Emperor Penguins Glide With Speed

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© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic
An airborne penguin shows why it has a need for speed: To get out of the water, it may have to clear several feet of ice. A fast exit also helps it elude leopard seals, which often lurk at the ice edge.


Paul Nicklen is a National Geographic photographer who took these amazing photos of emperor penguins in the wild.

Emperor penguins are the tallest of all penguin species. They live on the ice-lands continent of Antarctica and their conservation status was recently downgraded in 2012 by the IUCN to ‘Near Threatened’ (NT) in 2012 – one level worse from ‘Least Concern’. The reasons for the worsening conservation status are debatable, but part of the problems include:

  • Disturbance by Humans – Mostly caused by Tourism, everything from helicopters to photographers could potentially negatively impact this sensitive eco-system.
  • Climate Change – penguins source of food (fish, crustaceans, etc.) is on the decline due to industrial fishing and climate change affecting natural fish populations.
  • Disease – Natural disease and Human Caused disease via environmental toxins reaching prime penguin habitat.
  • Habitat Destruction – Again, anytime humans are interfering with breeding colonies, a potential for habitat destruction is there.

The United States government at one point was considering the listing of the emperor penguin together with other threatened penguin species on the US Endangered Species List, but that petition has not gained any traction.

The story behind the images is one that lead to the discovery of how penguins can glide through the ocean with enormous speed. They eventually discover that the air bubbles seen in documentaries of penguins gliding through the sea is a sort of ability they have because of their biology.


© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic
Life is safer at the colony, where predators are few and company is close.


© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic
Preparing to launch from the sea to the sea ice, an emperor penguin reaches maximum speed.

The following is an excerpt from the November edition of National Geographic magazine:

When an emperor penguin swims through the water, it is slowed by the friction between its body and the water, keeping its maximum speed somewhere between four and nine feet a second. But in short bursts the penguin can double or even triple its speed by releasing air from its feathers in the form of tiny bubbles. These reduce the density and viscosity of the water around the penguin’s body, cutting drag and enabling the bird to reach speeds that would otherwise be impossible. (As an added benefit, the extra speed helps the penguins avoid predators such as leopard seals.)


© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic
The danger of ambush by leopard seals is greatest when entering the water, so penguins sometimes linger at the edge of an ice hole for hours, waiting for one bold bird to plunge in.

So much energy exists in these cold and icy environments that its refreshing to see the colors, beauty, and natural settings teaming with life. Even though these emperor penguins are so far away from human contact under normal conditions, we must not forget that our way of life still effects them.

A long time ago, we posted a short blurb about how DDT was found in penguins as far away as Antarctica.


© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic
“These penguins have probably never seen a human in the water,” says photographer Paul Nicklen, “but it took them only seconds to realize that I posed no danger. They relaxed and allowed me to share their hole in the sea ice.”

Besides the potential toxic effects humans may be inducing in the northern and southern poles, there is always the long term future that is in question with changes in climate.

Capturing moments like the ones in these photos provided by National Geographic are uplifting, inspiring, raw, and an example Earth’s intricate exquisiteness.

Emperor Penguins are one of two species that are native-only to Antarctica.

They are only held in captivity in two zoos around the entire world, one of them being the Penguin Encounter at the San Diego Zoo in California.

Eco Note:
Emperor Penguins are strikingly similar in appearance to the King Penguins where many zoos around the world have them on display. A tear-drop shaped ear patch on the Emperor penguins are typically yellow and open while the King Penguin have orange ear patches that are closed (now you know the difference).

November Issue of National Geographic

credit: National Geographic

These breath-taking photos are courtesy of the November edition of National Geographic magazine. They have an exclusive video and interactive graphic that show penguins rocketing out of the water onto the ice…we promise you it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Additionally, the photographer, Paul Nicklen, is coming out with an app called Pole to Pole – which will feature more awe-inspiring photos of his journey in the wild. The app should be out by October 25, 2012 and we’ll also include it in our Free Environmental Apps list once it’s out.

Thought, Comments, Questions…

About John Tarantino (339 Posts)

My name is John Tarantino ... and no, I am not related to Quinton Tarantino the movie director. I love writing about the environment, traveling, and capturing the world with my Lens as an amateur photographer. You can connect with me via Google+ or via Twitter: Follow @EnvironmentBlog

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5 Comments on “Emperor Penguins Glide With Speed

  1. STORY WRITTEN FOR & USED WITH PERMISSIONPosted: October 16, 2006NASA managers today proposed new launch dates for the first three shuttle missions of 2007. Planning dates for all remaining flights through the end of shuttle operations in 2010 also were updated based on preliminary launch processing assessments. While several near-term flights face delays due primarily to external tank deliveries and possible conflicts with Russian Soyuz launches, NASA still expects to meet its 2010 deadline for completing the space station and retiring the shuttle.Shuttle mission STS-116 (Discovery) remains on track for launch Dec. 7, at 9:39 p.m. – NASA’s first night launch since 2002. But an Air Force Atlas 5 rocket carrying a military payload currently is scheduled for launch on Dec. 7 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and if that flight stays on track, the shuttle launch will have to slip a few days.The goal of mission STS-116 is to attach a short spacer truss to the left side of the station’s main solar array truss, to retract one of two solar wings providing interim power and to rewire the station to utilize electricity from arrays installed during a shuttle flight in September.Shuttle mission STS-117 (Atlantis), the next flight in the sequence, slips from Feb. 22 to March 16, around 5:20 a.m., under the new manifest proposal. The goals of that mission are to retract the second interim power solar wing and to attach a new set of arrays to the starboard side of the solar power truss. The March 16 target launch date assumes the next Russian Soyuz flight moves to early April. If the Soyuz stay where it is currently scheduled – March 9 – STS-117 would slip to around March 23.NASA managers are considering a design change for so-called ice-frost ramps on the shuttle’s external tank. One flight test option under discussion is to modify the top three ice-frost ramps on the liquid hydrogen section of the tank slated for STS-117.NASA is holding open the option of requiring a daylight launch for any external tank design changes to ensure good photo documentation. If that is required for STS-117, launch would slip to April 20. But a final decision on whether to implement an IFR redesign has not yet been made.STS-118 (Endeavour), which had been targeted for a June 11 liftoff, moves to June 28 under the new manifest proposal. The goals of that flight are to attach an external equipment storage platform, another solar array spacer truss and a system that will permit docked space shuttles to draw power from the station. The crew for STS-118 includes astronaut Barbara Morgan, high school teacher Christa McAuliffe’s backup in the original “teacher in space” program.While not currently planned, STS-118 could be used to launch a refurbished control moment gyroscope to the station in place of the external stowage platform. One of the four stabilizing CMGs currently aboard the station has been taken off line because of excessive vibrations.NASA plans to launch a multi-hatch connecting module known as Node 2 during the next flight in the sequence, STS-120 (Atlantis), which slips from Aug. 9 to Sept. 7. Again, there is a possible Soyuz conflict that could delay the flight a week or so.Launch dates for flights after mission STS-120 are based on preliminary hardware processing assessments only and likely will experience subsequent adjustments.Flight STS-122, featuring the European Space Agency’s Columbus research module, remains targeted for launch on Oct. 17, 2007. But that date assumes the station astronauts can carry out three complex spacewalks to hook up Node 2 and a shuttle docking port between the end of STS-120 and the arrival of Columbus.STS-123, launch of a Japanese pressurized experiment module, moves to Dec. 8 and flight STS-124, launch of Japan’s Kibo research module, moves from Feb. 7 to Feb. 29, 2008.Launch of a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission – STS-125 – will be targeted for April 17, 2008, if NASA Administrator Michael Griffin ultimately gives his approval. A meeting to discuss the Hubble mission is planned for Oct. 27.Here are the rest of the flights on the latest shuttle manifest:06/19/08 – STS-119: Outboard starboard truss segment and arrays08/21/08 – STS-126: Station resupply; last flight of Atlantis10/09/08 – STS-127: Kibo exposed experiment facility; logistics01/15/09 – STS-128: Crew accommodations; six-person crew capability04/09/09 – STS-129: Logistics flight; last flight of Discovery07/09/09 – STS-130: Logistics flight10/01/09 – STS-131: Contingency flight01/14/10 – STS-132: Node 3, cupola; last flight of Endeavour07/09/10 – STS-133: Contingency flightThe manifest in graphic format is available .STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.STS-133 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia’s historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard’s historic Mercury mission with this collectors’ item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.Ares 1-X PatchThe official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.Expedition 21The official embroidered patch for the International Space Station Expedition 21 crew is now available from our stores.Hubble PatchThe official embroidered patch for mission STS-125, the space shuttle’s last planned service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, is available for purchase. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Space station reboost, circuit breaker glitches assessed BY WILLIAM HARWOOD

  2. Clouds: Stratus scattered at 3,000 feet with tops at 4,000 feet and 3/8ths sky coverage; Altostratus broken at 6,000 feet with tops at 8,000 feet and 5/8ths sky coverage; and Cirrus broken at 20,000 feet with tops at 22,000 feet and 5/8ths sky coverage

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