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Galapagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus
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Long-term monitoring indicates that this species is undergoing severe fluctuations, primarily as a result of marine perturbations that may be becoming more extreme. These perturbations have caused an overall very rapid population reduction over the last three generations (34 years). In addition, it has a small population, and is restricted to a very small range, with nearly all birds breeding at just one location. These factors qualify it as Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

53 cm. Small, black-and-white penguin. Black head with white border from behind eye, around black ear-coverts and chin, joining up on throat. Blackish-grey upperparts. Whitish underparts with two black bands across breast, lower band extending down flanks to thigh. Juvenile differs in wholly dark head, greyer on side and chin, and lacks breast-band.

Distribution and population
Spheniscus mendiculus is endemic to the Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador where its population is thought to number fewer than 2,000 individuals. Approximately 95 % of the Galápagos Penguin's population is found on Isabela and Fernandina Islands in the western part of the archipelago, with the remaining 5 % on Bartolomé, Santiago, Logie and Floreana Islands in the central-south area of the archipelago (Jiménez-Uzcátegui et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). Analysis of mark-recapture results indicates that past population estimates were too high. In 1971, 1,931 penguins were counted, equating to a population of 3,400 individuals (Boersma 1998). The 1982-1983 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) reduced the population by 77%. After this, the population entered a slow recovery phase. However, the 1997-1998 ENSO induced a further decline of 66% (Mills and Vargas 1997, Boersma 1998, Ellis et al. 1998). Although the annual penguin census shows a relatively stable and even slightly increasing population trend over the last nine years, the current small population size (1,009 individuals counted in 2007) represents only a small fraction of that in the 1970s (Vargas et al. 2005, Jiménez-Uzcátegui et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). The main breeding range stretches along the coast of the two westernmost islands, encompassing approximately 402 km of coastline, where 96% of all nests are found (Steinfurth 2007).

Population justification
The population was estimated at 1,800 individuals by Vargas et al. (2005), Jiménez-Uzcátegui and Vargas (2007, which roughly equates to 1,200 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Declined 65% between 1971 and 1999, equating to 65% over 28 years.

Located on the equator, the Galápagos Penguin represents the most northerly breeding penguin species. Nonetheless, its distribution is highly linked to the cool and nutrient-rich oceanic waters in the western archipelago that allows for a high density of prey year-round (Palacios et al. 2006). It nests at sea-level, and appears to forage close to shore and at relatively shallow depths (Mills and Vargas 1997, Steinfurth et al. 2008). Galápagos Penguins breed throughout the year, with two marked peaks from March to May and from July to September coinciding with variation in the upwelling (Steinfurth 2007). Recent studies show that during chick-rearing adult birds move up to 23.5 km from the nest, concentrating foraging within 1 km of the shore (Steinfurth et al. 2007). While breeding Galápagos Penguins show a high site-fidelity (>80%), non-breeding Galápagos Penguins (adults and juveniles) tend to migrate away from their colony (max. 64 km) (Steinfurth 2007).

In recent decades, this species has been influenced primarily by the effects of ENSO on the availability of shoaling fish (Boersma 1998, Vargas et al. 2007). This had been most evident in 1982-83 and 1997-98, when the penguin population underwent dramatic declines of 77 % and 65 %, respectively. After this, the population entered a slow recovery phase and annual penguin censuses indicate a relatively stable, and even slightly increasing, population trend over the last nine years, however the current population size is still 48 % below the pre-El Niño population levels (Mills and Vargas 1997, Boersma 1998, Ellis et al. 1998, Jiménez-Uzcátegui et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). Recovery from the 1982-1983 ENSO may have been slowed by the lower frequency of La Niña cold water events and above average surface water temperatures (Boersma 1998). Also, ENSO may have a disproportionate impact on females, which could result in a biased sex ratio, making population recovery slower (Boersma 1998). Climate change may lead to an increase in the frequency of ENSO events in the future, which will also reduce the species's resilience to other threats such as disease outbreaks, oil spills, or predation by introduced predators (Boersma 1998, Boersma et al. 2005, Steinfurth and Merlen 2005, Travis et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). Local fishing boats operating in inshore waters in the western part of the archipelago are documented as incidentally drowning Galápagos Penguins due to floating nets and illegally-used bait fisheries in gill nets (Cepeda and Cruz 1994, Simeone et al. 1999). Recent plans to establish longline fisheries in the Galápagos raises additional concern. Aside from the impact of by-catch caused by this technique (Weimerskirch et al. 2000), in the case of Galápagos Penguins, it is likely that an increasing demand for bait fish will dramatically increase inshore bait fisheries with all its associated problems. Contamination from oil spills poses a severe potential threat. Predation by introduced cats (Felis catus) on the Galápagos Penguin population at its main breeding site resulted in adult mortality of 49 % per year (Steinfurth 2007). feral cats are also vectors of parasites, such as Toxoplasma gondii, which has recently been found in Galapagos penguins (Deem et al. 2010). Mosquitoes (Culex quinquefasciatus) arrived on the Galápagos in the 1980s as a result of human actions. Since they are vectors for avian malaria, and penguins in the genus Spheniscus are highly susceptible to this disease these insects represent a potential new threat for the penguins (Travis et al. 2006). Indeed, the Plasmodium blood parasite has recently been recorded in Galapagos penguins for the first time (Levin et al. 2009). Many of the above threats are exacerbated by an expanding human population and pressure from tourists visiting the islands.

Conservation Actions Underway
The whole Galápagos Penguin population is found within the Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve. The population is annually monitored and introduced predators are controlled by the Galápagos National Park Sevice. Research projects investigating the marine habitat use, diet, breeding activity and impact of introduced species were carried out between 2003 and 2005 (Vargas 2006, Steinfurth 2007). Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue long-term monitoring programmes. Improve fisheries management. Increase protection levels within the Galápagos Marine Reserve in areas of penguin breeding sites (fishery exclusion zones should be set up to a distance of 24 km in each direction from a colony along the coast and extending out to sea for 1.5 km). Investigate marine habitat use by non-breeding birds. Monitor and minimise effects of human disturbance in breeding areas. Monitor and minimise penguin mortality from alien species at breeding sites. Develop stronger regulations in the islands to prevent further mammalian predator introductions. Provide nest-boxes in predator-free areas to help monitor reproductive success.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Boersma, P. D. 1998. Population trends of the Galápagos Penguin: impacts of El Niño and La Niña. Condor 100: 245-253.

Boersma, P. D.; Vargas, H.; Merlen, G. 2005. Living laboratory in peril. Science 308: 925.

Cepeda, F.; Cruz, J. B. 1994. Status and management of seabirds on the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. In: Nettleship, D.N.; Burger, J.; Gochfeld, M. (ed.), Seabirds on islands: threats, case studies and action plans, pp. 268-278. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Deem, S. L.; Merkel, J.; Ballweber, L.; Vargas, F. H.; Cruz, M. B.; Parker, P. G. 2010. Exposure to Toxoplasma gondii in Galapagos Penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) and Flightless Cormorants (Phalacrocorax harrisi) in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 46(3): 1005-1011.

Ellis, S.; Croxall, J. P.; Cooper, J. 1998. Penguin conservation assessment and management plan: report from the workshop held 8-9 September 1996, Cape Town, South Africa. IUCN/SSC, Apple Valley, USA.

Jiménez-Uzcátegui, G.; Hernán Vargas, F.; Larrea, C.; Milstead, B.; Llerena, W. 2006. Galapagos Penguin and Flightless Cormorant survey.

Jiménez-Uzcátegui G and Vargas FH. 2007. Censo del Pingüino de Galápagos y Cormorán no volador en 2007.

Levin, I. I.; Outlaw, D. C.; Vargas, F. H.; Parker, P. G. 2009. Plasmodium blood parasite found in endangered Galapagos Penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus). Biological Conservation 142: 3191-3195.

Mills, K. L.; Vargas, H. 1997. Current status, analysis of census methodology, and conservation of the Galápagos penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus. Notícias de Galápagos 58: 8-30.

Palacios, D. M.; Bograd, S.J.; Foley, D. G.; Schwing, F. B. 2006. Oceanographic characteristics of biological hot spots in the North Pacific: a remote sensing perspective. Deep-Sea Research II 53(3-4): 250-269.

Simeone, A., Bernal, M. and Meza, J. 1999. Incidental mortality of Humboldt penguins Speniscus humboldti in gill nets, central Chile. Marine Ornithology 27: 157-161.

Steinfurth, A. 2007. The marine ecology and conservation of the Galápagos penguin. Ph.D. thesis, University of Kiel.

Steinfurth, A.; Merlen, G. 2005. Predación de gatos salvajes (Felis catus) sobre el pingüino de Galápagos (Spheniscus mendiculus) en Caleta Iguana, Isla Isabela.

Steinfurth, A.; Vargas, F. H.; Wilson, R. P.; Spindler, M.; Macdonald, D. W. 2008. Space use by foraging Galápagos Penguins during chick rearing. Endangered Species Research 4: 105-112.

Travis, E. K.; Vargas, F. H,; Merkel, J.; Gottdenker, N.; Jiménez Uzcátegui, G.; Miller, E.; Parker, P. G. 2006. Hematology, serum chemistry, and disease surveillance of the Galápagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) in the Galápagos islands, Ecuador. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 42(3): 625-632.

Vargas FH. 2006. The ecology of small populations of birds in a changing climate. Ph.D. thesis, University of Oxford.

Vargas, F. H.; Lacy, R. C.; Johnson, P. J.; Steinfurth, A.; Crawford, R. J. M.; Boersma, P. D.; Macdonald, D. W.. 2007. Modelling the effects of El Niño on the persistence of small populations: the Galápagos Penguin as a case study. Biological Conservation 138(2): 138-148.

Vargas, H.; Lougheed, C.; Snell, H. 2005. Population size and trends of the Galapagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus. Ibis 147: 367-374.

Weimerskirch, H.; Capdeville, D.; Duhamel, G. 2000. Factors affecting the number and mortality of seabirds attending trawlers and long-liners in the Kerguelen area. Polar Biology 23: 236-249.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

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Text account compilers
Allinson, T, Benstead, P., Bird, J., Calvert, R., Clay, R., Lascelles, B.

Steinfurth, A., Vargas, H.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Spheniscus mendiculus. Downloaded from on 21/08/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/08/2014.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Spheniscidae (Penguins)
Species name author Sundevall, 1871
Population size 1200 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 4,600 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species