A lot of animals in the islands are astonishing to visitors. Some due to their tameness, others to their beauty and curiosity, but the one that strikes the most is the penguin. This sea bird, only 50 cms (19.6 inches) tall, is considered one of the smallest in the world and inhabits the most remote and unexpected corners of the Galapagos Archipelago. It is always a surprise to find them on black lava rock, surrounded by mangroves or with cacti in the background. The Galapagos penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus is unique for having adapted to live on the Equator and some have even been seen in the small part of the Galapagos Archipelago that is in the northern hemisphere.
Penguins in general have a very specialized plumage that helps them to keep warm on colder regions and to repel water as they swim and feed. Feathers form a very rigid structure on the outside, but soft and warm on the inside. These act like reptile’s scales to cover most of their body and inside, it is as if they wear a warm coat. They are capable to retain most of the body heat to inhabit colder regions. The extra layer of fat under the skin and the system of blood vessels of their fins and webbed feet allow them to regulate these exposed areas of their body.
Even though, our tropical penguin does not need to warm up, its plumage has changed very little. There are other adaptations to survive on the Equator. Most important is their reduced body size to lose heat easily. There are certain bare areas on their face, that, along with longer fins and webbed feet, act like radiators keeping themselves cool and fresh under the equatorial sun. Of course most of their time is spent in water!
The Island of Isabela, the largest in the Galapagos, has a small population of these flightless birds. Metropolitan Touring’s vessels visit sites like Punta Vicente Roca where penguins are occasionally observed, either on the rocks or in the water. Bartolomé Island in central Galapagos is another site they frequent and it is common for our guests see them and even swim with them. You don’t need a dry suit!! These penguins are solitary but still curious and tame like most of the animals in the Islands.