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The Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is a penguin endemic to the Galapagos Islands. It is the only penguin that lives north of the equator in the wild; it can survive due to the cool temperatures resulting from the Humboldt Current and cool waters from great depths brought up by the Cromwell Current. The Galapagos Penguin is one of the banded penguins, the other species of which occur mostly on the coasts of mainland South America, and Africa.
The average Galapagos Penguin is long and in weight. They have a black head with a white border running from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, to join on the throat. They have blackish-grey upperparts and whitish underparts, with two black bands across the breast, the lower band extending down the flanks to the thigh. Juveniles differ in having a wholly dark head, greyer on side and chin, and no breast-band. The female penguins are smaller than the males, but are otherwise quite similar. The Galapagos Penguin is the third smallest species of penguin.
The Galapagos Penguin occurs primarily on Fernandina Island and the west coast of Isabela Island, but small populations are scattered on other islands in the Galapagos archipelago. While ninety percent of the Galapagos Penguins live among the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela, they also occur on Santiago, Bartolome, northern Santa Cruz, and Floreana. The northern tip of Isabela crosses the equator, meaning that Galpagos Penguins occasionally visit the northern hemisphere, the only penguins to do so.
The penguins stay in the archipelago. They stay by the Cromwell Current during the day since it is cooler and return to the land at night. They eat small schooling fish, mainly mullet, sardines, and sometimes crustaceans. They only go search for food during the day and normally within a few kilometers of their breeding site. They depend on the cold nutrient-rich currents to bring them food. The temperature at the islands stays between 15 and 28 degrees Celsius (5982 F). During El Nio seasons, the penguins put off breeding since their food becomes less abundant; this makes the chances of raising offspring successfully unfavorable compared to the chances of dying in the attempt. They usually breed when the sea surface temperature is below 24 degrees Celsius (75 F) which results in more food for them. The strong sun is the main problem for the penguins. Their primary means of cooling off is going into the water, but they have other behavioral adaptations because of all the time they spend on land. They use two methods of thermoregulation in warmer weather on land. One is by stretching out their flippers and hunching forward to keep the sun from shining on their feet, since they can lose heat from their flippers due to the blood flow there. They also pant, using evaporation to cool the throat and airways. Galapagos Penguins protect their eggs and chicks from the hot sun by keeping them in deep crevices in the rocks. The species is endangered, with an estimated population size of around 1,500 individuals in 2004, according to a survey by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The population underwent an alarming decline of over 70% in the 1980s, but is slowly recovering. It is therefore the rarest penguin species (a status which is often falsely attributed to the Yellow-eyed Penguin). Population levels are influenced by the effects of the El Nio Southern Oscillation, which reduces the availability of shoaling fish, leading to low reproduction or starvation. However, anthropogenic factors (e.g. oil pollution, fishing by-catch and competition) may be adding to the ongoing demise of this species. On Isabela Island, introduced cats, dogs and rats attack penguins and destroy their nests. When in the water, they are preyed upon by sharks, fur seals, and sea lions.
There are less than 1000 breeding pairs of Galapagos Penguins in the world. Breeding begins when the temperature of the sea surface falls to around 24C. Most nests are seen between May and January.The nests are made within of the water on the shore, usually on Fernandina and Isabela Islands. Adults stay near the breeding area during the year with their mate that they have chosen for life. When the penguins are breeding, incubation takes 3840 days with both parents helping out. After thirty days of the chicks being born and both parents sharing responsibility of taking care of them, the chicks have feathers that are brown above and white below. The purpose of this is to protect the chicks from the strong sun more so than keeping them warm. The Galapagos Penguin mates for life. It lays one or two eggs in places such as caves and crevices, protected from direct sunlight, which can lead to the eggs overheating. One parent will always stay with the eggs or chicks while the other is absent for several days to feed. The parents usually only rear up one child. If there is not enough food available, the nest may be abandoned. Bermudian naturalist Louis L. Mowbray was the first who successfully bred the Galapagos Penguin in captivity.
Because of the Galapagos Penguin's smaller size, it has many predators. On land, the penguins must keep an eye out for crabs, snakes, owls, and hawks, while in the water they must avoid sharks, fur seals, and sea lions. They face many hazards due to humans, as well as the hazards of unreliable food resources and volcanic activity. Illegal fishermen interrupt the penguins nesting trees, and they are often caught in fishing nets by mistake. Much balance has to take place to ensure that the Galpagos Penguins do not become extinct.