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Emperor penguins

Emperor penguins are a species (from Genus Aptenodytes), for which potentially the males endure some of the worst hardships to raise their young. Over the Antarctic polar winter, these males balence the egg on the top of their feet, in a pouch which allows them to transfer their body heat to the egg. As the spring dawns, the females return from the sea full of food and take the young chick on their feet.

Its diet consists mostly of fish, but also takes a little other food such as crustaceans, such as krill, and cephalopods, such as squid. When they are hunting, they are capable of staying under water for 20 minutes and going down to a depth of 535m. There are a variety of adaptions that allow this, including unusual haemoglobin structure, which allows the animal to continue to function even in with little oxygen. It also has solid bones to reduce barotrauma, and can reduce its metabolism and shut down non-essential organ function

While hunting, the species can remain submerged around 20 minutes, diving to a depth of 535 m (1,755 ft). It has several adaptations to facilitate this, including an unusually structured haemoglobin to allow it to function at low oxygen levels, solid bones to reduce barotrauma, and the ability to reduce its metabolism and shut down non-essential organ functions. 

The animal is suggested to have a 20 year lifespan, though plenty of individuals have been documented living for as long as 50 years. This is listed as “near threatened”, with a population that lies between 270,000 and 350,000 individuals, but they have declined by as much as 50% in some places, and a colony that sat off the Arctic peninsular disappeared all together. This is sad, as if any species was going to survive human pressures, by living in remote places with harsh conditions, the emperor penguin was going to. Clearly, at the current time, they are doing well, but we will have to wait and see whether this decline halts here, or continues until this species is gone.

Populations have declined by up to 50% in some places and one colony off the Antarctic Peninsula has disappeared completely. The biggest threat to them right now is climate change due to changes in the sea ice they depend on.

Below, you will find a small section of a fantastic BBC documentary which features the Emperor penguin. Below, you will find our usual list of articles which mention this species, and then below that we will add any opportunities to see this species in the wild (we hope – do get in touch if you offer trips to see this fascinating species).

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