Antarctica may be a cruel place, but that doesn’t keep up to 37,000 adventuresome travellers annually from reaching its shores, in search of nothingness, icebergs, and most of all, penguins. Their vast waddling populations are incredible to see and of all the species, gentoo penguins are the stars here by far.
Gentoos are the third largest species of penguin, after the emperor and the king, reaching a height of about 75cm (2.5 ft). Unlike some of their heartier cousins, gentoos prefer living in areas that are largely ice-free, such as along the coastline or beneath rocky cliffs. They also live in colonies like their cousins, yet gentoo colonies are markedly smaller – usually several thousand nesting pairs.
At 75cm (2.5 ft), gentoo penguins rank third tallest.
Mating habits are very similar to those of other penguin species. Gentoos are serially monogamous, meaning pairs match up exclusively for up to years at a time to mate. Even with mass nest migrations across colonies every few years, pairs often remain together for repeated seasons.
For birthing, the female gentoo lays two eggs four days apart from each other and then incubates them in the family nest made mostly of small rocks. Incubation is shared equally by the parents, as is hunting for food. When the chicks hatch, they then remain in the nest for up 82 days before they fledge or leave the nest.
Gentoo mates share the work load.
When foraging for food, adults spend much of their time (up to 450 times a day) diving for krill, small fish, and other crustaceans. They are well adapted to remain submerged for up to seven minutes at a time and down to depths of 200m (655 feet). Gentoos have been spotted swimming out as far as 26km (16 mi) from shore. Whoa.
Gentoos spend most of their lives within a kilometre of the shoreline. It’s a safe zone that offers them ample feeding grounds offshore, yet far enough away from the waterline to be able to be watchful of some of their biggest threats – leopard seals. If you have the good fortune to get to Antarctica someday, it’s along the coastline you’ll see these endearing birds.
Loving life close to the shoreline.
Having evolved outside the realm of human contact, they are largely fearless when we come close. As a result, Antarctic regulations require visitors to remain at least five meters away from gentoos. This distance allows us to better avoid contaminating colonies with microscopic pathogens we can bring ashore, the implications of which could be troubling, to say the least.
At this point, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates there are approximately 320,000 gentoo penguins alive today, meaning they’re still classified as near-threatened. Hopefully you get to see firsthand these stars of the south someday. Being in their world is a special event on any scale and with some collective care, we can ensure these hearty creatures will be around for generations to come – both ours and theirs.
These wonderful creatures are listed as near-threatened by the IUCN.
Travelling with G Adventures is the very best way to get up close and personal with your planet in a way you’d never manage on your own. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you Antarctica like you’ve never seen it—check out our expedition line up.