Penguins Trends and Threats

Penguins Trends and Threats

The threats facing penguins vary in intensity and frequency among the species.

This interactive graphic shows population sizes and trends as well as moderate and major threats for 18 penguin species.

Learn more by watching our new video, Penguin Conservation and Science Featured in Biologists' Book.

Penguins serve as marine sentinels because the health of their populations signals changing conditions in the ocean and on land. The 18 penguin species are affected by environmental pressures with varying intensity. Here you can see each species, its population size, and the threats it faces, plus its IUCN* ranking, based on factors such as population trajectory, geographic range, and current population size.
* International Union for Conservation of Nature

Emperor (1/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
238,000 Unknown—Stable or Decreasing Near Threatened

Native to Antarctica, emperors breed on pack ice near the coast or up to 100 kilometers (62 miles inland). They are the only penguin species that breeds during the Antarctic winter. They are arguably the most famous penguin species, in part because of their starring role in the computer-animated film “Happy Feet” (2006).

Most pressing threat:

Climate Change

King (2/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
1.6 Million Stable Least Concern

Kings breed on sub-Antarctic and temperate islands. They do not build nests. Instead, the adults balance eggs on their feet and incubate them using a brood patch, an area of featherless skin located on the abdomen.

Most pressing threat:

Fisheries

Adélie (3/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
4 Million to 5 Million Stable Near Threatened

The Adélie is native to Antarctica, with the largest breeding colonies in the Ross Sea, along the coast of the Antarctic continent, on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, and on the islands of the Scotia Arc. Adélies hunt around and rest on sea ice but need ice-free land to breed. They often nest in very large colonies of up to 200,000 pairs.

Most pressing threat:

Climate change

Chinstrap (4/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
4 Million Declining Least Concern

Primarily located in the waters around the South Sandwich Islands, chinstraps may rest on large icebergs, but they nest on barren islands. They are easily identifiable by a conspicuous black line running from ear to ear under the chin.

Most pressing threat:

Climate change

Gentoo (5/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
387,000 Stable-Increasing Near Threatened

Gentoos nest primarily on sub-Antarctic islands. They are the most adaptable penguins, able to colonize new breeding habitat that is becoming available because of snow and ice melt caused by climate change.

Most pressing threat:

Fisheries

Yellow-eyed (6/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
1,700 Stable Endangered

Yellow-eyed penguins live in New Zealand on South Island, Stewart Island, and the adjacent Auckland and Campbell Islands. Unlike most Antarctic penguins, yellow-eyed penguins do not nest within sight of each other. Although they can be seen coming ashore in groups of four to six or more, they then disperse into dense forests to individual nest sites.

Most pressing threats:

Habitat degradation and introduced predators

Southern Rockhopper (7/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
1.2 Million Declining Vulnerable

This species is circumpolar, breeding on sub-Antarctic and temperate islands in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. Males will forage up to 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the breeding site.

Most pressing threats:

Climate change, pollution, and habitat degradation.

Northern Rockhopper (8/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
190,000-230,000 Declining Endangered

Northern rockhopper penguins live on the Tristan da Cunha islands and on Gough Island in the central South Atlantic Ocean, and on Amsterdam and St. Paul islands in the Indian Ocean. Scientists classified them as a separate species from the more abundant southern rockhopper penguins because of clear differences in their appearance, sounds, and breeding behavior. Recent analysis of DNA indicates that the two species developed more than 680,000 years ago.

Most pressing threats:

Habitat degradation

Erect-crested (9/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
80,000 Declining Endangered

This species lives on the islands south and southeast of New Zealand, and most of the population breeds on the Bounty and Antipodes Islands. A female lays two eggs, but the second is up to 85 percent larger than the first and is typically the only one that survives.

Most pressing threats:

Fisheries, pollution, and habitat degradation.

Fiordland (10/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
2,500-3,000 Declining-uncertain Vulnerable

New Zealand’s South, Solander, Codfish, and Stewart islands are home to fiordland penguins. They nest in diverse places, such as temperate rain forests, sea caves, and rocky shorelines.

Most pressing threat:

Introduced predators

Snares (11/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
26,000-31,000 Stable Vulnerable

Snares penguins are native to the Snares archipelago, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of New Zealand. They are an indigenous species that has significant cultural and spiritual value to the Polynesian people of New Zealand, the Māori.

Most pressing threats:

Climate change, fisheries, and pollution.

Macaroni (12/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
6.3 Million Declining Vulnerable

Macaronis are found in southern Chile, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the South Orkney Islands. They also occupy some of the Antarctic Peninsula. Satellite imagery shows unidentified penguin colonies on the fresh lava flows of McDonald Island, part of a volcanic group of barren Antarctic islands. Scientists believe these may be recolonizing macaroni penguins.

Most pressing threats:

Climate change, introduced predators, and disease.

Royal (13/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
500,000 Declining Vulnerable

Royal penguins breed exclusively on Macquarie Island and the Clerk and Bishop Islets southwest of New Zealand, an area less than 100 square kilometers (38 square miles). Nonbreeding penguins have been seen in areas ranging from Australia to parts of Antarctica. Albino royals, which are grayish-yellow in color instead of black, are occasionally seen.

Most pressing threats:

Climate change, pollution, and introduced predators

African (14/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
25,000 Declining Endangered

Breeding colonies exist in three regions along the southwestern coast of Africa: Namibia in the north and South Africa’s Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces in the south. Breeding is mostly monogamous—on South Africa’s St. Croix Island, scientists found that up to 92 percent of the penguins breed with the same mate the next season.

Most pressing threats:

Climate change, fisheries, and pollution.

Magellanic (15/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
1.2-1.6 Million Uncertain Near Threatened

Magellanic penguins live on the southern coasts of South America, from central Argentina to central Chile. They migrate long distances, swimming up to 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) per year.

Most pressing threats:

Climate change, fisheries, and pollution.

Humboldt (16/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
15,000-20,000 Declined-Slow recovery Vulnerable

Humboldt penguins are found on the coasts of Chile and Peru in the region of the Humboldt Current. They must eat at least 340 to 600 grams (12 to 21 ounces) of anchovies every day to replenish the energy they use to find the food.

Most pressing threats:

Fisheries, climate change, and habitat degradation.

Galápagos (17/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
750-2,300 Declining Endangered

These penguins are native to the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. They live farther north than any other penguin and are the only species to cross occasionally into the Northern Hemisphere.

Most pressing threats:

Climate change and introduced predators

Little (or Blue) (18/18)

Population Pairs Population Trends IUCN
300,000 Stable Least Concern

Little penguins live along the coastline of New Zealand, the Chatham Islands, Tasmania, and southern Australia. These birds are the smallest of the penguin species, measuring approximately 33 centimeters (13 inches) in height and weighing 1 kilogram (2 pounds).

Most pressing threats

Introduced predators, pollution, and habitat degradation.