Penguins are some of the most adorable, lovable and impressive creatures in the animal kingdom, so why not dedicate a day to these flightless birds?
World Penguin Day is a celebratory and educative initiative that encourages people to learn more about penguins and their environment, how important they are to our ecosystems and the threats they face. Interested in learning more about this day? Then let’s dive in!
The particulars of penguins
These distinctive black and white birds are highly adapted to aquatic life, their wings have evolved into flippers and their excellent swimming abilities allowing most species to dive around 200m deep, with emperor penguins even reaching depths of 500m! They’re camouflaged to protect against predators from above and below, and their glossy feathers trap air to both keep them warm and help them stay afloat.
It’s practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry.Joe Moore
Penguins vary quite significantly in size, from the large emperor penguin, reaching heights of over 1m, to the little blue penguin, coming in at just over 30cm tall. In ancient times there were even giant species of penguin that grew almost 2m high and weighed 80kg!
Found all over the Southern Hemisphere, from Antarctica to the Galápagos Islands, penguins are famous for their endearing waddles, their dedicated chick hatching efforts and, for those based in icy climates, their trick of huddling to stay warm. They’re even known to enjoy a spot of tobogganing, gliding on their bellies over the ice!
History of World Penguin Day
World Penguin Day takes place during the annual northern migration of Adélie penguins, a species of penguin that is native to Antarctica. Adélie penguins migrate north to have better access to food during the winter months when the sea ice expands and then, during the summer, return to the coastal beaches of Antarctica to build their nests.
This annual celebration of penguins was created at McMurdo Station, an American research center on Ross Island. Researchers noticed that the Adélie penguins began their migration around this day each year, and so they founded World Penguin Day as a way to mark the occasion and raise awareness of these creatures.
While the day originated from the Adélie penguin’s migration habits, it celebrates all species of penguin and highlights the plight of these water-loving creatures. Of the 17 or so species around today (the total number of species varies depending on how you classify them, but there are at least 17 and possibly as many as 20!), sadly 10 of them have been deemed endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and 3 are considered near threatened.
Penguins spend up to three quarters of their lives out at sea and are reliant on the oceans for food. Overfishing and pollution such as plastic and oil spills therefore pose a real threat to these birds and have contributed to decreasing populations, which in turn has a knock-on effect on the wider ecosystem. And for those species based in the Antarctic (the emperor penguin and the Adélie penguin), climate change is shrinking the sea ice, which not only impinges on their habitat but can also impact chick hatching times and the availability of food.
World Penguin Day encourages people to appreciate these amazing animals and take note of the plights they face. Penguin lovers may choose to help make a difference by working to protect the ocean, prevent pollution and tackle climate change, for example by advocating against the burning of fossil fuels.
Penguins in popular culture
Given how widely loved they are, it’s no wonder that penguins frequently feature in popular culture!
Various movies have starred these birds – Happy Feet depicts a tap-dancing chick called Mumble and has a crucial environmental message at its heart, while, as part of Dreamwork’s Madagascar franchise, there is both a Penguins of Madagascar movie and also a TV series, which follow the adventures of four penguins from Central Park Zoo.
These southerly inhabitants are also big in kids’ entertainment, for example the children’s book Mr. Popper’s Penguins, now also a film adaptation starring Jim Carey, and the TV series Pingu, which features a whole host of penguins speaking in the nonsense language ‘Penguinese’. There’s also the villainous penguin, Feathers McGraw, in the Wallace and Gromit franchise, who initially hides his criminal ways by disguising himself as a chicken!
How to celebrate World Penguin Day
World Penguin Day is the perfect chance to learn more about these fantastic and fascinating creatures. Read up on the different species of penguin around the world and dig out some fun facts to share with your friends and family. Documentaries are a great way to see these animals in action, so why not check out a classic such as March of the Penguins, which follows the grueling trek of emperor penguins in Antarctica, or Penguins, which sees Steve, an Adélie penguin, start his own family and overcome a variety of perils.
If you have time, take a trip to your local zoo – they’re bound to have some penguins in their care, and some establishments even allow visitors to take part in feeding time by throwing fish to the peckish birds. Consider donating to the zoo’s conservation efforts or to those of a non-profit organization that you trust such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) or the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. You could even adopt a penguin and receive regular updates on how they’re getting on!
Penguins are pretty funny animals, especially when it comes to their general awkwardness on land, so be sure to have a laugh this World Penguin Day by checking out some video compilations of their exciting escapades and charming clumsiness! You could also get into costume – a great way to get kids involved – by dressing in penguin colors or whacking on a penguin suit (either a real costume or the classic black dinner jacket, white shirt and bowtie) and having a waddle!And if you really want to channel your inner penguin, then take a trip to your local swimming pool and practice your speed, agility and diving technique. Whichever way you decide to celebrate, be sure to share this day on your favorite social media websites and spread the penguin love with everyone you know!