Graceful Gliders: Can Penguins Swim?

can penguins swim

Sharing is caring!

Penguins spend half their lives in the sea and live mostly in the Southern Hemisphere.

When you are asked by your young child, ‘can penguins swim‘, well they can swim as it is essential to their survival in the cold water of the Antarctic region.

While in the water most penguins feed on fish, squid, and krill that they catch and swallow with their strong jaws and spiny tongues while swimming.

The species of penguin varies from the large Emperor penguin down to the small little blue penguin or fairy penguin.

The larger penguins remain in the colder regions, while the small penguins inhabit warmer often tropical climates like Sydney Australia, where colonies are found in suburban environments.

To learn more about the colonies read on, as you can actually visit the fairy penguins on a night tour.

Are Penguins Good Swimmers?

Penguins are good swimmers and their survival depends on it as they feed while swimming.

This is an interesting fact as they spend half their time on land, all penguins hunt for food in the ocean, and they don’t feed or hunt while on land.

While swimming they can eat anything from tiny krill to large squid and fish. The penguin has a thick layer of insulating feathers, (like a wet suit), that keeps them warm and dry in the water.

The feathers also prevent heat loss, and the larger penguins are able to control blood flow to their extremities which explains can penguins swim in the cold water of Antarctica.

When they are on land, the males are seen huddling together to keep warm, while the female is fishing for food in the ocean.

Do Penguins Swim Or Dive?

The little penguins or fairy penguins swim together in large groups after dusk, it is thought that they do this to avoid predators and to reach their nesting sites.

These are the penguins that live in warmer climates, as they are very small and don’t have the body mass to sustain them in the colder oceans of Antarctica.

A fairy penguin dives to a depth of about 40 meters and stays submerged for between 30 seconds and one minute.

The large Emperor penguins can dive into the depths remaining submerged for 30 minutes on a single breath, this dive can be 100m to 200m, but they occasionally go a lot deeper.

How Far Can Penguins Swim?

Evolution has adapted penguins to aquatic life where they are very agile, can penguins swim long distances?

Yes, and as they are capable of reaching speeds of 22 miles an hour and are able to cover long distances.

Even the little Tawaki penguin, a native of New Zealand can swim to Antarctica and it only takes a few weeks.

Emperor penguins travel up to 1,245 km away from where they breed, with some swimming 40-80 km a day in search of food.

The Gentoo penguin is the fastest underwater bird and is able to reach speeds of up to 36 km when escaping from predators.

Fortunately, the penguin is able to drink salt water as their supraorbital gland filters excess salt out of the bloodstream.

They spend a lot of time in the water swimming, where they are much faster than they are on land.

What Makes Penguins Good Swimmers?

Within the plumage (feathers), there is a layer of preserved air that gives the bird greater buoyancy it also insulates the penguin in colder water.

When the penguin is in the water, the heat loss is much greater, and they have a thick layer of insulating feathers, and the Emperor penguin is the most insulated of all of them with about four different types of feathers.

Because the Emperor Penguin has the largest body mass of all penguins he has less heat loss and can tolerate colder water and long-distance swimming better than the other breeds.

In New Zealand, the population of little penguins is decreasing and protestors have opposed the building of a Marina on Waiheke Island which will further disrupt the penguin’s marine habitat.

They require safe water space free from dogs and people to swim and feed, and the marina project could mean that the colony becomes extinct.

Sydney Fairy Penguins At Manly

For the last 80 years, the fairy penguins have been breeding in Sydney Harbor, right on the city’s doorstep.

At dusk, you can see them swimming off the rocks and waddling home to their breeding nests.

If you want to see them you can book a twilight tour with Tourism NSW, as individual excursions to the area are not encouraged, due to the fact that the Colony is on the brink of extinction and there are only 67 breeding pairs left in the Colony.

Sadly they are often killed by dogs or run over by the Manly Ferry and most of the Colony has been microchipped to track their survival.

Can penguins swim fast enough to get out of the way of boats, not really and this means that the Colony where possible must be kept in a safe area where marine crafts are banned.

Unfortunately, there is now a fox in the area of North Head where the penguins live, necessitating protective measures to be ramped up.

The penguins are now not swimming at Manly Wharf where they were sighted in previous years, and hopefully will be safe.

Final Thoughts

Can penguins swim? Yes, they most certainly can, and without the time spent swimming, they wouldn’t be able to feed.

This is because they don’t hunt on land, have you ever seen a penguin walking? They actually don’t move very fast, however, when in the water they move at great speed.

It is interesting that a slow relocation of the Manly fairy penguins appears to have been achieved, as they are totally at risk of human behaviors.

The Emperor and other penguins of Antarctica are safe from human intervention, but their swimming/ feeding habitat is at greater risk of climate change than ever before.