- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Sphenisciformes
- Family: Spheniscidae
- Genus: Spheniscus
- Species: S. mendiculus
On the Galápagos Islands, live a species of small penguin, the only penguin species to live north of the equator. These little penguins, reach up to 19 inches in length as adults and have a rather distinctive colouring of black speckles around the border of their white bellies. Feeding on small fish and crustaceans in the waters around the Islands, their sharp eyesight and sleek, lean figures make them excellent ocean predators. In addition, their petite size allows them to easily hop around the rough, rocky landscape of the islands, in order to locate the best fishing spots.
Penguins are not well adapted to a life in the tropics, Galápagos penguins are the most northerly of all penguins, and do their best to avoid exposing themselves for too long out in the sun. Dipping in and out of the water keeps the adults cool, and the penguins build burrows in the rocks protect their young from the heat of the sun.
Sadly, these little creatures are facing threats from every possible angle. Big birds such as hawks and owls swoop from the sky to attack; cats, rats and snakes harass them from the land; and sharks, seals and sea lions prey on them from the water. However, their greatest threat is the most unpredictable of all, the weather. With an ever increasing global temperature, high sea temperatures threaten their main sources of food, and sudden changes in temperature can spell disaster for Galápagos Penguin colonies.
Galápagos Penguin numbers have been in decline since at least the ‘70s, with an estimated peak of 6,000-15,000 animals; the estimated current population is only 2,000. In 1982-1983, 77% of the population sadly died of starvation due to extreme weather events, and in 1995, 15 years later, their estimated number had only risen to about 1300 individuals. Future freak weather could spell an end to the Galápagos penguin, unless work is done to shield the population as a whole. Unfortunately, not much can be changed about the current unpredictable weather activity in the short-term, but there is still hope. Conservation efforts are working determinedly to reduce other hazards that threat the vulnerable penguin species such as increased protection from predators, illegal fishing, tourists and other factors.