Overview

Brief Summary

Description

The Galapagos penguin is the most northerly of all penguins, occurring on the Galapagos Islands, on the equator (3). It is the third smallest penguin in the world (4) and is the smallest member of the Spheniscidae family (5). This diminutive penguin has a black head and upperparts, with a narrow white line extending from the throat around the head to the corner of the eye (6). The underparts are white with two black bands extending across the breast (2). The upper part of the bill and the tip of the lower part of the bill are black, the rest of the bill and a bare patch around the eye and bill are pinkish yellow (6). Although the sexes are generally similar in appearance, males are larger than females (5). Juveniles have a totally dark head, and lack the dark breast bands seen in adults (2). This species has more bare skin on the face than other penguins; this is an adaptation to the hot temperatures experienced on the Galapagos (4).
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Biology

The Galapagos penguin has a number of unique adaptations that allow it to survive the high temperatures and unpredictable food supply of the Galapagos (4). Foraging in the sea for small schooling fish during the day helps them to avoid overheating (4). Diving takes place between the hours of 05h30 and 18h30, with short breaks on land between dives (7). Most dives are shallow and take place close to the shore (7). This species has a number of behavioural adaptations that allow these birds to keep cool on land. These include standing with the flippers extended to aid heat loss, as well as panting and seeking shade (6) (4). When standing on land they tend to adopt a strange hunched posture, which shades their bare feet, another site of heat loss, aided by increased blood flow to the bare skin (6). Most penguins have a distinct annual breeding season at a particular time of year, but the Galapagos penguin does not. Furthermore, it may produce as many as three clutches in a single year. These adaptations help this species to cope with the highly unpredictable food resources reaching the Galapagos. The unpredictability of the ocean currents that bring small fish to the islands is compounded further by changes in water temperatures caused by El Nino events (4). The flexibility of breeding in this penguin allows it to take advantage of times of high food abundance (6). When the surface temperature of the sea becomes high, food shortages result as the water becomes very poor in nutrients. These periods are known as El Nino Southern Oscillations (ENSO). During these periods, the penguins will delay breeding completely until the food resources improve (6). Pair bonds are for life, enabling these birds to begin breeding quickly when conditions improve. The bond is reinforced by mutual preening and bill tapping. Two eggs are produced at an interval of around four days. Incubation takes up to 40 days and is shared by the male and female. After 30 days the chicks develop plumage to protect them from the sun. After 65 days the chicks will have fledged (6).
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Distribution

Range Description

Spheniscus mendiculus is endemic to the Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador where its population is thought to number fewer than 2,000 individuals. Approximately 95 % of the Galápagos Penguin's population is found on Isabela and Fernandina Islands in the western part of the archipelago, with the remaining 5 % on Bartolomé, Santiago, Logie and Floreana Islands in the central-south area of the archipelago (Jiménez-Uzcátegui et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). Analysis of mark-recapture results indicates that past population estimates were too high. In 1971, 1,931 penguins were counted, equating to a population of 3,400 individuals (Boersma 1998). The 1982-1983 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) reduced the population by 77%. After this, the population entered a slow recovery phase. However, the 1997-1998 ENSO induced a further decline of 66% (Mills and Vargas 1997, Boersma 1998, Ellis et al. 1998). Although the annual penguin census shows a relatively stable and even slightly increasing population trend over the last nine years, the current small population size (1,009 individuals counted in 2007) represents only a small fraction of that in the 1970s (Vargas et al. 2005, Jiménez-Uzcátegui et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). The main breeding range stretches along the coast of the two westernmost islands, encompassing approximately 402 km of coastline, where 96% of all nests are found (Steinfurth 2007).

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Range

Galapagos Islands (Fernandina and Isabela).

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Geographic Range

Spheniscus mendiculus is found on the Galapagos Islands, off the western coast of Ecuador. Spheniscus mendiculus is a year-round resident of the majority of the 19 islands in the Galapagos chain. Most individuals are found on the two larger islands of Fernandina and Isabela.

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )

Other Geographic Terms: island endemic

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 2005. Galapagos Islands. Pp. 80 in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, Vol. Volume 5, 15th Edition Edition. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc..
  • Sibley, C., B. Monroe Jr. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Harris, M. 1974. A Field Guide To The Birds of Galapagos. Glasgow: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd.
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Historic Range:
Ecuador (Galapagos Islands)

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Range

Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, with 95% of the population occurring on the western islands of Ferdinandina and Isabela, and 5% on Bartolome, Santiago and Floreana (2). This species has the smallest breeding range and lowest population numbers of all penguins (6). In 1999 the population numbered just 1,200 individuals (2).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Galapagos penguins are fairly small penguins, averaging only 53 cm in height and ranging in weight from 1.7 to 2.6 kg. Sexual dimorphism exists, in that males are slightly larger than females. Galapagos penguins are the smallest members of the Spheniscus or "banded" penguins. Members of this species are mainly black in color with white accenting colors on various locations of the body and a large white frontal area. As in all banded penguins, the head is black with a white mark that begins above both eyes and circles back, down, and forward to the neck. They have the narrowest head-stripe of the banded penguins, a factor that distinguishes them from the similar Spheniscus magellanicus. Below the head stripe, S. mendiculus has a small black collar that merges into the back. Below the black collar there is another white stripe that runs the length of both sides of the body, followed by a black stripe that also runs the length of the body.

Range mass: 1700 to 2600 g.

Average length: 53 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

  • Simpson, G. 1976. Penguins: Past and Present, Here and There. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Located on the equator, the Galápagos Penguin represents the most northerly breeding penguin species. Nonetheless, its distribution is highly linked to the cool and nutrient-rich oceanic waters in the western archipelago that allows for a high density of prey year-round (Palacios et al. 2006). It nests at sea-level, and appears to forage close to shore and at relatively shallow depths (Mills and Vargas 1997, Steinfurth et al. 2008). Galápagos Penguins breed throughout the year, with two marked peaks from March to May and from July to September coinciding with variation in the upwelling (Steinfurth 2007). Recent studies show that during chick-rearing adult birds move up to 23.5 km from the nest, concentrating foraging within 1 km of the shore (Steinfurth et al. 2007). While breeding Galápagos Penguins show a high site-fidelity (>80%), non-breeding Galápagos Penguins (adults and juveniles) tend to migrate away from their colony (max. 64 km) (Steinfurth 2007).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Galapagos penguins occupy coastal areas and offshore waters where the cold Cromwell Current brings food and other population-sustaining necessities into the vicinity. These birds rest on sandy shores and rocky beaches and nest on areas of sheltered coast. Galapagos penguins primarily breed on the larger islands of Fernandina and Isabela where they lay eggs in caves or holes found in the volcanic rock of the islands. When feeding, they will hunt for small fish and crustaceans in the coastal waters, diving to a depth of approximately 30 m.

Range elevation: 10 (high) m.

Range depth: 30 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

Other Habitat Features: caves

  • Lynch, W. 1997. Penguins of the World. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc.
  • Gorman, J. 1990. The Total Penguin. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press.
  • Davis, L., J. Darby. 1990. Penguin Biology. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc.
  • Marshall Editions Developments Limited. 1990. Penguins, The Galapagos Penguin. Pp. 49 in J Elphick, ed. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds: The Definitive Reference to Birds of the World, Vol. 1, 1st Edition. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press.
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Galapagos penguins nest in burrows and depressions in volcanic deposits. They forage in the sea close to the shore during the day (5).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Galapagos penguins are carnivorous and eat all types of small fish (no longer than 15 mm in length) and other small marine invertebrates. Prey species include anchovies (Engraulidae), sardines and pilchards (Cleupidae), and mullets (Mulgilidae). Galapagos penguins use their short wings to swim through the water and their small, stout beaks to capture small fish and other small marine organisms. Galapagos penguins usually hunt in groups and capture small prey by seizing them from below. The position of their eyes in relation to the beak means that they see prey best from a position below the prey.

Animal Foods: fish; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans; other marine invertebrates; zooplankton

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Galapagos penguins are major predators of small fish and other marine invertebrates in the coastal waters of the Galapagos. They also act as prey for marine and avian predators in the Galapagos.

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Predation

Galapagos penguins lay their eggs in caves or holes in the volcanic rock, reducing predation on their eggs. They also vocalize, attack, and use body movements (wing-flapping, vocal calls, etc.) to frighten away predators. This is most effective when a group of penguins confronts a predator. Predators on young penguins include rats, crabs, and snakes. As adults, Galapagos penguins are preyed on by hawks and owls, as well as feral cats and dogs. When foraging for food in the water, Galapagos penguins are preyed on by sharks and other large, marine animals. The pattern of black and white countershading on their body makes them difficult to see underwater. A predator looking from above will see a black-colored backside of the penguin that blends in with the darker, deeper water. A predator seeing the penguin from below will see a white underside that blends with the lighter-colored, shallow water.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Galapagos penguins rely on a series of vocal calls and sounds as well as a complex array of body movements for varying communication purposes. Vocalizations are crucial in helping to identify mates and chicks. These calls, along with body movements such as wing-flapping, help to deter egg-snatching predators. In courtship rituals, S. mendiculus relies heavily on displays and postures that advertise sexual status (paired or not paired), help to attract a mate, and reinforce the bond between the pair. Spheniscus mendiculus also uses vocalizations and body movements for general communication, such as greetings and displays of emotion.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

Other Communication Modes: duets

  • Sparks, J., T. Soper. 1987. Penguins. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.
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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Galapagos penguins can live for 15 to 20 years. Because of high mortality rates due to predation, starvation, climatic events, and human disturbance, most Galapagos penguins do not live to such ages.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
15 to 20 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
15-20 years.

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Reproduction

Breeding in Galapagos penguins involves a fairly complex set of courtship rituals before copulation occurs. First, male Galapagos penguins must locate a mate if they do not already have one. Since these penguins generally copulate with the same mate throughout their lifespan, each year only a handful of adult penguins need to attract a new mate. Those that are searching for a new mate exhibit various courtship rituals that attract a mate and strengthen the bond between the two partners. Paired individuals also participate in courtship rituals that enhance the pair bond. Such courtship rituals include displays of mutual preening, flipper patting, and bill dueling. After finding a mate, but before copulation, each penguin pair builds a nest that is continuously renovated until the eggs are laid. When the complex courtship and initial nest building are complete, the penguins begin mating. In Galapagos penguins, as in all other penguins, mating involves a balancing act in which the male climbs upon the back of the female that is sprawled upon the ground on her stomach. Once on top, sometimes after several tries, the male and female copulate--the process usually only takes about one minute. Steady copulation usually begins to occur early before the first egg is laid. As egg laying draws closer the penguins may copulate more frequently, mounting up to 14 times a day. Once the eggs are laid, both male and female S. mendiculus care for the young, including incubating the egg, fasting, and foraging for food. This reproductive process occurs every time a pair of Galapagos penguins mate, up to two or three times a year.

Mating System: monogamous

Galapagos penguins breed two to three times a year, producing two eggs per clutch. As the breeding season lasts year round, most breeding occurs whenever coastal waters are cold enough and abundant with food supplies. These factors, necessary for breeding, occur most often between May and July, thus prompting most of the breeding of Galapagos penguins to occur during these months. However, as climatic changes are unpredictable, breeding can occur at any time of the year when conditions are favorable. Galapagos penguins construct nests in caves or volcanic-formed cavities before copulation takes place. At egg-laying Galapagos penguins incubate their eggs, which lasts from 38 to 42 days. After hatching, the same process of caring for the chick and foraging for food continues. Chicks fledge at approximately 60 days and are fully independent within 3 to 6 months. Female Galapagos penguins must wait another 3 to 4 years to reach sexual maturity while males must wait another 4 to 6 years.

Their nesting behavior is unique. Galapagos penguins will make their nests out of any resources that are available and often steal pebbles, sticks, and other components from a neighboring nest when the inhabitants are not present.

Breeding interval: Galapagos penguins generally breed two to three times a year, breeding when food supplies are plentiful in the surrounding coastal waters.

Breeding season: The breeding season of Galapagos penguins lasts throughout the year; however, most breeding takes place between May and July.

Range eggs per season: 4 to 6.

Range time to hatching: 38 to 42 days.

Average fledging age: 60 days.

Range time to independence: 3 to 6 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 to 4 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 4 to 6 years.

Key Reproductive Features: year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

Parental investment of Galapagos penguins is divided between both males and females. Incubation duties are shared and, when one incubates, the other ventures to coastal waters to forage for food. Similarly, at hatching, one parent broods and guards the newly-hatched chick while the other forages for food to nourish itself and the chick. The foraging parent returns with food to regurgitate for the chick. This intense guarding and feeding process occurs for about 30 to 40 days, at which point the chick has grown substantially and can then be left alone for periods of time while the parents forage. This post-guarding period generally lasts about one month, at its completion the chick will have completed its growth into an adult penguin.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Lynch, W. 1997. Penguins of the World. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc.
  • Muller-Schwarze, D. 1984. The Behavior of Penguins: Adapted to Ice and Tropics. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Gorman, J. 1990. The Total Penguin. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press.
  • Stonehouse, B. 1975. The Biology of Penguins. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.
  • Richdale, L. 1951. Sexual Behavior in Penguins. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Spheniscus mendiculus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
A2bde;B1ab(v)c(iv)+2ab(v)c(iv);C2a(ii)b

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s
Steinfurth, A. & Vargas, H.

Justification
Long-term monitoring indicates that this species is undergoing severe fluctuations, primarily as a result of marine perturbations that may be becoming more extreme. These perturbations have caused an overall very rapid population reduction over the last three generations (34 years). In addition, it has a small population, and is restricted to a very small range, with nearly all birds breeding at just one location. These factors qualify it as Endangered.

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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Spheniscus mendiculus , see its USFWS Species Profile

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According to the IUCN Red List and the United States Endangered Species Act, Galapagos penguins are currently listed as endangered. Due to climatic changes brought about by El Niño and La Niña cycles, the food supply available to the Galapagos penguins varies greatly. These unpredictable shifts in food supply often lead to starvation and deaths and a substantial decline in the already dwindling penguin population. Furthermore, human disturbances and predation are major factors contributing to the decline of S. mendiculus. Human disturbance is the main cause for ecosystem harm that affects the nesting grounds of Galapagos penguins. Few efforts are underway to protect S. mendiculus. However, recently the Galapagos Conservation Trust launched the Sylvia Harcourt-Carrasco Bird Life Fund for Galapagos that will aim much of its efforts at conserving the population of Galapagos penguins. This fund provides a push for the conservation of S. mendiculus that may lead to other conservation actions, and eventually to a restored, healthy population.

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

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Status

Classified as Endangered (EN A1bde, B1+2e+3d, C2b) on the IUCN Red List 2003 (1).
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Population

Population
The population was estimated at 1,800 individuals by Vargas et al. (2005), Jiménez-Uzcátegui and Vargas (2007, which roughly equates to 1,200 mature individuals.


Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
In recent decades, this species has been influenced primarily by the effects of ENSO on the availability of shoaling fish (Boersma 1998, Vargas et al. 2007). This had been most evident in 1982-83 and 1997-98, when the penguin population underwent dramatic declines of 77 % and 65 %, respectively. After this, the population entered a slow recovery phase and annual penguin censuses indicate a relatively stable, and even slightly increasing, population trend over the last nine years, however the current population size is still 48 % below the pre-El Niño population levels (Mills and Vargas 1997, Boersma 1998, Ellis et al. 1998, Jiménez-Uzcátegui et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). Recovery from the 1982-1983 ENSO may have been slowed by the lower frequency of La Niña cold water events and above average surface water temperatures (Boersma 1998). Also, ENSO may have a disproportionate impact on females, which could result in a biased sex ratio, making population recovery slower (Boersma 1998). Climate change may lead to an increase in the frequency of ENSO events in the future, which will also reduce the species's resilience to other threats such as disease outbreaks, oil spills, or predation by introduced predators (Boersma 1998, Boersma et al. 2005, Steinfurth and Merlen 2005, Travis et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). Local fishing boats operating in inshore waters in the western part of the archipelago are documented as incidentally drowning Galápagos Penguins due to floating nets and illegally-used bait fisheries in gill nets (Cepeda and Cruz 1994, Simeone et al. 1999). Recent plans to establish longline fisheries in the Galápagos raises additional concern. Aside from the impact of by-catch caused by this technique (Weimerskirch et al. 2000), in the case of Galápagos Penguins, it is likely that an increasing demand for bait fish will dramatically increase inshore bait fisheries with all its associated problems. Contamination from oil spills poses a severe potential threat. Predation by introduced cats (Felis catus) on the Galápagos Penguin population at its main breeding site resulted in adult mortality of 49 % per year (Steinfurth 2007). feral cats are also vectors of parasites, such as Toxoplasma gondii, which has recently been found in Galapagos penguins (Deem et al. 2010). Mosquitoes (Culex quinquefasciatus) arrived on the Galápagos in the 1980s as a result of human actions. Since they are vectors for avian malaria, and penguins in the genus Spheniscus are highly susceptible to this disease these insects represent a potential new threat for the penguins (Travis et al. 2006). Indeed, the Plasmodium blood parasite has recently been recorded in Galapagos penguins for the first time (Levin et al. 2009). Many of the above threats are exacerbated by an expanding human population and pressure from tourists visiting the islands.

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The main threat facing this unique penguin is the fluctuations in food supply, compounded by El Nino events. The 1982-1983 El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) resulted in the catastrophic loss of 77% of the population through starvation. A slow period of recovery followed, but the 1997-1998 ENSO resulted in another precipitous population crash of 66%. It is now thought that the species is experiencing another recovery phase (2). Other threats facing this beleaguered penguin include predation by introduced feral animals such as dogs and cats, increased disturbance by tourists, pollution (including oil spills), and fishing (5).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
The whole Galápagos Penguin population is found within the Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve. The population is annually monitored and introduced predators are controlled by the Galápagos National Park Sevice. Research projects investigating the marine habitat use, diet, breeding activity and impact of introduced species were carried out between 2003 and 2005 (Vargas 2006, Steinfurth 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue long-term monitoring programmes. Improve fisheries management. Increase protection levels within the Galápagos Marine Reserve in areas of penguin breeding sites (fishery exclusion zones should be set up to a distance of 24 km in each direction from a colony along the coast and extending out to sea for 1.5 km). Investigate marine habitat use by non-breeding birds. Monitor and minimise effects of human disturbance in breeding areas. Monitor and minimise penguin mortality from alien species at breeding sites. Develop stronger regulations in the islands to prevent further mammalian predator introductions. Provide nest-boxes in predator-free areas to help monitor reproductive success.

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Conservation

All populations of the Galapagos penguin occur within the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve (2). At present, all populations are closely monitored and feral animals are controlled. Proposed measures to help this highly endangered species include discouraging the use of fishing nets in the foraging area, preventing coastal developments in the breeding areas, and providing nest-boxes in predator free areas to allow research into the reproductive success of the species (2). As the population of the diminutive and uniquely adapted Galapagos penguin is so small and precarious, and restricted to just one breeding location, unfortunately the species is extremely vulnerable to extinction (1).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Galapagos penguins may cause minor economic harm to the seafood industry for humans. As S. mendiculus relies heavily on a diet of small fish, such as anchovies and sardines, collectively the species can have an effect on the number of small fish available to catch for human consumption in their range. It has been shown that a penguin population can eat upwards of 6,000 to 7,000 tons of food locally, approximately 3,000 tons of that total has some economic value to humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Galapagos penguins provide economic value to humans who use this species and its coastal habitat to promote ecotourism. Many tourists and avid birdwatchers will pay to travel and visit the habitats of the Galapagos penguins.

Positive Impacts: ecotourism

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Galapagos penguin

The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is a penguin endemic to the Galapagos Islands. It is the only penguin that lives north of the equator in the wild. It can survive due to the cool temperatures resulting from the Humboldt Current and cool waters from great depths brought up by the Cromwell Current. The Galapagos penguin is one of the banded penguins, the other species of which live mostly on the coasts of Africa and mainland South America.

Description[edit]

The average Galapagos penguin is 49 centimetres (19 in) long and 2.5 kilograms (5.5 lb) in weight. It is the second smallest species of penguin. They have a black head with a white border running from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, to join on the throat. They have black-grey upperparts and whitish underparts, with two black bands across the breast, the lower band extending down the flanks to the thigh. Juveniles differ in having a wholly dark head, greyer on side and chin, and no breast-band. The female penguins are smaller than the males, but are otherwise quite similar.

Distribution[edit]

The Galapagos penguin occurs primarily on Fernandina Island and the west coast of Isabela Island, but small populations are scattered on other islands in the Galapagos archipelago.

While ninety percent of the Galapagos penguins live among the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela, they also occur on Santiago, Bartolomé, northern Santa Cruz, and Floreana. The northern tip of Isabela crosses the equator, meaning that Galápagos penguins occasionally visit the northern hemisphere, the only penguins to do so.

Ecology and behavior[edit]

Penguin on land

The penguins stay in the archipelago. They stay by the Cromwell Current during the day since it is cooler and return to the land at night. They eat small schooling fish, mainly mullet, sardines, and sometimes crustaceans. They search for food only during the day and normally within a few kilometers of their breeding site. They depend on the cold nutrient-rich currents to bring them food.

The temperature at the islands stays between 15 and 28°C (59–82°F). During El Niño seasons, the penguins put off breeding, because their food becomes less abundant; this makes the chances of raising offspring successfully unfavorable compared to the chances of dying in the attempt. They usually breed when the sea surface temperature is below 24°C (75°F) which results in more food for them. The strong sun is the main problem for the penguins. Their primary means of cooling off is going into the water, but they have other behavioral adaptations because of all the time they spend on land. They use two methods of thermoregulation in warmer weather on land. One is by stretching out their flippers and hunching forward to keep the sun from shining on their feet, since they can lose heat from their flippers due to the blood flow there. They also pant, using evaporation to cool the throat and airways. Galapagos penguins protect their eggs and chicks from the hot sun by keeping them in deep crevices in the rocks.

The species is endangered, with an estimated population size of around 1,500 individuals in 2004, according to a survey by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The population underwent an alarming decline of over 70% in the 1980s, but is slowly recovering. It is therefore the rarest penguin species (a status which is often falsely attributed to the yellow-eyed penguin). Population levels are influenced by the effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which reduces the availability of shoaling fish, leading to low reproduction or starvation. However, anthropogenic factors (e.g. oil pollution, fishing by-catch and competition) may be adding to the ongoing demise of this species. On Isabela Island, introduced cats, dogs, and rats attack penguins and destroy their nests. When in the water, they are preyed upon by sharks, fur seals, and sea lions.

Breeding[edit]

A juvenile before it has banding markings

There are fewer than 1000 breeding pairs of Galapagos penguins in the world. Breeding begins when the temperature of the sea surface falls to around 24°C.[2] Most nests are seen between May and January. The nests are made within 50 metres (160 ft) of the water on the shore, usually on Fernandina and Isabela Islands. Adults stay near the breeding area during the year with their mate. When the penguins are breeding, incubation takes 38–40 days with both parents helping out. The Galapagos penguin mates for life. It lays one or two eggs in places such as caves and crevices, protected from direct sunlight, which can lead to the eggs overheating. One parent will always stay with the eggs or chicks while the other is absent for several days to feed. The parents usually rear only one child. If there is not enough food available, the nest may be abandoned. Thirty days after the chicks hatch, the chicks' feathers are brown above and white below. These feathers are to protect the chicks from the strong sun rather than keep them warm. Bermudian naturalist Louis L. Mowbray was the first to successfully breed the Galapagos penguins in captivity.[3]

Predators[edit]

Because of the Galapagos penguin's smaller size, it has many predators. On land, the penguins are preyed upon by crabs, snakes, rice rats, cats, hawks, and owls. While in the water they are preyed upon by sharks, fur seals, and sea lions.[4] They face many hazards due to humans, as well as the hazards of unreliable food resources and volcanic activity.[5] Illegal fishermen may interrupt the penguins’ nesting, and they are often caught in fishing nets by mistake.

References[edit]

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