True Penguins Are All Extinct

“Don’t believe what you hear about those penguins. A species of lazy waddlers. Their extinction is imminent.” —Jarod Kintz

In A Nutshell

We often look at pictures of strange, comical birds with pointed bills, flippers, and tuxedo-like feathers frolicking and fighting in the Antarctic. However, true penguins are in fact extinct, hunted to death in the mid-19th century. The southern waterbirds we see today are a completely unique group of birds that were simply named after the northern hemisphere bird known as the great auk or penguin.

The Whole Bushel

Pinguinis impennis, the great auk, was an enormous Atlantic waterbird that stood just under 1 meter (3.3 ft) tall and weighed up to 5 kilograms (11 lb).

This species, tragically extinct, is also the true penguin, and the many species of southern waterbirds that we call penguins are simply the namesake of the great auk.

Fully flightless, this gentle giant fed on seafood and nested on rocky islets and coastal areas all across the Northern Atlantic region. With tiny, stub wings and a black and white suit of contrasting plumage, this large-billed bird was a close relative of modern puffins, guillemots, and murrelets.

More distant relatives of such Alcidae members include the gulls, terns, and shorebirds. The great auk’s extinction brings surprises as well as tragedy. This bird was, in fact, the original penguin, bearing the name as the sole animal that inspired that specific identification.

Unfortunately, the true and only penguin was driven to extinction by hunting, with feather, meat, fat, and oil demand among the reasons behind persecution of this amazing bird. The rarer the birds got, the more valued they were for specimen collection. It is extremely unfortunate that the conservation ethic and ability to recognize and act on the need for guarding of wild pairs or captive breeding did not come into play in time.

The last living bird was observed in 1852. The name “penguin” was given to similar-looking southern birds by explorers of the bottom half of the planet. While completely unrelated, modern “penguins” from Antarctica, South America, Australia, and Southern Africa share many similarities due to convergent evolution. The plumage patterns, general shape and some behaviors are certainly alike. However, the original and true penguin, a bird of the North, is sadly extinct.

Show Me The Proof

Featured image credit: John Gould
The First “Penguin”
BirdLife International: Great Auk: Pinguinis impennis

  • Hillyard

    Auk, what a sad thing to learn.

  • rincewind

    So penguins have been getting smaller for longer than I thought. Those biscuits aren’t nearly the size they were when I was young.

  • Chris

    Pinguinis impennis, not Pinguinis immpenis. Unless it loves dick….

    • ScepticSid

      Penguins have been observed to engage in homosexual behaviour since at least as early as 1911. George Murray Levick, who documented this behaviour in Adélie Penguins at Cape Adare, described it as “depraved”. The report was considered too shocking for public release at the time, and was suppressed. The only copies that were made available privately to researchers were translated into Greek, to prevent this knowledge becoming more widely known. The report was unearthed only a century later, and published in Polar Record in June 2012.

      • Wazzo Dw

        that background looks like table mountain in cape town

    • Micah Duke

      Well that’s embarrassing…

      *Fixed, thanks.

      • Chris

        I just saw the link to this posted on Facebook, and thought “They probably changed it and I’ll look like I can’t read”, so thanks for the comment. I’d hate for random internet people to judge my faceless, genderless profile

  • Andy West

    I’d always thought Pingu looked a little fake.

    • Chris

      It was, they just taped a bunch of cats together

  • Andy West

    They are still courageous beasts.

  • Check

    What a marvel they would have been to observe.

  • MissKingdomVII

    So as usual, humans are at fault for killing them off. Shocking.:

  • Carolyne

    Dang it mankind, what a shame

  • how many Pinguinis are exists now

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  • Suresh Raina