Penguins aren’t an easy meal. These birds are fast, travel in groups, and have a special counter-shading camouflage. The black and white coloring helps make them invisible to predators in the water and in the air.
However, some animals are experts at stealing penguins’ eggs and chicks or attacking adults in the water. What eats penguins? Read on to find out.
What Eats Penguins?
Fur seals, sea lions, killer whales, leopard seals, and sharks eat penguins. But that’s not all! Large bottlenose dolphins sometimes target these birds as prey too. There are also avian predators like the Antarctic skua, who won’t think twice about swooping down to steal penguin eggs or dine on chicks.
Here’s a list of the penguin’s predators:
- Fur seals
- Sea lions
- Killer whales
- Bottlenose dolphins
- Foxes (Fairy Penguins in Australia)
- Antarctic skuas
- Giant petrels
Looking at the list of predators above might make you feel sorry for penguins. But these Antarctic birds e expert survivalists. For instance, they know how to test the waters for dangerous predators.
When penguins reach a body of water, they form a group and push one of their members off the ledge. If a predator doesn’t eat that penguin, they know it’s safe to proceed. However, sometimes predators are more sneaky, and penguins never see them coming. That’s usually the case with shark-on-penguin attacks.
Sharks don’t always eat penguins, but these birds are instantly on the menu when food sources are scarce. Great whites, hammerheads, and tiger sharks will target penguins when needed.
Great whites have an advantage because they can catch up with these speedy birds. Gentoo penguins can reach speeds of 22 miles per hour underwater. That’s incredibly fast, but not fast enough to escape the great whites’ speed of 35 mph.
2. Fur Seals
Fur seals are closely related to sea lions and get their name from their thick fur coat. These carnivorous predators enjoy eating all sorts of small Antarctic creatures, including penguins. Their powerful jaws, fast swimming speed, and infrared vision help them easily hunt penguins. But eating penguins isn’t the only thing they have on their mind. There are multiple recorded incidents of fur seals trying to copulate with penguins too!
3. Leopard Seals
Leopard seals are expert penguin hunters with jaws designed to latch onto prey. First, the leopard seal floats in the waters nearby whatever piece of land or ice chunk the penguins are on. When a penguin enters the water, the sea lion will grab the bird and begin thrashing it about before gulping them down.
4. Killer Whales
Penguins are popcorn for the enormous killer whale! Killer whales regularly feed on penguins, and they’re picky about what parts they eat. Instead of eating the whole bird, the whales prefer the best cuts of the penguin, like the breast meat.
The whales don’t always win when they’re out hunting penguins. Check out this video of a penguin jumping onto a nearby boat to escape a hungry killer whale.
5. Bottlenose Dolphin
Bottlenose dolphins eat fish, crustaceans, squid, and the occasional penguin. They rely on their expert echolocation to pinpoint food sources. They usually go after smaller food sources that are easy to eat. However, larger dolphins sometimes snatch penguins out of the water for a big meal. Their streamlined bodies can reach speeds of 22 mph, making it easy for the dolphin to catch up with even the fastest penguin.
Antarctic penguins don’t have land predators, but Australian penguins do. These birds must watch out for foxes who might try eating their eggs or chicks. These sneaky predators are retargeting penguins on Phillip Island in Australia.
Phillip Island is home to the adorable fairy penguins, the smallest species. However, the population numbers began dwindling when foxes started taking out as many as 40 penguins in a single night. Thankfully conservationists introduced a fox management program to help keep the fairy penguins from being wiped out.
7. South Polar Skua
Skuas are some of the most fierce avian predators in the antarctic. The South polar skua is known for gobbling up penguin chicks and stealing eggs. When these large birds of prey aren’t dining on penguins, they eat the chicks of other sea birds like puffins and kittiwake. They’ll even steal food from other birds by attacking them mid-air.
Antarctica’s sheath bill is another large predatory bird that dines on penguin eggs and chicks. These omnivorous birds will also steal food from penguins when the opportunity presents itself.
Penguin parents feed their chicks by regurgitating food into the little one’s mouths. However, sometimes while they’re regurgitating the food, a hungry sheath bill will swoop down and steal the meal!
9. Giant Petrel
Giant petrel loves eating adult penguins at sea. These birds are large, aggressive feeders that need a lot of calories to survive. When the penguin breeding season begins, giant petrels will swarm the area for hours, looking for any sick or abandoned chicks to eat.
Out at sea, petrels will look for groups of penguins to target. After clasping onto the penguin, the giant petrel will hold it underwater for about 5 minutes or until it stops struggling. Then it’s dinner time for the hungry petrel!
Summary of 9 Penguin Predators
|Methods of Predation
|Deadly speed and strength
|Overpower penguins with strong jaws, speed, and infrared vision
|Hunt penguins as they enter the water
|Feast on all sizes of penguins.
|Use echolocation and speed to catch penguins
|Eating penguin eggs or chicks
|South Polar Skua
|Preying on penguin chicks and stealing eggs
|Eat penguin eggs
|Can hold penguins underwater to drown them
The photo featured at the top of this post is © fieldwork/Shutterstock.com
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