It’s World Penguin Day today, and a fine excuse to celebrate the majesty and silliness of fine-flippered friends. In that spirit, I thought it would be good to pull together some fun facts about penguins. Some are fun, some are facts, and some are both at once.  And don’t miss the how you can help bit at the end.

Kennedy penguin.

Penguin facts

All wild penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, and although they are synonymous with the ice,  only two species live on the continent of Antarctica. The Galapagos penguin is the only penguin that ever naturally ventures into the Northern Hemisphere on especially long feeding trips

The first bird actually called a ‘penguin’ was the now-extinct Great Auk found in the North Atlantic. Tragically, early explorers and their contemporaries found Great Auks a little too tasty, and the birds were all killed off.

Fossil evidence shows that penguins evolved before the Dinosaurs died out, and there are remains of giant, people-sized, prehistoric penguins. 

25 April 2013

Little blue penguins ©Natalie Robertson/Greenpeace

In comparison, the world’s smallest penguins are the Little Blue penguins. They are just over 30cm high on their flippers. (Yes, you’re thinking you could fit one in your bag, and keep it in your bath, aren’t you...?)

Despite having brands of books and biscuits named after them, penguins show little interest in literature and are confounded by biscuit wrappers because they lack opposable thumbs.

To move fast through the water, penguins use a technique called ‘porpoising’. To move quickly over the ice, they switch to ‘tobogganning’. Curiously, porpoises neither use toboggans nor do they use the word ‘penguin’ as a verb.

Scientists have discovered that emperor penguins, the largest species, use a special bubble-power go-faster technology to increase their speed under water.

Penguins have been immortalised on the big and small screens: singing with Mary Poppins, stealing the Muppet Show’s show, protecting the oceans with the Octonauts, and being a criminal mastermind in Wallace & Gromit. However it is the Happy Feet penguins who have the best fictitious claim to fame having used the medium of dance to get the United Nations to protect the entire Southern Ocean*

Penguins at London and Edinburgh Zoos only eat sustainably-sourced fish. They’re very picky, and eco-conscious, you know…

25 April 2013

Adelie Penguin in Antarctica
©Mike Midgley/Greenpeace

Adelie penguins love rocks. They use them to make nests and they are in short supply – so what to do to get more rocks? Well the shocking truth is that female Adelie penguins think nothing of offering sex to neighbouring males in exchange for a pebble. Pebble promiscuity is just the tip of the iceberg though. Early scientists in Antarctica deemed the sexual shenanigans of these cute birds too shocking for the public to know about.

Penguin poo can be incredibly useful. Not only is it sometimes visible from space, but projectile pooing can be a handy way of deterring predators, or making a social comment. Penguins who had been the star attractions at Edinburgh Zoo for over a century had their beaks put out of joint when pandas arrived there recently. Some of them resorted to a dirty protest aimed at the queues of panda visitors

How you can help promote World Penguin Day

*Despite the best efforts of the Happy Feet penguins, the Southern Ocean is not yet protected. That’s why we are working with the Antarctic Oceans Alliance, and lobbying governments to come together to protect areas like the Ross Sea, which are vital for many penguins.

You can help us, and the penguins, by joining our call for ocean sanctuaries around Antarctica, and by spreading the word about World Penguin Day. 

Feel free to grab any of the photos on this page – share them on Facebook, by email or wherever (more here), with a link back to this blog or the petition.

Link to this blog: http://act.gp/wpd-facts

Link to the petition: http://act.gp/wpd2013

Any ideas for penguin photo captions or know of other brilliant penguin photos – please tell us in the comments! 

Check out #PenguinDay on Twitter. Penguins don’t tweet, but you can.