What Animals Eat Penguins?

Written by: Annemarie Dutton
Last updated on:

Penguins are a group of aquatic, flightless birds. They live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere.  Only one species, the Galápagos penguin, is found north of the Equator. 

With their black and white “tuxedo” look donned by most penguin species, they are camouflaging themselves with a style called countershading.  They also huddle together in their colony to ward off potential predators.

Now, you might ask:  “What animals eat penguins?”

This article will answer the question: which predators prey on penguins from the ocean and land?

What Animals Eat Penguins?

Like all other living things, penguins are also in the food chain, where other animals can eat them. Predators of penguins vary from region to region.  We can classify threats into various categories, for example:

  • Marine mammals that eat penguins
  • Other marine animals that eat penguins
  • Threats on land
  • Birds of prey
  • Parasites

If you want to know which animals prey on penguins, please read on.

Marine Mammals That Eat Penguins

Orcas

Also referred to as “Killer Whales,” the Orcas are a species of toothed whales that belong to the oceanic dolphin family. Being the largest family members, these whales are apex predators, with no natural predators of their own.

Orcas are a sharp-toothed whale species that come under the dolphin family. They are found in the Arctic and also Antarctic areas.

Killer whales hunt for penguins, although these are only small prey to an 8 m long orca. Killer whales are faster (40 km/hr.) than penguins, but penguins are much more maneuverable.

The whales will drive them inside seaweed, where the penguin loses his advantage and gets trapped. The heavy whale can catch the penguin by breaking the weed with his body mass.

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Leopard Seal

The leopard seal is the second most significant threat to penguins after the killer whales. The large leopard seal eats the penguins, marine animals, and fish.

Seals often make a loud noise, and the penguins start worrying and tend to prepare for the escape. They may be underneath the ice shelf and jump to reach the penguins on land to make the meal.

Fur Seals

The Fur Seals are a subfamily of seals recognized by the thick underfur, externally present ears (pinnae), whiskers around their mouth (vibrissae), and long, muscular limbs.

Although the diet of these seals varies for different species, penguins are prey to many species. The New Zealand Fur Seals are an example of one such species.

Sea Lions

Like the Fur Seals, the Sea Lions are another subfamily of seals belonging to the same family (Otariidae).

These seals have characteristically thick fur, a big chest and belly, long fore flippers, external ears, and the ability to walk on all four limbs.

Seabirds, dolphins, and penguins are not a part of the sea lion’s primary diet, but some sea lion species occasionally prey on them.

Other Marine Animals That Eat Penguins

Sharks

Sharks are a large group of fish belonging to the subclass Elasmobranchii. 

There are over 500 different shark species with varying sizes and geographical locations. Several shark species are also apex predators in the marine world and tend to consume any marine creature they can find.

The Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), the Hammerhead Sharks (Sphyrnidae), and the Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) are some shark species that commonly prey on penguins.

Threats On Land

There is a long list of land predators for penguins. Humans introduced many of them, including rats, cats, dogs, etc.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian devils are about the size of a small dog, with a large head and a tail about half as long as their body length. They are covered with a black fur coat, except for the uneven white patches on their chest and rump. Unlike other marsupials, their forelegs are slightly shorter than their hind legs.

Although penguins are excluded from their regular diet, the Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor) have become their prey occasionally.

Armadillos

These small-to-medium-sized mammals are famous for burrows and have sharp claws that help them dig their underground homes.

Despite their poor eyesight, their perfect sense of smell enables them to hunt efficiently.

Although adult penguins are safe from these mammals, that cannot be said about their eggs and chicks.

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Birds Of Prey

Skuas

Skuas are also called predatory gulls. They usually prey on chicks. Since they are dreaded, they cannot attack a penguin solely; they unite and try to defeat the Penguins.

Skuas have the tactics to work in a group or two to reach the eggs and find their food. They have the habit of diverting the parent penguin away from the nest and trying to grab the eggs or chicks.

Sheathbills

Sheathbills are not stronger predators than penguins. They wait for a chance to get prey like abandoned eggs, chicks, or feeble penguins. Sheathbills usually tidy up the places of penguins by eating the spills and remaining.

Ibises

Ibises are birds found in the African region and eat the African penguins. The African penguins have features according to the climate. They don’t have feathers on their feet and have simple patches on their faces. 

Gulls

Gulls can commonly be found in the penguins’ colony, where many visitors sometimes misunderstand them as penguins because they resemble the penguins. Gulls have the habit of scaring the penguins and trying to get the chicks or eggs.

Giant Petrels

These birds resemble the albatrosses in appearance, except for their bill; while albatrosses have tube nostrils separated on either side of their bill, the nostrils of petrels are joined together.

Giant petrels are opportunistic feeders that feed both on land and at sea, unlike the other procellarids. Penguins, seals, and their carrion make up a large part of these birds’ diet.

Peregrine Falcons

These birds’ heads, back, and wings range between slate-blue and blackish, with rusty white undersides and dark brown bands on their chest.

Both sexes appear similar but are sexually dimorphic in size, with the females being 30% larger than their male counterparts.

Peregrine falcons are powerful hunters that primarily feed on medium-sized birds, occasionally preying on reptiles and small mammals. These birds are believed to feed on 1/5th of the world’s bird species, and the penguins are included in that group.

Parasites

Although parasites are not classical predators, they too can harm a penguin very much. They drink the blood of their prey and cause a lot of illness.

Some penguins die from worms in their digestive tract. Most of the time, the weaker animals suffer from it.

Especially in Peru and Chile, ticks, lice, and fleas can be a real plague for seabirds, including the penguins. When these ticks are also carriers of a virus, it can lead to sickness with high fever and several side effects.

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, the predators threaten the spectacular flightless birds, but the danger also includes humans.  The rise in temperature and climatic changes have caused a significant decline in penguin numbers.  

No matter where these “tuxedo-wearing” birds are, their waddling walk and characteristics make them innocent creatures.

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