The penguins are a group of aquatic, flightless birds living almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere. Most penguins feed on krill, fish, squid, and other forms of sealife caught while swimming underwater. There are 17 species worldwide and 2 species which occur in Namibia.
Little Penguin Eudyptula minor
The Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) is the smallest species of penguin. The penguin, which usually grows to between 30 and 33 cm tall, is found on the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand, with possible records from Chile.
The Little Penguin typically grows to between 30 and 33 cm tall and usually weighs about 1.5 kilogram on average. The head and upperparts are blue in colour, with slate-grey ear coverts fading to white underneath, from the chin to the belly. The flippers are blue. The dark grey-black beak is 3–4 cm long, the irises pale silvery- or bluish-grey or hazel, and the feet pink above with black soles and webbing. An immature individual will have a shorter bill and lighter upperparts.
Like most seabirds, they have a long lifespan. The average for the species is 6.5 years, but flipper ringing experiments show in very exceptional cases up to 25 years in captivity.
Little penguins have also been reported from Chile (where they are known as Pingüino pequeño or Pingüino azul) (Isla Chañaral 1996, Playa de Santo Domingo, San Antonio, 16 March 1997) and South Africa, but it is unclear whether these birds were vagrants.
These birds feed by hunting fish, squid and other small sea animals, for which they travel and dive quite extensively. They are generally inshore feeders. The use of dataloggers has provided information of the diving behaviour of Little Penguins. 50% of their dives go no deeper than 2 m and the mean diving time is 21 seconds. Yet, they are able to dive as deep as 20m and remained submerged as long as 60 sec.
Little Penguins live year-round in large colonies, with each individual breeding pair forming a burrow in which to raise their chicks (of which two are born at a time, usually about 2 days apart). One is the heir to the family and the other is the spare, in case anything was to happen to the first. Little Penguins typically return to their colonies to feed their chicks at dusk. The birds will tend to come ashore in small groups to provide some defense against predators which might pick off individuals one by one. In Australia, the strongest colonies are on cat-free and fox-free islands. However, the numbers have been depleting extremely around Granite Island; which is a fox, cat and dog-free island. The numbers around Granite Island have dropped from around 2000 penguins in the year of 2001, down to a sad 146 in 2009.
African Penguin Spheniscus demersus
The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus), also known as the Black-footed Penguin, is found on the south-western coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Because of their donkey-like braying call they were previously named Jackass Penguins. Since several species of South American penguins produce the same sound, the African species has been renamed African Penguin, as it is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa. The presence of the penguin gave name to the Penguin Islands.
Two colonies were established by penguins in the 1980s on the mainland near Cape Town, namely Boulders Beach near Simon's Town and Stony Point in Betty's Bay. Mainland colonies probably only became possible in recent times due to the reduction of predator numbers, although the Betty's Bay colony has been attacked by leopards. The only other mainland colony is in Namibia, but it is not known when this was established.
Boulders Beach is a tourist attraction, for the beach, swimming and the penguins. The penguins will allow people to approach them as close as a meter.
The closest relatives of the African Penguins are the Humboldt Penguin and Magellanic Penguins found in southern South America and the Galápagos Penguin found in the Pacific Ocean near the equator.
Of the 1.5-million African Penguin population estimated in 1910, only some 10% remained at the end of the 20th-century. African penguin populations, which breed in Namibia and South Africa, have declined by 95 percent since preindustrial times.
Commercial fisheries have forced these penguins to search for prey farther off shore, as well as making them eat less nutritious prey, since their preferred prey has become scarce. Global climate change is also affecting these penguin's prey abundance.
As recently as the mid-twentieth century, penguin eggs were considered a delicacy and were still being collected for sale. Unfortunately, the practice was to smash eggs found a few days prior to gathering, to ensure that only fresh ones were sold. This added to the drastic decline of the penguin population around the Cape coast, a decline which was hastened by the removal of guano from islands for use as fertilizer, eliminating the burrowing material used by penguins. Penguins remain susceptible to pollution of their habitat by petrochemicals from spills, shipwrecks and cleaning of tankers while at sea.