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The gentoo penguin breeds on islands around the Antarctic and spends part of each year at sea. Like other penguins, it is an excellent swimmer and is well suited for a life in the water. The gentoo penguin looks like a typical black and white “dinner suited” penguin with a white band across its head. It has become so well adapted for living at sea that it can only waddle awkwardly on land.
Habits: The gentoo penguin swims fast, using its tail and flippers to steer. At high speeds it dives up and down through the water (called porpoising) so it can breathe at regular intervals without slowing down. It can stay underwater from 30 seconds to two minutes and reach depths of 230 feet. The penguin stays at sea three to five months a year, feeding to build up fat reserves. Penguins have been seen off the coast of Argentina, Tasmania, And New Zealand. Birds in the southern nesting colonies are thought to travel far distances.
Less sociable than other penguin species, the gentoo penguin congregates in small, slightly inland breeding colonies called rookeries. After the chicks leave the nest, the adult molts (sheds its feathers) and replaces its dirty brown plumage with black and white feathers. It then leaves the colony and returns to the sea to feed. Adult males call to other penguins as part of a territorial ritual. A penguin launches itself into the icy water.
Food and Feeding: The gentoo penguin mainly eats krill (tiny shrimp like crustaceans) and a few small fish. It catches the krill on short shallow dives. The well oxygenated Antarctic sea water is rich; it usually supports vast quantities of krill. But high levels of pollution have decreased the krill supply. The over fishing of krill around the world has also diminished this food supply.
Breeding: The gentoo penguin mates in late September or October when the snow and ice melt. The male mates after establishing a territory, usually on an old nest site on a flat area close to the beach. He and his mate then build a nest of grass. The female lays two white eggs and the pair takes turns incubating them. The chicks hatch about 36 days later, spending the first few days sheltered under their parents. The adults take turns collecting food and guarding the chicks from predators.
After three or four weeks the chicks leave the nest and gather in groups called crèches. At feeding times adults lead the young to the beach and encourage them to find their way back to the nest. This behavior helps chicks to quickly become independent. After seven to eight weeks the young leave the nest for the sea. An adult opens its beak to feed a chick regurgitated food.
Length: 1 ½-2 ft.
Weight: 10-20 lb.
Sexual maturity: 3-4 years
No. of broads: 1
Breeding season: Late Spring
Incubation period: 36 days
Habit: Rather timid, breeds in small colonies
Diet: Krill, small fish, crabs, and squid
Lifespan: Up to 18 years
Related Species: Closely related to the adelie penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae, and the chin strap penguin, P. antarctica.
Distribution: Sub Antarctic islands of the southern Atlantic and Indian oceans, including the Falklands and islands off Cape Horn. It also breeds on the edge of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Conservation: Until the twentieth century, penguins were hunted for their oil by both whalers and seal hunters. Today, marine pollution is the main threat to their survival.
Features of the Gentoo Penguin:
Body: Long and large, protected from the cold weather by fat beneath the skin.
Feathers: Form a waterproof layer. The body is insulated by air trapped in the thick down underneath the outer feathers.
Flippers: Flightless wings adapted for swimming.
Eggs: Lays two large, grayish eggs.
Nest: Built of grass and sticks on the ground near the shoreline.
Did You Know:
There are records of albino gentoo penguins that have white feathers over most of their body.
The three subspecies of gentoo penguin differ mainly in bill, flipper, and foot measurements.
The male performs its elaborate trumpeting display to attract unmated females and warn off other males.