Emperor Penguin Emperor Penguin
Emperor Penguin

Scientific Classification

Common Name
emperor penguin
Genus Species
Aptenodytes forsteri

Fast Facts

Largest of all living penguin species, the emperor penguin has a black head, chin, and throat, with broad yellow patches on each side of the head.
up to 112 cm (44 in.)
27 to 41 kg (60 to 90 lbs.)
62 to 66 days
Approximately 24 to 25 days
Sexual Maturity
5 to 6 years in males, 5 years in females
Life Span
20 to 25 years
Circumpolar on Antarctic continent
Within the limits of pack ice
In 2009,46 colonies of about 238,000 breeding pairs were located.  More recently, an addition 7 colonies have been identified but the global population has not been updated yet.
IUCN: Near Threatened
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

Emperor penguins walk slowly and do not hop. The maximum walking speed for emperors is 2.8 kph (1.7mph). Emperor penguins are also known to toboggan, sliding across ice on their bellies.

Emperor penguins have been observed swimming 14.4 kph (8.9 mph), though they normally do not exceed 10.8 kph (6.7 mph).

Emperor penguins breed annually during the Antarctic winter, June through August. During this time, air temperature may drop to -60°C (-76°F) and winds may reach up to 200 kph (124 mph).

Emperor penguins do not build nests. The male penguin stands upright and incubates a single egg on top of its feet under a loose fold of abdominal skin called a brood patch. The male fasts throughout the courtship, nesting, and incubation period. He lives off reserves of body fat which may be 3–4 cm (1.2–1.6 in.) thick, and loses up to 45% of his body weight. After the female transfers the egg, she goes to sea to feed while the male is incubating. She returns just before the egg is ready to hatch to relieve her mate. If the egg hatches before the female returns, the male is able to produce and secrete a curd-like substance from his esophagus to feed the chick.

In 1980, a tiny emperor penguin made international zoological history. The chick was the first to be hatched and raised by its parents inside the Penguin Encounter at SeaWorld San Diego, then the world's only successful emperor penguin breeding facility outside of Antarctica. And in 1982, the first hand-raised emperor penguin hatched. Since then, more than 20 emperor penguins have been hatched and raised at SeaWorld San Diego.

For more information about penguins, explore the Penguin InfoBook.

Ecology and Conservation

All 18 species of penguin are legally protected from hunting and egg collecting. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 makes it illegal to harm, or in any way interfere with, a penguin or its eggs. Every penguin specimen collected with a permit must be approved by and reported to the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR). Penguins are vulnerable to habitat destruction, overfishing of primary food sources, ecological disasters such as oil spills, pollution such as trash in the ocean, and human encroachment into nesting areas.


Coats, Judith. Penguins: Flightless Birds of the Southern Hemisphere. SeaWorld Education Department, 2001.

Nuzzolo, Debbie. Penguin March. SeaWorld Education Department, 2002.

BirdLife International 2018. Aptenodytes forsteri . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22697752A132600320. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22697752A132600320.en. Downloaded on 13 March 2020.