Over a couple of glasses of wine, a friend recently revealed that she suffers from what surely is called penguinophobia—the fear of penguins. She theorized that perhaps she was traumatized as a child by Danny DeVito’s iconic portrayal of the villain Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, in the Batman movie. She went on to say that she couldn’t even bring herself to watch Happy Feet. It seems that penguinophobia might actually be a thing.
So in honor of my friend’s weird quirk, here are ten tales involving penguins. I very much doubt that she’ll be reading this list, but I hope that you enjoy it.
10 Oddball Yellow Penguin
Wildlife photographer, Yves Adams, says he won “nature’s lottery” when he spotted a unique pale yellow-feathered penguin among thousands and thousands of tuxedo-clad birds on a beach in the remote South Georgia Islands in the South Atlantic.
King penguins are usually black and white, with small tinges of yellow at the neck, which gives them their signature tuxedo look. Adams explains that he realized that he was simply in the right place at the right time to take the photographs of the rare, very striking animal.
The unusual plumage of this individual bird was not due to albinism but instead was likely to have been caused by a deficiency in melanin caused by a genetic mutation. Hein van Grouw, the curator at the UK Natural History Museum, explains that melanin levels have likely “decreased so much and has become lighter in color [so] you can see the yellow through it.”
Adams explains how he feels “lucky this bird decided to land where it did,” adding, “that is unless I see a pink elephant. I could be lucky tomorrow; you never know.”
9 Superpower Threatens Emperor
In June 2022, dozens of nations met in Berlin, voting in favor of giving the world’s largest penguin, the emperor penguin, special protection status. These animals, growing to a height of 3 feet (1 meter) in adulthood, face challenges to their natural habitat in Antarctica, and the resolution would have at least attempted to preserve this very special region.
“An overwhelming majority of parties held the opinion that there is sufficient scientific evidence for the species to be put under the special protection,” a spokesperson from the German government explained. However, several delegates who attended the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the Chinese government had blocked all efforts to step up the protection of the endangered penguins.
Leaked documents revealed that the Chinese delegation bizarrely claimed that rising polar bear numbers were among their reasons for stalling a global push to save emperor penguins despite the two species inhabiting opposite ends of the globe. While experts warn that current trends may see both species become extinct within decades, in a crushing blow to common sense and in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, China did not budge in its stance.
At the closed-door treaty meeting, the Chinese delegation apparently presented research that had not been peer-reviewed but was instead based on claims from penguin and polar bear blogs published by a self-confessed “non-specialist.”
Signed by more than 50 nations, a 1959 treaty devotes Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to peaceful activities such as tourism and science. The treaty also bans arms, mining, and land ownership. Despite Antarctic sea ice retreating to hit record-low levels, Chinese officials have also repeatedly opposed marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean in recent years. This has led to speculation that the Chinese government has other plans for the Antarctic region.
8 Make a Wish Upon a Penguin
Bertha Komor from Connecticut had always had a thing for penguins, and in June 2022, at the ripe old age of 104, she even got to hold one in her arms for the first time.
The caregivers at her retirement community teamed up with the Twilight Wish Foundation, an organization that works to grant the wishes of senior citizens. This allowed her to check this item off her bucket list. “I didn’t expect this. It’s wonderful,” Komor said. “Just petting the penguin and seeing him close up.”
The Mystic Aquarium, which is located in Mystic, Connecticut, introduced Komor to Red Green, a 35-year-old African penguin. “I’m just so excited for her. I’m just so happy she has had this wish come true and just to have been in our life for as long as she has,” explained granddaughter Karen Rivkin.
3 Blue Penguin Mystery
Residents in New Zealand’s Far North region searched for answers earlier this year after more than 100 dead little blue penguins, known locally as kororä, were found dumped in the small seaside community of Cable Bay.
Alerted by a foul odor, the penguins were found dumped off the side of a beach track. “There’s probably over 100 there—they’re in a thick pile,” described a local woman, Pauline Wilson. She said that locals could not understand why they were dumped in such a way. “You would’ve thought if they were caught in fishing nets, they would’ve been dumped overboard,” she explained. The kororā did not appear to have been attacked by dogs or other predators, Wilson added.
Predation can certainly account for many penguin deaths. The Department of Conservation has also said natural deaths of kororā can be exacerbated by climate and the La Nina weather pattern, where warmer waters can make it harder for the penguins to find enough food. Lack of food not only leads to malnutrition and starvation but it can also bring on hypothermia, as the penguins cannot amass enough fatty blubber to keep them warm in the chilly Southern Ocean.
Wilson says she hopes that wider publicity would prompt people to come forward with information about what happened. Little blue penguins are the smallest penguin species in the world, with adult birds being approximately only 10 inches (25 centimeters) tall and weighing only about 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram).
6 Monty Reaches #43
When marketing, advertising, and design website The Drum asked their readers to vote for their favorite TV/video commercials of all time, “Monty the Penguin,” produced by John Lewis, came out at a very respectable #43.
The 2014 Christmas campaign was considered “a cut above the rest—not just for its creativity but for being a ground-breaking integrated marketing campaign that delivered recording-breaking results.”
The heartwarming two-minute advert tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a boy, Sam, and his best friend Monty, a penguin. Sam and Monty are best mates, but Monty the penguin feels lonely and… oh, just watch the ad and feel the “warm fuzzies.”
The cover of John Lennon’s “Real Love” by Tom Odell used in the advert reached number three in the charts. While also in conjunction with its popularity, John Lewis released an app edition of the children’s book Monty’s Christmas Storybook, as well as sold Monty stuffed toys, onesies, slippers, and Christmas tableware. Not surprisingly, eBay also reported a 300% increase in the sale of penguin toys in general across its site.
5 The Penguin Murders
Two Australian men were each jailed for 42 years for the gruesome double murder of a father and son on Tasmania’s northwest coast in 2004. Darryn Stokes and Bradley Rex Lambert had planned to steal the $AU 200,000 that they believed was stashed in the home of 84-year-old Lehman McHugh and his 62-year-old son Anthony in the small town of Penguin.
The McHughs were found bludgeoned to death in their home with a combined total of 87 tomahawk wounds. The presiding judge described the attack as being one of the worst types of murder, involving extraordinary cruelty and disregard for human life. He added that “crimes like these cause fear in the community, particularly a small and close-knit one such as Penguin, and people who live alone and in isolated residences become very anxious over these types of tragedies.”
Justice Hill said the murders were “a horrific and terrifying ordeal” for both victims. Anthony McHugh was struck 72 times with the tomahawk, while his father was struck 15 times. He described how both suffered horrific and fatal head injuries, and Anthony suffered significant defensive injuries.
4 Gay Couple Expand Family
Sphen and Magic are a pair of Glentoo Penguins that form a gay Australian power couple that took the world by storm. They recently added a new member to their family when they adopted an egg from another pair of birds that already had two. This is the second time that the couple has adopted.
“We are beyond excited to welcome the new penguin chicks to our colony,” explained Sea Life Sydney Aquarium Penguin Supervisor Kerrie Dixon. “They are doing really well and gaining weight,” she added.
The same-sex penguin couple made history in 2018 as the aquarium’s first Gentoo penguins to successfully incubate and raise a chick. Penguins, including Gentoo penguins, are one of several species where same-sex couples are a relatively common occurrence.
3 Penguins vs. Bees
In 2021, South Africa had its own dead penguin mystery when 63 endangered penguins were found dead at the Boulders breeding colony in Simon’s Town.
Investigations conducted by the county’s national parks agency have suggested the deaths were likely caused by a swarm of honeybees. A spokesperson for the South African National Parks explained that biological samples were sent for disease and toxicology testing. No external physical injuries were observed on any of the birds, and post-mortems revealed that all of the penguins had multiple bee stings. Many dead honeybees were also found at the site where the birds had died.
While deadly attacks by honeybees are an extremely rare event, Dr. Joseph Monks explained that “it sounds like the penguins, or something else, disturbed the nest, which led to the attack. The bees would have perceived a penguin damaging the nest as an attack on the food supplies of honey and pollen collected for the larvae.”
The penguin deaths come as a blow to efforts to conserve the endangered species, as the population of African penguins has declined by around half since the late 1970s. In 1978, it was estimated there were around 80,000 breeding pairs of African penguins. Some alarming estimates have this number declining by almost 70% due to over-fishing and habitat loss, with only some 21,000 pairs left today.
A spokesperson for the Boulders preserve explains that “losing over 60 healthy, and most likely breeding, adult African penguins is quite a blow for the Boulders colony.” Since the colony was already experiencing dwindling numbers, the loss of the birds and the potential offspring was devastating. Since some of the pairs likely had a chick or egg still in the nest, the spokesperson noted that the staff would monitor the nests to ensure the chicks had enough food to survive. “One partner often can’t supply sufficient food or leave the chicks alone… there might be a need to rescue and hand-rear some of them.”
2 Penguins vs. Butterfly
In what many social media users have described as “adorable” and a “delight to the eyes,” a few-second clip showing a group of Adelie penguins hopping after a butterfly has been viewed over four million times.
Adelie penguins are classic tuxedoed penguins, recognizable by their prominent white eye rings. The world population is estimated at 10,000,000 birds, of which about 34% live in the Ross Sea area of Antarctica.
Shared on Twitter by Buitengebieden, the now-viral video is cryptically named “Penguins chasing a butterfly.” Hopping and flapping their wings in unison, a dozen or so penguins are shown in relentless pursuit of a butterfly flying just ahead of them. The cuteness overload had one user commenting that it is the “best video on the internet today.”
1 Mega Monster Penguin
In 2018, a monster-sized penguin species was identified from fossils found in Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand. (That’s all of maybe ten minutes drive from my house, by the way.) Discovered by amateur paleontologist Leigh Love, the giant bird was about 5.25 feet (1.6 meters) tall and estimated to weigh some 175 pounds (80 kilograms).
Earlier that same year, a fossil of the world’s largest extinct parrot was uncovered in Central Otago, just a couple of hours further south. Experts believed the huge bird, named Heracles inexpectatus, was around 3 feet (1 meter) tall and weighed about 15.5 pounds (7 kilograms). Other gigantic but now extinct New Zealand fauna discovered include a giant eagle, a huge burrowing bat, and the sizeable ostrich-like moa.
Amazingly, the discovery of the new penguin species was actually the fifth ancient penguin species uncovered at the Waipara dig site. Experts examining the giant penguin fossils concluded that they belonged to a previously unknown penguin species, Crossvallia waiparensis, from the Paleocene Epoch, dating back between 56 and 66 million years ago.
Canterbury Museum curator Dr. Vanesa DePietri explained that discovering a second giant penguin from the Paleocene Epoch was further evidence that early species of penguins were huge. “It further reinforces our theory that penguins attained a giant size very early in their evolution,” she stated.
Dr. Gerald Mayr from the Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, assisted with the dig and analyzing the fossils. “The fossils discovered there have made our understanding of penguin evolution a whole lot clearer… There’s more to come, too—more fossils which we think represent new species are still awaiting description,” he enthuses.