in your daily life to support thriving penguin populations worldwide.


When I considered the ways I could help folks form a connection with penguins, I kept returning to my personal favorite mediums: radio and documentaries. I’m thrilled to have partnered with scientists and facilities around the world to produce Sequencing for Survival, an upcoming documentary seeking to unravel the mysteries of penguins’ DNA. Documentaries take a heck of a lot of time to produce, so I’ve been staying on my sci-comms game by making my penguin obsession NPR’s problem. My delightful editors have indulged me on several occasions, and the response from public radio listeners to the penguins’ plight has been overwhelming in the best way. 


From my listeners’ feedback, I’ve learned that just about everyone can find a meaningful connection to penguins, and I’d love to hear from you. Shoot me a DM on Instagram and tell me why penguins matter to you and why you love Penguins International. I simply cannot wait to hear from you!


Waddle on,

Katherine Hobbs

The Celebration of being promoted to Major General Sir Nils Olav III

The Celebration of being promoted to Major General Sir Nils Olav III

By Lorna Moffat, Experienced Animal Keeper at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s (RZSS) Edinburgh Zoo

When you hear of a military promotion in the news, you would instantly think of a human being promoted up the ranks, or even a military working animal such as a horse or a dog. However, Nils Olav is not a human, but a king penguin that resides in Edinburgh Zoo and is part of the Norwegian Kings Guard. To us (his keepers/loyal servants), he is just Nils, a 21-year-old flirty, friendly and sprat- adoring king penguin, who shares his home with four other male king penguins, over 100 gentoo penguins and 22 Northern rockhopper penguins.

However, to the Norwegian Military, he is “Major General Sir Nils Olav III, Baron of the Bouvet Islands and Official Mascot of the Kings Guard of Norway”. His story starts back in the 1961, when the Norwegian Military visited Edinburgh for the annual Royal Military Tattoo that takes place every August at Edinburgh Castle. Whilst over here, a young Lieutenant named Nils Egelien visited the zoo and was instantly taken in by how regal the king penguins were, especially when they were ‘marching’ around their enclosure. In 1972, they visited again, and (the then-promoted) Commander Nils decided to adopt one of the penguins as their mascot and this penguin was thereby named Nils Olav: “Nils”, after Nils Egelien himself, and “Olav” after both Olav Siggerud, a contingent commander of His Majesty’s Kings Guard in 1972, and King Harald Olav V.
In 1982, they visited again, and promoted Nils Olav to Commander, followed by Sergent (1987), Regimental Sergent Major (1993), Honourable Regimental Sergent (2001) and Colonel-in-Chief in 2005. After his promotion in 2005 to Colonel-in-Chief, the zoo was presented with a four-foot tall, bronze statue of Nils (the penguin posing with his military badge) which is twinned with the same statue at the Kings Guard compound at Huseby Leir, Oslo.
13 years later, the Norwegian Kings Guard visited the zoo again, and, to everyone’s surprise they were there to promote Nils Olav to SIR Nils Olav III, Colonel-in-Chief of the Kings Guard of Norway. This king penguin would be the third to take on the royal duties, with the previous two having passed away over the years from old age. On the day, a six-year-old Nils came out the enclosure and walked up to his statue where he was knighted with a sword and presented with his knighthood badge, which slipped on top of his flipper-band. To be promoted to such a high title, this promotion had to be approved by King Harald V of Norway himself!

In 2013, they once again visited to promote Sir Nils to Brigadier Sir Nils Olav III and Baron of the Bouvet Islands (a Norwegian Antarctic territory home to Macaroni, Adelie and Chinstrap penguins).

Fast forward to August 2023, and the excitement of another promotion was looming. He worked hard to prepare for the big day, with keepers training him to get into the routine of coming out of the enclosure gate in the morning, walking up to his bronze statue and then returning down the path back into the enclosure. Of course, there was something in it for him each morning and he knew it – a plentiful supply of tasty sprats! However, he is a very well-behaved boy and loves any form of attention, so I think he was just enjoying all the fuss!

The 21st of August 2023 began like any other day throughout August. As before, he came out the enclosure and walked up to his bronze statue – only this time he was met with a brass band playing, the Norwegian Kings Guard standing to attention, lots of media and cameras, as well as excited zoo staff waiting to see his shining moment.

Upon arriving at his bronze statue, he was thereby promoted to Major General Sir Nils Olav III, Baron of the Bouvet Islands, and the Official Mascot of the Kings Guard of Norway.

For now, he holds the position of the third highest rank in the Norwegian Army, and now outranks Major Nils Egelien whom started this wonderful story all those years ago. As if he hasn’t achieved it all, he has also continued to beat the Guiness World Record at being the highest ranking penguin (and once again he was presented with ANOTHER certificate in October last year).

Links with Norway did not actually start in the 1960s, but back in 1913 when the Norwegian fishing fleet Christian Salvesen dropped off the first king penguins to the Zoo and Edinburgh was then the first zoo in the world to captive hatch a king penguin chick in 1919 (aptly named Baby).
Nils (the penguin) was hand-reared at Whipsnade Zoo in England in 2002, before being transported to Edinburgh in 2004 where he is very keeper orientated and will follow us around the enclosure.

I have known him since he was six years old, and he is now approaching 22 years old (but you would never think it as he is still very spritely!) which is bizarre to have known him as simply Dopey (his nickname when he was a youngster), Sir Nils Olav, Brigadier Nils Olav III, and Major General Sir Nils Olav III. He is a very special penguin – not just because he is part of the military and a ‘celebrity’, but because of his charismatic personality and having him greet you every morning by singing to you makes you realise being a zookeeper is a very special job!


Edinburgh Zoo (2023): Available at:

Edinburgh Zoo (2024): Sir Nils Olav | Edinburgh Zoo. Available at

Celebrating The Role of the Endangered Species Act in Penguin Conservation

Celebrating The Role of the Endangered Species Act in Penguin Conservation

Did you know that President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on this day
December 28th in 1973?

The purpose of the ESA is to show the United States’ international commitment in protecting endangered and threatened species by working with Federal agencies to carry out protection programs(1). These federal agencies include both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

There are currently 7 penguin species protected under the ESA. In June 2, 1970 the first
penguin species proposed as endangered under the ESA was the Galapagos Penguin (3) . In 2010
four more penguin species were added to the ESA. The Fiordland Penguin (4), Erect-crested
Penguin (5) , and Humboldt Penguin (6) were listed as threatened and the African Penguin (7) was listed
as endangered. In 2011 the Southern Rockhopper (8) was added to the threatened list. Just last
year in 2022, Emperor Penguins (9) were added as a threatened species and Penguins
International submitted comments to the USFWS in support of this listing (10) . An endangered
species means that the species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion
of its range. A threatened species is a species likely to become endangered in the foreseeable

What is interesting is that the scientific community has identified 9 out of the 18 penguin
species as threatened with extinction. This number refers to the IUCN Red List- an inventory of
global statuses for species around the world created by the International Union for
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and informed by global science-based species experts from the
Species Survival Commission (SSC) (17) . The IUCN Red List informs global decisions for wildlife
through the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) (2) . The Yellow-Eyed
Penguin and Northern Rockhopper Penguin are listed as endangered according to the IUCN Red
List (11) but are not included in the ESA.

Why does having a penguin listed as endangered or threatened under ESA matter if there is a
global list? Section 8 of the Endangered Species Act includes laws for international cooperation.
This means that the United States is involved in providing financial assistance for conservation
programs, encourages foreign programs, provides personnel, and conducts or supports law
enforcement investigations by working with the Convention on International Trade of
Endangered Species (CITES) (1) . The penguin species that are protected under ESA means that the
United States government is required to take action to reduce their decline.
Sections 1 & 2 of the ESA states various species have been rendered extinct or have depleted in
numbers and are in danger or threatened with extinction as a consequence of economic growth
and development untampered by adequate concern and conservation (1) . The penguin species
listed under the ESA are there due to human activities; the 2022 listing of the Emperor Penguin
as threatened reflects this.

What is being done in the United States for penguins? Involvement with CITES and IUCN global
programs (2) are linked to state programs dedicated to reversing the decline of species. In the
United States, zoos and aquariums have been involved in these programs since the IUCN
creation in 1948 (12) ! The AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquarium) and SSC (Species Survival
Commission) have a unified strategy for saving species from the brink of extinction through
population management and genetic diversity programs (12) . Your local AZA-accredited zoo or
aquarium is helping penguins by having Species Survival Plans (SSP) (13) managed through a
Penguin Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) (14) . TAG works under the supervision of the Animal
Population Management Committee (APM) (15) to manage, identify, and support conservation
needs of entire taxa, in our case, penguins! This group identifies population goals and
recommendations to manage a genetically diverse, demographically varied, and biologically
sound population.

In the Penguin TAG regional collection plan states, “The goal of the Penguin TAG is to provide
leadership for the management of penguins in captivity in order to maintain healthy,
sustainable populations for the purposes of engendering appreciation for these charismatic
species that are indicators of the health of marine and coastal environments; promoting
conservation concern and conservation action through education programs and internet
resources, and furthering in situ conservation and research in support of captive
management. (16) ”

Every penguin chick that hatches within a zoo or aquarium that is part of the SSP is carefully
managed for genetic variation. In fact, penguins move between different facilities as part of a
population studbook, breeding, and transfer plan to ensure that each chick produced maintains
healthy genetic diversity of the species (15) ! Zoos and aquariums with penguins protected under
the ESA have to follow very specific laws involved in this process. The Penguin TAG not only
manages captive penguin populations, but they also support research seeking to improve the
health and husbandry of captive collections of penguins, develop educational programs,
participate in field conservation projects and provide guidance in exhibit and facility designs (16) .
Here at Penguins International we too are involved in this process and have to adhere to the
ESA laws for research projects. Any samples collected from wild populations and any science
trips scheduled to visit colonies all require paperwork and approvals from the USFWS and
NOAA. Penguins International also works with facilities that have captive penguins to support
SSP and TAG programs and to fulfill the need for educational programming. Being based in the
United States provides Penguins International with a unique perspective to understand the ESA
and how it can play a role in the penguins we have locally and their wild counterparts. Our
mission Protecting Penguins, Protect the Planet encompasses this global idea that in order to
keep penguins around for future generations we must cultivate empathy and understanding of
their species. We do this through community education, field conservation, and scientific
research programs.

1)Endangered Species Act of 1973 as amended by Public Law 117-286. 16 USC 35.Washington.
H.R. 5961, 117 th Congress.

2)Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. (July 1999)
Memorandum of Understanding Between The Secretariat Of The Convention Of International
Trade In Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna And Flora And IUCN- The World Conservation

3)Environmental Conservation Online System: Species Profile Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus
mendiculus) (June 2, 1970). Retrieved December 26, 2023.

4) Environmental Conservation Online System: Species Profile fiordland crested penguin
(Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) (September 2, 2010). Retrieved December 26, 2023.

5) Environmental Conservation Online System: Species Profile erect- crested penguin (Eudyptes
sclateri) (September 2, 2010). Retrieved December 26, 2023.

6) Environmental Conservation Online System: Species Profile Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus
humboldti) (September 2, 2010).

7) Environmental Conservation Online System: Species Profile African penguin (Spheniscus
demersus) (October 29, 2010). Retrieved December 26, 2023.

8) Environmental Conservation Online System: Species Profile southern rockhopper penguin
(Eudyptes chrysocome) (March 24, 2011). Retrieved December 26, 2023.

9)Environmental Conservation Online System: Species Profile emperor penguin (Aptenodytes
forsteri) (November 25, 2022). Retrieved December 26, 2023.

10) Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife
and Plants; Threatened Species Status for Emperor Penguin with Section 4(d) Rule. (October 26,
2022). Federal Register Vol. 87, No. 206.

11) The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
Sphenisciformes- Order. ISSN 2307-8235. Retrieved December 26, 2023.

12) IUCN SSC 2023. Position Statement on the role of botanic gardens, aquariums, and zoos in
species conservation. IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), Gland, Switzerland. 8 pp.
Retrieved December 26, 2023.

13) AZA SSP. Species Survival Plan Programs. Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Retrieved
December 26, 2023.

14) AZA TAG. Taxon Advisory Groups. Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Retrieved December
26, 2023.

15) AZA APM. Animal Population Management Committee. Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Retrieved December 26, 2023.

16) Penguin Taxon Advisory Group. Regional Collection Plan 2010-2015. Fourth Edition.
Retrieved December 26, 2023.

17) IUCN 2023. Species Survival Commission. IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), Gland,
Switzerland. Retrieved December 26, 2023.

Low Antarctic Sea Ice leads to Emperor Penguin Breeding Failure

A new study published in Communications Earth & Environment, shows that emperor penguin breeding colonies may have failed due to loss of sea ice at the breeding sites. Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey examined sea ice loss “using [the European Commission’s Copernicus] Sentinel2 satellite imagery. Of the five breeding sites in the region all but one experienced total breeding failure after sea ice break-up before the start” of the 2022 breeding season fledgling period. (1)

Data courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Centre, Boulder, CO.

Emperor penguins rely on stable sea ice that is land-fast, or firmly attached to shore from April through January. Penguins lay eggs in Antarctic winter (May to June) at their selected breeding location. After 65 days, eggs hatch, but chicks “do not fledge until summer, between December and January.”  Satellite images show that in the central and eastern Bellingshausen Sea region, “west of the Antarctic peninsula … there was a 100% loss of sea ice in November 2022.”  According to the study’s author, Dr. Peter Fretwell, he has “never seen emperor penguins fail to breed, at this scale, in a single season.” (2)

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to list the emperor penguin as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. As of October 2022, emperor penguins are now listed as threatened. According to the USFWS, “the impact of climate change on sea-ice habitat … is the primary threat to the penguin.” Data shows that by “2050 their global population size will likely decrease by 26 to 47 percent under low and high carbon emissions scenarios.” (3)

In the past, emperor penguins moved to more stable sites after encountering sea ice loss in previous habitats. If sea ice continues to decline, emperor penguins will not be able to find stable land for breeding. “Climate change is the only major factor influencing their long-term population change,” unlike other populations that face threats from predators. (USFWS). Scientists believe that “if current global warming trends “ continue, the sea ice in Antarctica “will decline at a rate that would dramatically” decrease emperor penguin populations to “the point that almost all colonies would become quasi-extinct by 2100, with little chance of recovering.” (4)

  1. Fretwell, Peter T., Aude Boutet, and Norman Ratcliffe. 2023. “Record Low 2022 Antarctic Sea Ice Led to Catastrophic Breeding Failure of Emperor Penguins.” Communications Earth & Environment 4 (1): 1–6. (Accessed 10 October 2023).
  2. British Antarctic Survey. “Loss of Antarctic sea ice causes catastrophic breeding failure for emperor penguins.” ScienceDaily. (accessed October 25, 2023).
  3.  Public Affairs HQ. 5 October 2022. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Provides Endangered Species Act Protections for Emperor Penguin.” US Fish and Wildlife Service.,%2DES%2D2021%2D0043. (Accessed 10 October 2023).
  4.  Jenouvrier, Stephanie. 3 August 2021. “98% of emperor penguin colonies could be extinct by 2100 as ice melts.” The Conversation. (Accessed 23 October 2023).

Elizabeth Freed has worked as a journalist, editor, and educator. She has written STEM curricula for a pilot STEM school in Aurora, Illinois and has been teaching gifted students for the past 12 years. Freed shares her love of science  by inviting scientists to her classroom so students can experience real world concepts.

Avian Flu Threatens Penguin Colonies in Antarctic

Photo credit: Esa Alexander/Reuters

Scientists are scrambling to prevent a possible outbreak of a deadly and highly contagious form of the Avian flu, which is a viral infection found in domestic poultry and wild birds. According to a new report, published by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on September 26, 2023, “there is a high risk that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI H5N1) will arrive in the Southern Ocean during the 2023/2024 austral summer.”

African Penguin

H5N1 arrived in South America in 2022, specifically in Peru and Chile which reported “more than 500,000 dead seabirds and 25,000 dead sea lions” according to OFFLU, a global network of flu experts. In addition, over 900 Humboldt penguin deaths have been reported in Chile. The disease is spread among wild bird migratory paths and transmitted “via the fecal-oral route and through environmental contamination” such as water.

Dr. Ralph Vanstreels, a researcher at the University of California wildlife health program for Latin America shared that “the distinctive emperor penguin … crowd[s] together in large colonies” which is “a recipe for disaster” for a highly contagious viral infection. He anticipates a high death toll if the virus goes unchecked. In addition, Dr. Meagan Dewar, Chair of the Antarctic Wildlife Health Network (AWHN), warns of a devastating impact on “many wildlife species in the region [that will] … lead to catastrophic breeding failure and mortality events.”  Currently, “there have been no identified cases of HPAI in Antarctic wildlife” however, the Antarctic Peninsula is at high risk of the virus. 

According to COMNAP, the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs, a series of protocols have been instituted to prevent cross-contamination. Although migratory habits of birds cannot be stopped, COMNAP advises preventing the “intra-continental spread of the virus by human activity.” The purpose of COMNAP is to “develop and promote best practice in managing the support of scientific research in Antarctica.”

The NSF and COMNAP are advising biosecurity protocols including not to visit seabird colonies or come into contact with concentrations of birds prior to departing for Antarctica. Prelanding/pre-entry surveillance is a requirement prior to entering a wildlife colony. In addition boots and equipment should be decontaminated before and after any colony visit or between colony visits.

Dewar advised, “With enhanced surveillance and monitoring, the AWHN hopes to measure HPAI impact on Antarctic wildlife health this season and next.” 


Elizabeth Freed is a writer and researcher for over 20 years and is an Illinois Arts Council Fellow winner. She has taught STEM in middle schools since 2007 and invited scientists to share their research with her classes.

  1. Updated Guidance on the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza – Environmental Update for USAP Personnel. 26 September 2023.  (Accessed 11 October 2023)
  2.  Anthes, Emily. Bird Flu Raced Through South America. Antarctica Could Be Next. New York Times. 31 August, 2023. (Accessed 11 October 2023).
  3.  Updated Guidance on the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza – Environmental Update for USAP Personnel. 26 September 2023.  (Accessed 11 October 2023)
  4.  Anthes, Emily. Bird Flu Raced Through South America. Antarctica Could Be Next. New York Times. 31 August, 2023. 
  5.  Grabow, Johanna. Antarctic Wildlife at Heightened Risk of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreaks. Antarctic Wildlife Neath Network (AWHN). 13 September 2023. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. (accessed 11  October 2023).
  6.  COMNAP. Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) Preparedness, Monitoring and Response. 1 September 2023. The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs. (Accessed 11 October 2023).
  7.  Updated Guidance on the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza – Environmental Update for USAP Personnel. 26 September 2023.  (Accessed 11 October 2023)
  8.  Grabow, Johanna. Antarctic Wildlife at Heightened Risk of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreaks. Antarctic Wildlife Neath Network (AWHN). 13 September 2023. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. (accessed 11  October 2023). 


Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation calls for drastic measures or African Penguins on track for extinction

African Penguin nest box

To encourage conservation and public awareness of the plight of African penguins, Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s #Not on Our Watch campaign is planning a Worldwide Waddle on October 14, 2023. This is also International Penguin Awareness Day. The plight of these penguins is at risk of extinction without public support.

By 2035, African penguins won’t retain enough breeding pairs for the species to survive in the wild. A scientific report warns of the current rate of decline of over 500 breeding pairs of African penguins living in Namibia and South Africa.   Numbers of these birds have plummeted from over one million in the early 1900s to less than 20,000 today, with the downward trend continuing. Even though the South African government has continued fishing closures around some African penguin colonies, “it’s far from enough to make a significant impact and stop the plunge toward extinction,” (Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation). Even with the closures, there is a shortage of small fish for the penguins to eat.

According to Dr. Judy Mann, Executive of Strategic Projects at Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, one of the biggest challenges is food availability. “With fish stocks collapsing and fewer sardines available, African penguins are struggling to get enough food,” said Mann. “Colony management, habitat for breeding, disease, predation by seals and gulls and the impact of storms and flooding are adding challenges for the African penguins.”

The African penguins are labeled as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on its Red List of Threatened Species. The goal of Two Oceans Not on Our Watch Campaign (NOOW) is to raise “worldwide public awareness about the plight of African penguins” to encourage the government to enact stricter policies and laws that will ensure this species continues to exist in the wild and to support the conservation community. (Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation)

Mann believes that if “fisheries, the South African government, oil, and shipping companies, management agencies, scientists, conservationists, international allies and the public work together, we can stop African penguin numbers from declining every year.” The #NOOW campaign is asking penguin-lovers to email South Africa’s Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment with encouragement letters in support of African penguins. Go to to hit a button and send the letter and to find out more about the waddles.

In addition, join a Free Virtual Celebration Tuesday October 10, 2023 at 9:30 AM MST to  hear from Dr. Susana Cárdenas-Alayza on Humboldt Penguins and Dr. Judy Mann-Lang on African Penguins on Facebook LIVE:

And, join Penguins International for a Free In-Person ‘Waddle and Wine’ Celebration Friday October 13, 2023  at 4:00 PM MST at 5171 Eldorado Springs Dr. Suite N Boulder CO 80303 and wear your best Black and White outfit for a prize! Limited to the first 40 people, Register here:


Bonorchis,  R. and Wares, H. (2023, August 8) African penguins on track for extinction if extra measures aren’t taken: A call to action. Two Oceans Aquarium. Retrieved from

Jenkins, Andrew (2023, July 23) As African Penguins teeter on the brink of extinction, Boulders could be a vital education. Daily Maverick.  Retrieved from

Borboroglu Wins Indianapolis Prize

Borboroglu Wins Indianapolis Prize

Photo Credit: National Geographic LA

Dr. Pablo Borboroglu was recently named the 2023 winner of the Indianapolis Prize, the world’s top animal conservation award. Borboroglu is the co-founder of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Penguin Specialist Group and founder and president of the Global Penguin Society headquartered in Argentina. He is also a marine biologist who has spent more than three decades “studying penguins and leading conservation efforts across four continents” (“Protector of Penguins,” 2023).

Photo Credit: Global Penguin Society

In an interview with Mongabay, a conservation news web portal, Borboroglu stated he felt  “… so honored and grateful for this recognition. As a conservationist, you often work alone. You are isolated in your country, sometimes facing big interests from the private sector or politicians … and sometimes you feel like it’s just you and your team working against all those interests. When you receive this award, it’s like a validation that what you do is important. It’s a way to legitimize everything we’ve been doing and recognize the effort we’ve made” (Alberts 2023).

Borboroglu is the ninth winner of the Indianapolis Prize,  awarded by the Indianapolis Zoological Society (IZS) in Indianapolis, Indiana. The prize recognizes conservationists who have made significant progress in saving an animal species, or multiple species, from extinction, according to the IZS. Borboroglu will receive $250,000 which is “the largest monetary award in the world that supports conservationists” (“Protector of Penguins,” 2023)  and will be celebrated at the Indianapolis Prize gala September 30, 2023, in Indianapolis. He is the first recipient of the award from South America.

A Change in the Winds: El Niño and Penguins

Photograph of a beach with the sun about to set. In the horizon of the photo, you can just barely see a few penguins on the beach.

A Change in the Winds:
El Niño and Penguins

By Abigail Pietrow, Penguin Keeper

El Niño events are a naturally occurring climate phenomenon in Earth’s southern oceans. But, in the past, particularly strong El Niño events have spelled disaster for penguin colonies in the Southern Pacific. So, let’s take a look at what happens during these events and how they affect penguins.

El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Events

Upwelling currents off the western coastline of South America are driven by strong winds blowing westward from the continent. These winds drive a surface current flowing westward out towards the center of the Pacific Ocean. In turn, this current pulls cold, nutrient-rich water from deep in the ocean to the surface along this coastline. This cold water supports huge fish populations through the growth of phytoplankton when it interacts with sunlight at the surface, and these fish populations are important in supporting local fishermen and thriving populations of marine predators like seabirds and mammals!

Graphic of El Nino and La Nina surface temperature anomalies
Sea Surface Temperatures and Pressure Zones during El Niño, top (a), and La Niña, bottom (b).
Courtesy of NOAA

ENSO events represent a fluctuation in these winds. Think of a swing: it moves through a repetitive path from one side to the other reaching a peak at either end. Relating that to ENSO, El Niño represents one extreme and La Niña the other. In El Niño years, the westward-blowing winds are weaker than normal. This results in warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures and a reduction in upwelling along the coastline. During these events, fish populations often decline dramatically along the South American coastline, as there is less food available to support them. This causes challenges and competition between wildlife and fishermen for the remaining populations. 

Photograph of Magellanic Penguins by the water with glaciers in the background
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach

In La Niña years, the wind patterns swing in the opposite direction, and an even stronger upwelling effect is produced. This leads to larger than normal fish populations and very productive years for fishermen and wildlife in South America.

In Spanish “ El Niño” translates to “the boy,” and is a name given to this phenomenon by Peruvian fishermen in the 1800s. The name refers to the arrival of the warm surface waters off the western coast of South America in December, often around Christmastime. 

The Events of 1982-83 and 1997-98

Although El Niño events naturally occur every 2-7years, they’re not always consistent in the strength of their effect on ocean currents and conditions. In particular, the El Niño events of 1982-83 and 1997-98 resulted in some of the strongest recorded ENSO effects in modern history. These weather events had destructive effects on penguin populations.

At the beginning of 1982, the population of Humboldt penguins in Peru was estimated to be between 6000-8000 individuals and struggling to recover after historical exploitation of guano and poaching of adults and chicks. The strong 1982-83 El Niño event and the resulting lack of food contributed to mass mortality of Humboldt penguins and widespread breeding failure during those years. Scientists recorded a population decline of 65% during this single event, leaving only 2100-3000 surviving adults in the Peruvian population as birds either died or dispersed elsewhere in an attempt to find food.

Likewise, the Galapagos penguin, one of the most endangered penguin species globally, is detrimentally affected in many of the same ways. Though they live in the equatorial Galapagos, they rely just as heavily on upwelling currents in that area to support fish populations. The El Niño of 1982-83 led to a recorded population decline of 77% and the El Niño of 1997-98 resulted in a decline of 65%. Even after 6 years of recovery in 2004, the total population was estimated to only be 50% of what it was pre-1982.

El Niño Today

When we talk about the widespread effects of a changing climate on penguins, it reaches much further than glaciers melting in Antarctica. As global climate change progresses, it is difficult for scientists to predict how this will affect the strength and frequency of El Niño events, but many agree that increases in one or both of those factors are likely.  Either stronger or more frequent events, as some have predicted, could have devastating impacts on the populations of several already threatened or endangered penguin species in South America, especially as competition with humans for limited food sources continue.

© Abigail Pietrow 2021

Abigail Pietrow is a penguin keeper at the Aquarium of Niagara, and works extensively with Humboldt Penguins. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Aquarium of Niagara.

It’s wild how natural phenomena are so interconnected with wildlife. Did you know that wind patterns could affect penguin populations? Help us to learn more and protect wild penguins through research and education by donating to Penguins International!

Read more about penguins in some of our other blogs:

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Chile’s Humboldt penguins under threat of extinction (2013, April 28) retrieved 01 January 2021 from 

El Niño. (n.d.) Retrieved January 01, 2021, from

Hays, Coppelia. (1986) Effects of the 1982-82 El Niño on Humboldt Penguin Colonies in Peru. Biological Conservation 36: 169-180.

Vargas, F. Hernán, S. Harrison, S. Rea, D. W. Macdonald. (2006) Biological effects of El Niño on the Galápagos penguin. Biological Conservation 127: 107-114

What is El Niño? (n.d.) Retrieved January 01, 2021, from

World Penguin Day: Penguin Conservation Status

Gentoo Penguin at the shore with text above the penguin saying "It's World Penguin Day! Pass it on".

World Penguin Day: Penguin Conservation Status

By Abigail Pietrow, Penguin Keeper

April 25th is World Penguin Day! As we celebrate these wonderful and fascinating flightless birds on this day, let’s check in with how the 18 different species are doing.

Conservation status for each species is noted in terms of its International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List designation.

Image of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List designation.
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List designation. Photo credit:
Photograph of an Adelie Penguin looking at the camera.
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach

Adelie Penguin

The Adelie Penguin is listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. Their populations were feared to be decreasing until a previously unknown “supercolony” consisting of an estimated 1.5 million individuals was discovered on remote Antarctic islands in 2018. Surprisingly, these birds were located in part due to the discovery of huge guano stains on NASA satellite imagery.

African Penguin

The IUCN Red List considers the African Penguin to be in the “Endangered” category. Populations have declined by almost 65% since 1989 due to a number of different threats like oil spills and overfishing of food sources by humans. Small victories have been noted in recent years, such as the designation of Robben Island, historically an important breeding island for the species, as a protected marine site in 2019. Organizations like the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) work tirelessly to help the survival of this species.

Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguins are currently listed as “Least Concern.” New research published in 2020 reported the results of one of the first censuses of Chinstrap colonies since the 1970s. They reported decreases of up to 50% at some of the colony sites studied. As with other penguin species, increased monitoring of populations could be very useful in helping scientists paint a more accurate picture of how these species are coping with various challenges in their environment.

Photograph of Chinstrap Penguin looking at the camera.
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach
Photograph of Emperor Penguins walking on sea ice.
Source: Penguins International
Photo Library

Emperor Penguin

Perhaps the most well known of all penguin species, the Emperor Penguin is designated as “Near Threatened.” Currently, the population trend of this species is fairly stable, but their reproductive strategy and natural history is linked to the seasonal sea ice of Antarctica. Predictive modeling suggests that over the course of the next century, climate change will effect the formation of Antarctic sea ice enough to significantly imperil this species.

Erect-Crested Penguin

This little-known species breeds on only two groups of islands off of the coast of New Zealand, is possibly one of the least-studied penguins species in the world, and is listed as “Endangered.” Studies conducted indicate rapid decline over the last 50 years but surveys have been limited to only portions of the island groups and may not be wholly reliable estimates.

Fiordland Penguin

Also known as “Tawaki” (in Māori) in their native range of New Zealand, the Fiordland penguin is considered “Near Threatened.” When these penguins are not nesting in tangled rainforest, they complete massive migrations of up to 7,000km to search for food prior to the molting season.

Galapagos Penguin

The smallest of the Banded Penguins and the northernmost of all penguin species, the Galapagos Penguin is designated as “Endangered.” El Niño events have severely affected populations of this penguin over the last 50 years.  Predictive modeling of El Niño patterns has described a 30% chance of extinction for this species within the next century.

Gentoo Penguin

The Gentoo Penguin is noted as “Least Concern.” These plucky birds may actually be the penguin “winners” of climate change – as their Sub-Antarctic populations have stabilized in recent years, their Antarctic populations are seeing massive increases. Recent genetic and physical evidence has been uncovered suggesting that the Gentoo Penguin, while currently split into two subspecies, would be more accurately described as four separate species! It’s up to the scientific community now to analyze the merits of this assessment.

Photograph of two Gentoo Penguins, both penguins are facing to the side of the camera.
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach

Humboldt Penguin

Classified as “Vulnerable,” surveys of Humboldt Penguin populations over the last several decades have revealed considerable uncertainty in past population estimates. However, we do know that this species is heavily affected by El Niño events, which massively decrease available food and cause widespread mortality and breeding failure.

Photograph of two King Penguins on the grass. One penguin is facing the camera and the other is to the side.
Source: Penguins International Photo Library

King Penguin

The King Penguin is the second-largest species behind its cousin, the Emperor Penguin. King Penguins are listed as “Least Concern,” but fairly recent studies have showed wildly different population trends in different parts of their range. According to a 2018 study on South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic, King Penguins have seen a remarkable recovery over the last century after severe historical exploitation for their oil. In the same year, another study was published detailing an 88% decline in the population of this species at a colony in the Crozet Islands.

Little Penguin

The smallest species of penguin is designated as “Least Concern” as populations are stable in most locations. However, these tiny birds remain highly vulnerable to human threats such as coastal development, death by domestic pets, invasive and introduced species, and human disturbance at nesting colonies. Sites without active protection have declined severely over time.

Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni Penguins are classified as “Vulnerable.” Though some local populations are stable, overall global populations are steadily decreasing. Macaroni Penguins are an incredible example of these flightless seabirds inhabiting some pretty extreme environments as one breeding island is actually the summit of an underwater volcano and has erupted multiple times since the 1990s!

Photograph of two Magellanic Penguins in their burrow.
Source: Penguins International
Photo Library

Magellanic Penguin

The Magellanic Penguin is listed as “Least Concern,” populations trends are varied across their range. Penguin populations continue to keep scientists on their toes; in 2020 a previously unknown colony of Magellanic Penguins was discovered, hidden among a nesting colony of Rockhopper Penguins that was being surveyed.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin

The Northern Rockhopper, found on Sub-Antarctic Islands off the southern coastline of Africa is considered “Endangered.” The splitting of the Rockhoppers into two distinct species is a fairly recent occurrence, with evidence presented by Jouventin et al. in 2006. The Northern Rockhopper remains the less studied of the two species, though human exploitation likely played a part in historical declines and current declines continue in present day populations.

Royal Penguin

The Royal Penguin is “Near Threatened,” and is only found in one population around Macquarie Island south of New Zealand. The population seems to have recovered from historical exploitation though the last substantial survey of the species occurred in 1985.

Snares Penguin

The Snares Penguin is listed as “Vulnerable” due to its inhabitation of only a single group of islands south of New Zealand, the Snares Islands. While the population of the Snares Penguin is currently stable, with the entire population condensed in such a small area the species vulnerable to be widely effected by a single catastrophic event.

Photo of two Snares Penguins rubbing their bills together.
Photo from Macaulay Library

Southern Rockhopper Penguin

Southern Rockhopper Penguins encompass two subspecies, and together are considered “Vulnerable.” While there is evidence that populations are reproducing at high enough rates to stabilize themselves, several mass mortality events in recent decades, most lately in 2016, have continued to damage populations and delay recovery of the species. These mortality events, while still not fully understood, are thought to be linked to food shortages that accompany fluctuations in sea surface temperature.

Photograph of Yellow-eyed Penguin in tall grass.
Source: Penguins International
Photo Library

Yellow-eyed Penguin

The Yellow-Eyed Penguin is the only extant species in its genus, and it designated as “Endangered.” Known in the Māori language as the “Hoiho,” the Yellow-eyed Penguin is native to the coasts and coastal island of southern New Zealand. Today is it one of the rarest penguins in the world with an estimated population of less than 3,000 mature individuals. Total declines in this species over the past 30 years estimated are to be between 50-75%. Organizations dedicated to their recovery, like the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, work closely to conserve and study this unique species, and restore suitable habitat for them throughout their range.

If you are curious to learn more about each of these penguin species, visit our penguin species page or click on the name of the penguin species listed above.

Check out our blog to learn about what actions you can take to preserve these iconic species! Consider donating to Penguins International to support our education and conservation efforts.

Read more about penguins in some of our other blogs:

© Abigail Pietrow 2021

Abigail Pietrow is a penguin keeper at the Aquarium of Niagara, and works extensively with Humboldt Penguins. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Aquarium of Niagara.


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