Surfer Penguin, Anyone?
It’s no wonder that when the animated movie Happy Feet came out in theaters, it became a hit.
This January 20th, lots of animal-loving folks are celebrating Penguin Awareness Day. It’s not an official holiday but it’s an important day, nevertheless, because these creatures play an important role in the health of our oceans and we need to recognize them because they are among the many species which are being threatened with the negative impact of climate change.
Why Penguins are Very Important
Penguins are what scientists call “sentinel species.” They tell us what is happening in the environment where they live through their interactions with the local ecosystems. A decline in local penguin population is an indicator that something is wrong with the environment and therefore is a warning signal for us.
Their poop is also very important for the soil in the maritime Arctic. It’s rich in nitrogen, carbon, and phosphorous. Their excrement, together with the remains of other arctic birds and seals, is a natural fertilizer which is the key factor in making the arctic soil able to support life.
They also perform an important function in the food web. They prey on fish and other smaller marine creatures but they are, in turn, being preyed upon by seals, sea lions, and orcas. A decline in their population can have a negative impact on the food web, causing a reaction to the detriment of other organisms.
They’re Natural Surfers, too!
But what’s totally cool about them is that some of them can surf the waves!
One species, called the Gentoo Penguin, can actually give us some lessons on how to bodysurf. That’s because it comes naturally to them. MagicSeaweed’s Matt Rode calls them the Cody Maverick of penguins.
Gentoo penguins are found in the Antarctic Peninsula and are distinguished by their fiery red-orange beaks, white-feather caps, and peach-colored feet.
They are the third largest penguin in the world, with a height reaching 30 inches and a weight of 12 pounds. They like to establish their rookeries in coastal plains, sheltered valleys, and cliffs where there is relatively little ice.
The real Cody Maverick of penguins. Gentoo Penguin surfing.
Photo by: Tin Man Lee
What does gentoo mean? The origin of the name “gentoo” is unclear. As the Oceanwide Expedition blog notes: “The only other association with the word came from the 1630s, when it was an Anglo-Indian term used to distinguish Indian Hindus from Indian Muslims. This use of the word may have come from the Portuguese word gentio, which refers to gentiles.”
However they were named, they sure know how to get stoked from the waves. In his blog, Rode wrote about how the Gentoo penguins living in the Falklands rush home after a long day of fishing in order to party. Heading towards the shore, they bodysurf on the wave like dolphins do. But when the waves start to break, that’s when the surfing gets real.
Tin Man Lee, one of the world’s internationally renowned nature photographers, was able to capture photos of Gentoo penguins surfing the wave like they were riding on an invisible surfboard.
It appears that, on occasion, a body surfing penguin will actually rise through the wave’s surface to ride on the face of the wave. It’s a combination of surfing and barefoot waterskiing, using their webbed feet to ride the wave before getting rolled onto the safety of the sand.
It’s an awesome sight, bros. If I were probably seeing them surf in real time, I’d probably be yelling surf’s up penguins in amazement.
It really important for us to do everything we can to help save creatures like the Gentoo. They, along with thousands of other species, are at risk of being harmed by the negative impact that we’ve brought to the oceans due to our dependence on plastic.
— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder
Other Amazing Gentoo Facts
I wanted to find out more about this surfer bro of ours so I googled other sources online. Other than being the largest, they’re also one of the fastest penguins around.
They also very fastidious. Cleanliness is key. If the previous year’s nesting area is covered with waste or is too trampled, Gentoo penguins will relocate their baby gentoo penguins somewhere else along the coastline for the next year.
And with Valentine’s Day looming next month, did you know that they’re one of the ocean’s most romantic creatures? The males woo the females with gifts of stones. How’s that for a Valentine token?
Threats to Their Population
Sadly though, like most of the creatures in our oceans, they experience constant threats to their collective survival.
On the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, Gentoo penguins are listed as a near threatened species. This is because there is a significant decline of the wild population out there on the sub-Antarctic islands. This is because of the increasing oil exploration and high tourism traffic which disturbs their natural feeding and reproductive behavior.
The ongoing scourge of plastic pollution has also reached the Arctic regions, putting these creatures at risk. Scientists have now recorded microplastics in Gentoo penguins. Whatever long term impact this may have on gentoo physiology is still unknown but knowing how microplastics can carry toxic chemicals and leach them into the environment, it can’t be good for them.
Microplastics in Gentoo Penguins; polyester fragment, polyacrylonitrile fiber and transparent Rayon film.
Heal the Ocean
Which makes it really important for us to do everything we can to help save creatures like the Gentoo. They, along with thousands of other species, are at risk of being harmed by the negative impact that we’ve brought to the oceans due to our dependence on plastic.
And while the surfing industry has been complicit in this for many years, there are now alternatives to help surfers ride the green wave in surfing. From alternative surfing boards to sustainable surfboard bags, these eco-friendly products help make the oceans a little bit safer and livable for these bros of ours.
Here at Wave Tribe, we also try to do more by supporting projects and initiatives that help conserve the ocean environment and protect the marine wildlife. Our Heal the Ocean page lists all the noteworthy projects which need support from the public in order to continue saving the marine environment. Whether it’s your time or your money you want to donate, these are worthwhile endeavors that you can support.
So if you want to do something more for penguins everywhere to mark this day, consider supporting these non-profit organizations. Your contributions will go a long way in making the oceans a better place for them.
And if you’re a surfer looking to shift to eco-friendly surfing gear and products, check out our site.
More Wave Tribe Eco-Reads
Why Is Plastic Bad For The Ocean?
The Great Barrier Reef is Dying and Why We Should be Alarmed
Changes in the Ocean? Look at its Indicator Species