Are Penguins Dangerous to Humans? Do They Ever Attack?

Written by Nixza Gonzalez
Updated: May 3, 2023
Share on:


Penguins are adorable! There are between 17 to 21 penguin species in the world. Despite their adorable appearance, they can be territorial and act aggressive when encountering threats, but are penguins dangerous to humans? Do these adorable flightless birds ever attack first? Follow along to find out!

Do Penguins Attack Humans?

Typically, penguins don’t attack humans, unless they are threatened. Penguins aren’t dangerous to humans. Even if they attack, penguins aren’t large or strong enough to severely harm an adult human. And they do not need to! There has also never been a recorded penguin-related death. Although this is true, scientists and researchers have reported bites and hits while handling penguins. These small flightless birds are fearsome and can use their sharp beaks to peck.

Penguins are docile and social creatures. They rarely interact with humans in the wild. However, they’ve been recorded attacking cameras and GoPros in Antarctica. In 2005, Clinton Berry took a picture of a penguin near Casey Station attacking his GoPro.

39,662 People Couldn't Ace This Quiz

Think You Can?
macaroni penguins courting on top of rocks

Penguins are territorial, but they rarely attack humans unless provoked.

©Tetyana Dotsenko/

Are Penguins Aggressive?

Although penguins are protective, they are generally social and friendly animals. They aren’t aggressive but can protect themselves. Penguins will sometimes fight each other. When they fight, it’s usually over a mate. Interestingly, most penguins fight with their left side, leaving cuts and marks on the right side of their opponent. Fights also mainly happen in burrows, away from the open public. These fights though are rare. Penguins usually treat each other indifferently when meeting in the wild. Sometimes, to avoid predators, they hunt for fish together and sleep in large groups. This is common during mating season.

Types of Penguins

Not all penguin species are alike. There are about 17 to 21 penguin species in the world, the number varies depending on how you classify penguins. Some common penguin species are listed below, with fun facts and notes on their aggression.

Macaroni Penguin

The first penguin species on our list is the macaroni penguin. Macaroni penguins are large crested penguins found from the Subantarctic to the Antarctic Peninsula. They are closely related to another well-known penguin species, the royal penguin. However, some scientists argue that macaroni penguins and royal penguins are the same species. These penguins are easy to spot because of their long yellow crests. The rest of their bodies are black and white, except for their red or pink legs and feet.

Macaroni penguins are abundant. In a 1993 review, experts noted that there are at least 11,841,600 pairs worldwide. You can find these delightful penguins in southern Chile, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the South Orkney Islands. Although not as common, macaroni penguins also travel to islands off Australia, New Zealand, southern Brazil, Tristan da Cunha, and South Africa.

These animals aren’t picky eaters. They mainly eat fish and other small marine animals. However, about 90% of their diet during breeding season is Antarctic krill. These penguins also have minimal predators. Instead, they are most at risk while in the water. Some of their predators include killer whales, Antarctic fur seals, and leopard seals.

Macaroni penguins

Macaroni penguins are found from the Subantarctic to the Antarctic Peninsula.

©Vladimir Strnad/

Emperor Penguin

Emperor penguins are stunning. These beautiful penguins have a unique coloration that resembles a fiery sunset. They have pale-yellow breasts and bright-yellow ear patches. Their heads are mainly black. Emperor penguins are large. They are the tallest and heaviest penguin species in the world. They can weigh between 49 to 99 pounds and stand proudly at about 43 to 47 inches.

Emperor penguins are the fifth heaviest living bird species. Interestingly, these animals vary in weight depending on the season. For instance, they lose a lot of weight while raising hatchlings and incubating their eggs. They can drop down to 51 pounds from 65 pounds after this period.

These social animals hunt and work together. These efficient swimmers also huddle together for warmth. This turtle formation can include thousands of penguins. Emperor penguins have a unique mating ritual. Males call out looking for a partner. When a female accepts, both stand face to face and move their heads up. They also bow to each other before copulation.

Emperor Penguin

Emperor penguins are social animals and the tallest and heaviest penguin species.


Little Penguin

Last but not least is the little penguin. As its name suggests, little penguins are small! Adults reach about 12 to 14 inches tall. They are native to New Zealand and are also called little blue penguins or blue penguins. These adorable penguins weigh about 3.3 pounds. They have sleet blue feathers and dark grey-black beaks. Their dark eyes also camouflage against the feathers on their head.

Little penguins live for about 6.5 years, longer in captivity. In New Zealand, these small penguins breed along most of the coastline of New Zealand. Like other penguins, they consume fish and crustaceans. They dive quickly and can easily reach the sea floor.

a little penguin standing on sand, a green plan can be seen in the right bottom corner of the frame, and water comprises the background

Little penguins are adorable animals that weigh about 3.3 pounds.

©Aaron Jacobs / Creative Commons

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Phil West/

Share on:
About the Author

Nixza Gonzalez is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics like travel, geography, plants, and marine animals. She has over six years of experience as a content writer and holds an Associate of Arts Degree. A resident of Florida, Nixza loves spending time outdoors exploring state parks and tending to her container garden.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.