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Penguin’s Secret to Fast Swimming

Added by Holger Bergner on August 2, 2013. · No Comments · Share this Post

Filed under Intelligent Design

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Photo credit: Sandwichgirl via Photopin cc


Penguins are fast swimmers, but they shouldn’t be. As they rocket themselves through the water and onto overlying ice shelves, the drag of water friction is supposed to be too great. Researchers… …noticed air bubbles jacketing penguins during their boisterous ascents, and that led them to question if penguins use air to accelerate underwater.

National Geographic recently reported on how Bangor University biologist Roger Hughes, inspired by emperor penguins leaping out of the water, partnered with an engineer and two researchers to investigate how the penguins could do this. Their results appeared in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series… Read the full article at the ‘Institute for Creation Research’ and enjoy more penguin facts and figures below.


1. How fast can the penguin swim?

Adélie Penguins over long distances (10s to 100s of miles or km) can sustain speeds of about 5 mph (8 kph). In short bursts, in order to avoid being caught by leopard seals or in pursuing prey, they can move 5-6 times that fast. Unlike aerial birds, their wings are adapted to give power on both the up and down stroke of the movement, and their bodies, like fish, are fusiform in shape providing low resistance through the water. They are the most hydrodynamic of all marine creatures. Unlike fish or dolphins, Adélie Penguins can change the shape of their body to suit their swimming speed. They press their feet close to the tail for steering.

2. What is the purpose of porpoising?

Adélie Penguins can swim very fast under water going a couple hundred yards on one breath, if need be. Otherwise, like cetaceans, when they need to travel long distances they porpoise (leap forward but above the water in order to inhale air as they swim along).This allows breathing without breaking the forward motion and is necessary for long distance swimming.

3. How long can Adélie Penguins hold their breath underwater, and how deep do they dive?

Normally, Adélie Penguins, while feeding, stay submerged for 2-3 minutes, although the longest recorded submergence is almost 6 minutes. During those 2-3 minutes they most frequently dive to 40-50 m but occasionally to 120-140 m deep; the deepest recorded dive by this species is 170 m. Their heart rate drops from the normal 80-100 beats per min (bpm) to about 20 bpm, and the blood flow to the peripheral (outer) areas of their body is reduced helping to conserve oxygen affixed to blood and muscle protein (hemo- and myoglobin).

4. How high can the penguins jump out of the water?

About 2 m

5. Can penguins do backflips out of the water?

Sometimes they do if they misjudge their landing, but they don’t like to do this.

More facts and figures (from Wikipedia)

Penguins (order Sphenisciformes, family Spheniscidae) are a group of aquatic, flightless birds living almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, especially in Antarctica. Highly adapted for life in the water, penguins have countershaded dark and white plumage, and their wings have evolved into flippers. Most penguins feed on krill, fish, squid, and other forms ofsealife caught while swimming underwater. They spend about half of their lives on land and half in the oceans.

Anatomy and physiology

Penguins are superbly adapted to aquatic life. Their vestigial wings have become flippers, useless for flight in the air. In the water, however, penguins are astonishingly agile. Penguins’ swimming looks very similar to bird’s flight in the air. Within the smooth plumage a layer of air is preserved, ensuring buoyancy. The air layer also helps insulate the birds in cold waters. On land, penguins use their tails and wings to maintain balance for their upright stance.

All penguins are countershaded for camouflage – that is, they have black backs and wings with white fronts. A predator looking up from below (such as an orca or a leopard seal) has difficulty distinguishing between a white penguin belly and the reflective water surface. The dark plumage on their backs camouflages them from above.

Diving penguins reach 6 to 12 km/h (3.7 to 7.5 mph), though there are reports of velocities of 27 km/h (17 mph) (which are more realistic in the case of startled flight). The small penguins do not usually dive deep; they catch their prey near the surface in dives that normally last only one or two minutes. Larger penguins can dive deep in case of need. Dives of the large Emperor Penguin have been recorded reaching a depth of 565 m (1,870 ft) for up to 22 minutes.

Penguins either waddle on their feet or slide on their bellies across the snow, a movement called “tobogganing”, which conserves energy while moving quickly. They also jump with both feet together if they want to move more quickly or cross steep or rocky terrain.

Penguins have an average sense of hearing for birds; this is used by parents and chicks to locate one another in crowded colonies. Their eyes are adapted for underwater vision, and are their primary means of locating prey and avoiding predators; in air it has been suggested that they are nearsighted, although research has not supported this hypothesis.

Penguins have a thick layer of insulating feathers that keeps them warm in water (heat loss in water is much greater than in air). The Emperor Penguin (the largest penguin) has the largest body mass of all penguins, which further reduces relative surface area and heat loss. They also are able to control blood flow to their extremities, reducing the amount of blood that gets cold, but still keeping the extremities from freezing. In the extreme cold of the Antarctic winter, the females are at sea fishing for food leaving the males to brave the weather by themselves. They often huddle together to keep warm and rotate positions to make sure that each penguin gets a turn in the center of the heat pack.

They can drink salt water because their supraorbital gland filters excess salt from the bloodstream. The salt is excreted in a concentrated fluid from the nasal passages.

The Great Auk of the Northern Hemisphere, now extinct, was superficially similar to penguins, and the word “penguin” was originally used for that bird, centuries ago. They are not related to the penguins at all, but are an example of convergent evolution.

Photo credit: Sandwichgirl via Photopin cc

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