A seabird in Galapagos, can you imagine what it could be, well yes, it is the penguin, which is the third smallest kind of seabird on the planet, reaching 50 centimeters in height, inhabits nothing more and nothing less than in the Galapagos Islands, can swim at speeds of up to 35 kilometers per hour, this would be about 20 times faster than a human being, can you imagine competing in a swimming race with a penguin, we would not even see its feathers.
It is considered an endemic species since it is very common in the Galapagos Islands archipelago and is the only penguin species found north of the equator. Thanks to its adaptations and the presence of the Humboldt and Cromwell currents that bring cold, nutrient-rich water to the archipelago.
Their arrival in the Enchanted Islands is linked to the penguins of Chile, which 4 million years ago swam in the ocean currents until they reached what we know today as Galapagos.
Penguins are commonly found in latitudes in the southern hemisphere of the Earth where temperatures range from -65º C in summer and -25º C in winter, but this is not the case of the Galapagos penguins that are located in the Ecuadorian archipelago, which makes them the most northerly species since they reach waters on both the south and north side of the planet. They stand out due to their ability to tolerate the warm Ecuadorian climates.
Their privileged geographical location offers them landscapes with huge rocky coasts, cavernous formations and beaches with light sand and bushy vegetation. The average temperature is usually between 15º C and 28º C. However, the waters that bathe their coasts are characterized by low temperatures.
About 95% of the total population of these penguins, specifically the Spheniscus mendiculus, inhabit the rocky coasts of the Isabela and Fernandina islands located in the western part of the Galapagos, which are bathed by the cold Humboldt Current.
This species is very rare and therefore has a population of about 2000 specimens and this is because their reproduction is closely linked to the environment in which they live.
They are very sociable beings with other companions and tend to congregate in large groups during the breeding season, but it is very important to note that they are extremely territorial when it comes to protecting their nesting area. The beak, wings and vocalizations serve as elements to ward off intruders.
To identify it we can simply observe its striking bicolor fur highlighting the black color in its fins, back, legs and head, its chest is white along with a line of the same color in the form of “C”, which goes along the throat and the side of each eye along with dark bands and spots in the form of irregularly distributed points, likewise the lack of plumage in certain areas causes pinkish pigmentations. The beak is straight, long and thin, mostly black, except for the parts without plumage.
Among the physical adaptations that helped them to remain in this place is having a skin that can be more exposed to heat loss than other species and molt their feathers twice a year to replace those that have been damaged by the sun. These penguins also pant to cool themselves and seek shade during the hottest hours of the day, thus trying to keep their body temperature balanced.
Potential predators include snakes, owls and hawks, as well as introduced species such as rats and cats. In the sea, however, penguins are preyed upon by sharks, sea lions and sea lions.
Their rounded body shape is adapted to their aquatic habitat along with their resistant plumage that is waterproof and retains heat, their rigid flippers facilitate their propulsion, which gives them great skill in the water when hunting for food, which they do in groups and surprise their prey by coming up underneath, since due to the position of their eyes, they have a better perspective.
Their life expectancy has a lot to do with their habitat, as they can live up to 20 years if they find the necessary food such as small fish and squid, also the conditions of their environment must be suitable for a good development.
Something tender that penguins have, apart from their peculiar way of walking staggering and their flippers extended to keep their balance, is that they develop monogamous relationships, that is to say that when they find a mate, the male searches the whole coast for a stone, the most beautiful and perfect one to give her, as soon as he finds her, he bends down and places the stone just in front of her. If she takes the stone, it means that she accepts the proposal. In this way a bond will be formed and they will remain together all their lives.
Regarding reproduction, they can breed up to three times a year, depending on the abundance of food, and the breeding season does not begin until the sea temperature drops below 24ºC, an indicator that the sea is at its most productive. A female lays one or two eggs a few days apart, which may be incubated by both parents between 38 and 42 days before hatching. Both parents then feed the young, which take turns hunting.
Most nests are found in hollows and crevices in lava near the coast and are made of sticks, feathers, bones and leaves. The location of these nests is important since it is essential that they are in the shade to keep the eggs and young protected from the strong rays of the sun.
It is rare for them to prey on other native species, although Galapagos hawks and owls prey on young penguins and Galapagos snakes. Crab-like zapayas occasionally go in search of eggs and weaker hatchlings.
Since 2011, the Galapagos Conservation Trust has funded and overseen penguin and cormorant research projects in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park.
Scientists have collected information on their demography which they use to estimate survival and reproduction rates, and weather conditions to assess how populations are being affected by a changing environment.
In addition, veterinary samples are taken from the penguins to assess their health and to test for the presence of diseases such as avian malaria. Moreover, researchers can document the presence of introduced mammal species such as rats and cats to provide valuable information about whether invasive species management strategies are working or if more needs to be done.