Galapagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus

  • Order: Sphenisciformes
  • Family: Spheniscidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Annica Lila Carlson and Jens Steven Townsdin


Conservation Status

The Galapagos Penguin is assessed to be an Endangered species (IUCN 2010, BirdLife International 2o12). Having faced large population fluctuations since the 1970s, the Galapagos Penguin’s small, endemic population is in trouble. Population bottlenecks have led to a decrease in genetic diversity, which could hinder the species ability to adapt and overcome future obstacles such as disease, or a change in food source (Bollmer et al. 2007). Usually relying on cold nutrient-rich upwellings to survive, populations have instead been met with many years of warm, unproductive waters due to El Niño. Warmer waters have forced many parents to abandon their young in search of food, ultimately resulting in the starvation of many adults and offspring (Boersma 2008). El Niño can also bring a halt to breeding due to high surface water temperatures (Boersma 1976). Other causes of population decline currently being studied include low variability in the major histocompatibility complex MHC gene, feral cat (Felis catus) predation, and microfilariae (parasitic nematodes) found in the hearts of some Galapagos Penguins (Bollmer et al. 2007, Merkel et al. 2007, Vargas et al. 2006).

Effects of human activity on populations

Since the Galapagos Penguin is endemic to the Galapagos Islands (Bollmer et al. 2007), direct negative human impacts on the species are relatively controlled due to the fact that the Galapagos Islands are a protected wildlife habitat. Human interference still is present, however. It is vital at this time to prevent oil spills, fishing in foraging areas, and exotic species and disease introduction. The contribution to global warming, an indirect effect from humans, is another detrimental impact. Climate models have suggested that most of the warming of the Earth seen over the past 50 years has been due to human activities (Vargas et al. 2006).  Global warming has been shown to be a leading cause of the increasing prevalence of El Niño, which is a major reason for the Galapagos Penguins Endangered status. Researchers estimated that the species has a 30% chance of going extinct in the next 100 years, even without assuming that El Niño events will occur more frequently and severely (Boersma 2008).

Recommended Citation

Carlson, A. L. and J. S. Townsdin (2012). Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.