Orcas Diet: Do Orcas Eat Penguins? (Answered)

do orcas eat penguins

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Orcas are found in all oceans around the world, but they are most abundant in the icy waters of Antarctica, Norway, and Alaska.

These apex predators are at the top of the food chain, feeding on a varied diet of fish, squid, sea birds, whales, and much more.

Orcas are highly intelligent animals that spend their lives living in groups or pods, they look out for one another, nurturing their young, caring for the sick, and sharing food.

They are opportunistic feeders that work together to take down even the largest animal on our planet, the blue whale. But what about penguins, do orcas eat penguins?

In essence, orcas DO eat penguins. They eat many different species of penguin depending on where they are located in the world, but penguin is only a small part of the orca’s diet.

Let’s take a closer look…

Do Orcas Eat Penguins?

Orcas have a varied diet that DOES include penguins, from the small Adelie penguin to King penguins and everything in between.

They aren’t particularly fussy about the species of penguin they hunt, so long as it’s available, but they’ll often target injured or weak penguins first.

These are much easier catches than healthy and agile penguins as the orcas won’t waste as much energy to catch them.

orca hunting penguins
Image by Giuseppe Milo

Penguins are mainly found in Antarctica, so it’s the orca pods that live in the surrounding waters that prey on them.

Not all orcas have the luxury of dining on penguins, but the ones that do make full use of it when the opportunity presents itself.

Why Do Orcas Eat Penguins?

There are 17 species of penguin found worldwide, with only 7 residing in the icy Antarctic regions and therefore can be considered true Antarctica penguins.

According to the British Antarctic Survey, there are around 20 million breeding pairs of penguins in Antarctica.

That’s a lot of penguins!

Penguins, seals, krill, fish, and other animals are in abundant supply in Antarctica, so it’s the perfect opportunity for orcas to feast and fill themselves up.

Orcas feed on penguins because there are so many of them in the surrounding Arctic waters, so it makes sense for them to feed on this reliable food source.

Whilst penguins can be difficult to catch for orca, picking off the weak and injured can be a nice, juicy meal.

That said, most penguins in Antarctica are small and don’t provide a lot of sustenance for an orca pod, so the pod needs to catch and eat LOTS of penguins to sustain themselves.

Under the penguin’s feathers, they have a thick layer of fat called blubber that helps to keep them warm and acts as insulation, and although penguins are small, this fat is what the orca are hunting for.

How Do Orcas Hunt Penguins?

When it comes to hunting, orcas are EXPERTS at their craft, hunting anything from small penguins to the biggest animal on the planet, the blue whale.

Hunting techniques are passed down through generations of orca, allowing youngsters to pick up the tricks of the trade quickly.

When it comes to hunting penguins, orcas use a variety of techniques to catch penguins off guard, using the element of surprise to their advantage.

Some hunt individually and others hunt as a pod, giving them the nickname “wolves of the sea” as when working together they are unstoppable.

Orcas may spy-hop first to identify the penguins whilst remaining hidden, then alerting the pod of where the penguins are.

From there, orcas quickly slide up onto the ice cap and snatch the penguin by surprise, using speed and power to their advantage.

Another technique that orcas use is to swim rapidly under the ice flow, creating a large wave that washes the penguin off into the water, leaving their prey with no escape.

This method is typically used when hunting seals, but it works equally as well for penguins which are smaller and weigh less.

The orca’s black color allows them to remain camouflaged whilst hunting, making it difficult to spot them coming up from the depths.

These animals are stealthy, fast, and VERY intelligent, so hunting penguins is child’s play for a pod of Arctic orcas.

Do Orcas Hunt Emperor Penguins?

Orca will hunt almost any penguin that they come across, which includes the large Emperor penguins.

No penguin is safe when a pod of orca are around, and despite the large size of King and Emperor penguins, they too can reach their fate.

Orcas have been reported preying on Emperor, King, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie, Rockhoppers, and Great penguins.

orca pod
Image by cliff hellis

That said, it’s important to note that penguins are not the primary food source of orcas, they are more like a side dish or desert.

Because there’s nothing quite like a penguin desert on a Sunday evening.

Wrapping Up

Orca pods that roam the icy Arctic waters do feed on penguins, simply because they are so abundant in the Arctic regions.

There is so much food for marine mammals in Antarctica during the summer months, which is why many whale species make the long migration there to feed.

Orcas are opportunistic feeders that will not pass up the chance to feed on a penguin if the option arises.

However, they also hunt whales, dolphins, fish, squid, seals, porpoises, and much more.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you’ve learned something new today about orcas eating penguins.

See you in the next one!