When people think of penguins, they picture big-bellied birds that waddle around the Antarctic on their two feet, having a splash in the icy cold ocean.
But did you know that there is a species of penguin that are more accustomed to warmer weather and can be found along the Pacific coastlines of Peru?
Who is the Peruvian Penguin?
The Humboldt penguin (scientifically known as Spheniscus Humboldti) or also called ‘Peruvian penguin’ is a South American bird that breeds in coastal Chile and Peru. In Peru, the penguins are often seen congregating within their colonies in the protected area of Punta San Juan, on the Ballestas Islands within the Paracas National Reserve, and all the way down to the East Pacific coastline, where the Humboldt current flows. The penguin species is named after the cold water current it swims in, which itself is named after Alexander von Humboldt, an explorer.
This current of cold Antarctic water flows up the coast of Chile and Peru to move surface water offshore, and cause upwelling of deeper, nutrient rich waters, which helps create one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems. However, when the heat of the phenomenon El Niño comes to the area every few years, the ocean grows warmer and the surface layer of water becomes thicker, and therefore less nutrient-rich. This is when spotting these penguins can get quite difficult.
What do they look like?
Humboldt penguins are thinner than other species of penguins as they store less fat and plumage in their bodies. They are also fairly petite, standing at a mere 60-66 cm (24-26 inches) tall. You can easily spot them by looking for the pink area around the base of their beaks, as well as the mixture of black and pink on their legs. However, their hatchlings have soft, thin gray feathers on their chest and light yellow feathers on their bellies.
Behavior and habitat
These social penguins live on rocky islands and are consequently excellent climbers and swimmers. They can stay underwater for up to 150 seconds while hunting as a group for sardines and anchovies, or squid. If you have trouble spotting them, just follow the sounds which are very similar to that of a donkey braying. But don’t get too close! Although Humboldt penguins generally show peaceful behavior, they can become nervous when an uninvited presence approaches.
Punta San Juan and Islas Ballestas are both protected reserves that promote research and conservation of marine wildlife off the coasts of Peru.
As Punta San Juan is home to the largest colony of Humboldt penguins in Peru, it is guarded by concrete walls to restrict access to predators, and has permanent park or island rangers to monitor the site full-time.
Moreover, tours around the Ballestas Islands are aimed to educate visitors on the great dangers that the wildlife in the area faces, such as the entanglement with fishing nets and the illegal animal trade.
At Enigma, we offer tours that allow visitors to witness and learn more about the Humboldt penguin and its behaviors. All of our tours are of course compliant with and actively support the protection of the local wildlife populations.