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Why do emperor penguins set up their colonies far inland and then have to walk for as much as 120km to the sea? It makes no real sense. Why do they not just settle a few km inland from the sea-ice to make things easier for them?


Hello Geoff,

Thank you for your question about Emperor penguins. At first glance, what you propose would make sense. But there is more to the story than meets the eye. Emperor penguins have an extremely long breeding season - in total, it's approximately 8-9 months long. Emperor penguins migrate to the colony in March/April to begin their courtship rituals, eggs are laid in May/June and they are incubated for 65 days before hatching. The chicks are then fed by the parents until they fledge (grow in their waterproof feathers), and go off to sea on their own. Fledging and departure from the colony generally takes place in December.

Here is a graphic of this part of their life cycle:

The reason Emperor penguins set up their colonies so far inland, is that they breed on ice shelves that form in the winter months, and then melt back during the summer months. (Remember that the seasons in Antarctica are opposite from the Northern hemisphere seasons - so December is their summer.) If the penguins set up their colonies closer to the edge of the sea ice, the ice would melt away before their chicks were fledged and able to swim or fend for themselves.

In fact, because of global warming (which is more extreme on the Antarctica Peninsula than anywhere else in the world), this has become an issue for certain Emperor penguin colonies. In some areas, the sea ice has melted back to the edge of the breeding colony earlier than normal and before the chicks have fledged and, as a result, chicks have drowned. Part of the problem has also been that, in some recent seasons, less sea ice has formed and the ice shelf has not extended as far out as usual, so it's been a double whammy for some Emperor penguins.

I hope this explanation helps.

All best,

Wild Animals

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Dyan deNapoli


I ONLY ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT PENGUINS. As a recognized penguin expert, I can authoritatively answer any questions about penguins - from biology, behavior, conservation, habitat or the impacts of global warming, to working in an aquarium setting and husbandry management etc. AGAIN, I ANSWER PENGUIN QUESTIONS ONLY - IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT OTHER ANIMALS, PLEASE ASK A DIFFERENT EXPERT. Thank you!


I was a Senior Penguin Aquarist at the New England Aquarium in Boston for nine years, where I co-managed a colony of seventy penguins. I have extensive experience hand-rearing penguin chicks, managing colony health, understanding penguin behavior, and educating the public about penguins. I've been the guest penguin expert on numerous television and radio shows in the US and abroad, have been the content reviewer for three books about penguins, and have spoken at national and international conferences. I have spoken at four TEDx conferences - my TEDx talk about the Treasure oil spill rescue is featured on the main TED website. It can been viewed at In the summer of 2000, I worked as a rehabilitation manager during the rescue of 40,000 African penguins from an oil spill. I wrote an award-winning book about this event, THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE, which Simon & Schuster published in October of 2010. In 2006, I founded an educational company called THE PENGUIN LADY, which is devoted to raising awareness and funding to help protect threatened and endangered penguin species. I provide on-site programs about penguins for children and adults, and donate a portion of the proceeds from every appearance to penguin rescue groups.

National Marine Educators Association (NMEA), Massachusetts Marine Educators Association (MMEA), Association of Zoos & Aquariums, International Zoo Educators Association, Author's Guild, International Women's Writing Guild, North Shore Women in Business (NSWIB), North Shore Business Forum, Mount Ida Veterinary Technology Accreditation Committee, Mensa International

On October 26, 2010, Simon & Schuster's Free Press imprint published THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE, a book that I wrote about the remarkable rescue of 40,000 penguins from the Treasure oil spill in South Africa. I worked as a rehabilitation supervisor during this historic event. More than 12,500 volunteers labored for three grueling months, after which 95% of the penguins were successfully released back into the wild. THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE has won several literary awards, and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other stores and online retailers. I authored the Penguin chapter for Scholastic Publishing's New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia (NBK) in 2008, which is also available online at Grolier. (Most libraries have free access to this database.) I wrote the feature cover story (about the Treasure oil spill rescue) for the January 2011 The Mensa Bulletin. A link to that article, title Rescued Treasure, is here: I've had several articles published online, as well as in Mused Literary Magazine. A paper that I wrote about the New England Aquarium's penguin outreach program was published in the AZA conference proceedings journal in 1998.

BS in Animal Science from Mount Ida College in 1996, AZA Conservation Education School - NC State University 1999, PADI Scuba certified in 1995

Awards and Honors
Distinguished Alumni Award from Mount Ida College in 2002 for outstanding contributions in the sciences - award given in recognition of work done as a rehabilitation manager during the rescue of 20,000 penguins from an oil spill in South Africa. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mount Ida College in 1996 - awarded for Exceptional Achievement in the Sciences at graduation ceremonies

Past/Present Clients
Numerous schools, colleges, libraries, museums, cruise ships, assisted living facilities, rotary clubs and more. I've been the onboard penguin expert/guest lecturer on nature cruises to the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica. I've also been the guest on numerous TV and radio programs, including CNN, BBC, CBC Radio-Canada, ABC Radio Australia. and Sierra Club Radio. If you wish to obtain specific names or locations, please contact me via e-mail or through my website at

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