8 penguin species you need to know before travelling to Antarctica

Wednesday, 1st August 2018

Destination Specialist

antarctica gentoo penguin pair istk

Penguins provide a huge draw for those visiting Antarctica and their status as consummate charmers is richly deserved.

As anyone who has ever undertaken wildlife watching will know, every possible encounter is caveated with the stipulation that sightings cannot be guaranteed. While patterns of animal behaviour are known and well documented, by its very definition wildlife is unpredictable. However, there are certain areas of Antarctica and the sub-Antarctics where unforgettable encounters with specific penguin species is not only highly likely, its inevitable.


antarctica adelie penguin gt

Where: South Shetlands, Antarctic Peninsula, coastal Antarctica
Cruise Options: on any cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula

This is a true Antarctic penguin, being the only species other than the emperor that breeds on the Antarctic Continent during the Austral summer. Endearing large button eyes and predominantly black bill are the distinguishing features of this very sociable and expressive penguin.


antarctic chinstrap penguin pf

Where: South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula
Cruise Options: on any cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula

Named for the strap-like marking that wraps under their beak this distinctive penguin typically inhabits the Scotia Sea area between the sub-Antarctic South Shetland Islands and the Peninsula. Similar in height to the Adelie, chinstraps are often found amongst colonies of the former as well as gentoo.


antarctica gentoo penguin3 pf

Where: South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, Falklands
Cruise Options: on any cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia

With a vivid orange beak and orange feet, this consummate little charmer is a prolific gatherer of pebbles and is commonly seen around the South Shetland Islands and higher latitudes of the Peninsula as well as South Georgia and the Falklands. The third-largest penguin, gentoos breed in smaller colonies on rocky hillsides amidst tussock grass or on beaches.


antarctica snow hill emperors and chick qe
Emperor penguins

Where: Snow Hill Island, Weddell Sea, Ross Sea

The largest and most iconic of all, the emperor penguin is the only species to nest on the sea ice and is also the most elusive. Individuals can be seen on the Peninsula, but sightings tend to be rare.


south georgia king penguins rh

Where: South Georgia, Falklands, Macquarie Island
Cruise Options: longer cruises taking in Falklands, South Georgia & the Peninsula (see Antarctica Wildlife Holidays)

The second-largest penguin is found in the sub-Antarctics only. Bearing a resemblance to the emperor penguin, this species can be distinguished by the vibrant orange patch on the back of head and neck. King chicks are unmistakably covered with dark brown down feathers. The vast rookeries of South Georgia offer truly one of the most impressive spectacles in the world of wildlife.


chile patagonia magellanic penguins istock

Where: Falklands
Cruise Options:  longer cruises taking in Falklands, South Georgia & the Peninsula

Found in the Falklands and the sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand as well as the higher latitudes of southern Chile and Argentina, magellanic penguins are notoriously nervous and nest in burrows on beaches and sand dunes. Not to be confused with the similar African and Humboldt penguins.


falkland islands rockhopper penguin close up ze

Where: Falklands
Cruise Options:  longer cruises taking in Falklands, South Georgia & the Peninsula

The smallest of the eccentric-looking crested penguin family, the rockhopper makes its home on the Falkland Islands. Pronounced yellow eyebrows and deep red eyes offer this breed a quirky look as they traverse the rocks around the coastline.


south georgia macaroni penguins ze

Where: Falklands, South Georgia, South Shetlands
Cruise Options:  longer cruises taking in Falklands, South Georgia & the Peninsula

The only other crested penguin not endemic to New Zealand or its sub-Antarctic islands, the macaroni is very similar to the rockhopper, but is significantly taller and has a larger red bill. Covering a wide range, this is the second largest of the crested species.

And Beyond

penguins australasia montage

Beyond the shores of the Great White Continent, New Zealand and Australia also boast several species of penguin, including the world’s smallest.

  • Yellow-eyed (Chathams Islands | Dunedin, New Zealand)
  • Fiordland-crested (Fiordland & West Coast, New Zealand)
  • Little blue (Chatham Islands | Oamaru, New Zealand | Phillip Island & WA, Australia)

Find out more about Antarctic Wildlife

Antarctic Holidays

To start planning your own Antarctic adventure, view our collection of holidays including cruises and land-based island hopping options in the Falklands. Alternatively, get in touch with our Polar Travel Specialists to discuss your options on 01737 214 250 or send an enquiry.

See all Antarctic holidays

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