Wildlife and Nature Photography

Galapagos Penguins and El Nino

Braying Galapagos Penguin


I decided to shift focus from African wildlife this week to a species endemic to the Galapagos Archipelago that may be at risk of extinction due to climate change: the Galapagos penguin.  This penguin occurs further north than any other, made possible by cold ocean currents that travel north along the South American coast.

Galapagos Penguin

The productivity of the marine environment surrounding the Galapagos Islands is incredible.  Clouds of fish, sea lions, sea turtles, and the white-tipped reef shark are common sights for the snorkeler or scuba diver.  The islands also attract thousands of nesting sea birds that feed on the ocean’s bounty.  The Galapagos penguin’s inquisitive behaviour, their red eyes, and their donkey-like braying call are unforgettable.  Several approached within six feet  of us while snorkeling, and to within arms reach of our inflatable “pangas”, which was too close for my 200 mm lens to focus.  The astonishing abundance of the Island’s marine wildlife is difficult to put into words.

The upwelling of cold ocean currents that draws nutrient-rich water from the depths drives this amazing food chain.  Since the abundance of prey fish depends on these nutrients, disruptions of these currents due to El Nino events also leads to famine for other marine animals, such as the Galapagos penguin.  The penguin’s breeding and survival strategies have likely evolved with disturbances created by occasional El Nino events over thousands of years.   Nevertheless, an increase in the frequency of El Nino is believed to be an effect of climate change, which may result in the extinction of this species.  For example, during particularly strong El Nino events that occured in 1982-83 and 1997-98, a 60% decline in the Galapagos penguin population was observed (Vargas et al. 2007).  Penguin populations have not yet recovered, and more frequent El Nino events like these are projected for the future.  The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is listed as Endangered by Birdlife International.

To see more photos, or purchase prints, please visit my gallery at http://bhealyphoto.zenfolio.com/.


2 responses

  1. The Penguins that live here, are exclusive to the Galapagos Islands where 1,700 to 8,500 individuals breed on 6 main Islands and several other small Islands.

    Penguins in Galapagos feed only during the day and depend on the cold Humboldt current to bring them fish for feeding. Still they are considered an endangered species.


    January 26, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    • Thanks for adding those facts Zuri, and thanks for visiting my blog!

      January 26, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s