My friend Elsie calls me the Penguin Lady. I think penguins are cool, so you can imagine the thrill when I found out that we had a chance of seeing the very rare and endangered Galapagos penguin. It’s the smallest species of penguin in the world, as well as the only one who lives north of the equator (by only a few miles, but still…). So it’s not surprising that they are considered quite the celebrities, as you can tell by the paparazzi in this photo:
We were out snorkeling when we came upon penguins roosting on the rocks (where they nest in burrows and crevices). There was lots of picture-taking.
See the white line curving around this fellow’s face? That’s characteristic of the Galapagos penguin. They stand only 19 inches tall and weigh about five pounds.
While kayaking later in the day, we found a couple of more penguins, posing nicely on the rocks.
This little fellow below must be immature because he lacked the white line on the face:
There are less than 1,000 of the Gaalpagos penguins now, due to El Nino warming the waters around the Galapagos. The penguins count on the cold Humboldt Current to bring the fish they eat past the islands and food has been scarce. Evidently, it’s quite possible they will disappear all together in the future. Such a very sad thought.
Finally, the absolute best experience: we were all suited up for snorkeling off the beach when we asked our fabulous (and energetic) guide Fausto if there was any chance of swimming with the penguins. He thought about it for a minute, then said, “Let’s try it. Everyone who wants to swim with penguins, jump in the Zodiac.” Our Zodiac pilot turned out to be an excellent penguin spotter. He observed a flock of penguins feeding farther along the coast, and we headed after them.
We discovered that penguins move very, very fast in the water. It took three tries (12 snorkelers jumping into the water, then clambering back into the Zodiac again) to get in position in front of the penguins. But when we did: unbelievable!
We dropped into an empty stretch of water, and followed Fausto along the coast. Suddenly, out of nowhere dozens of penguins came shooting through the water toward us, swirling all around us as they nabbed the silvery fish fleeing in front of them. The penguins paid no attention to us, bobbing to the surface to breathe right alongside us snorkelers.
I wish I could have caught an underwater shot but my camera’s slow shutter had no chance of capturing the speedy creatures. I swear they are jet-propelled.
One of the things I noticed when a penguin bobbed up right beside me was that their feet look padded and kind of squishy. I hope you can see how thick they are in this shot.
It was just another magical moment in the Galapagos tradition.