Are There Penguins in Hawaii?

When you think of penguins, you might picture adorable black and white birds waddling through the icy tundras of Antarctica. These fascinating creatures have unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in extremely cold environments. However, there are several species of penguin that live in warmer climates, such as the Galapagos penguin and the African penguin.

Hawaii, also known as the Aloha State, is known for Hula dancing, beautiful beaches, warm weather, diverse culture, and a wide range of wildlife. It is made up of 137 islands, the main eight being Hawai’i, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe.

You might not expect to see a penguin on your travels to Hawaii, and for the most part, your expectations are spot on. However, there are a few places in Hawaii you may be lucky enough to spot a penguin. This article will give you more information about penguins in Hawaii and where you can find them.

Are There Penguins in Hawaii?

African penguins standing
African penguins standing | image by Derek Keats via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Penguins are commonly found in Antarctica, Galapagos Islands, South America, and South America, but unfortunately for penguin-loving travelers, they are not native to Hawaii, so you may be hard pressed to find a penguin in the state. However, thanks to conservation programs, you can find one species of penguin roaming around: the African penguin.

Where to see African Penguins in Hawaii

This species is not native to Hawaii but can be found at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa in Lahaina on the island of Maui. The resort has had African penguins in an enclosure off of the Atrium Lobby for almost forty years.

Since this penguin species is a warm-weather bird, they seem to thrive in Hawaii’s climate. Visitors to the resort can watch the penguins dig burrows in the sand, swim, bathe in the sun, and eat. The resort has successfully bred and reared six out of seven of the penguins in their care.

However, because black-footed penguins are considered endangered, recent efforts by the resort to add more penguins to their program have been denied. The resort will try again, but if these efforts continue to fail, the days of seeing African penguins in Hawaii may soon come to an end.

In fact, the Hilton Hawaiian Village, a resort in Waikiki, used to have black-footed penguins as well, but they sent the penguins to a facility in Maryland a few years ago. We shall see what the future holds for the African penguins at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort.

You can also see African penguins at the Honolulu Zoo, where they have an enclosure featuring these black and white waddlers. In 2021, the Honolulu Zoo added four females to its flock of males.

African Penguin

African penguins
African penguins | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Spheniscus demersus

The African penguin, also known as the Jackass penguin or the black-footed penguin, is a species of penguin native to South Africa and Namibia. They thrive in areas with rocky shores and sandy beaches. There is a lot to learn about this species. Here is some more information.

Physical characteristics

African penguins are small to medium-sized birds, measuring between 24 and 28 inches tall and weighing between 4.4 and 11 pounds. They have the distinctive white and black coloring of other penguins, with a black stripe across their chest and a unique pattern of black spots on their undersides.

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Each penguin has a unique pattern of spots, much like human fingerprints, which helps individuals recognize one another. These penguins are characterized by a bare patch of skin above each eye that helps them stay cool in warmer temperatures. This patch starts to turn pink as the penguin gets hotter.

Flightless, but excellent swimmers

African penguins basking
African penguins basking | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Like all penguin species, African penguins are flightless, meaning even though they technically have a pair of wings, they cannot fly. What they lack in flying ability, they make up for in swimming ability. African penguins are agile swimmers, capable of reaching speeds up to 12 miles per hour under the water.

They use their wings as flippers and their webbed feet as rudders to help them navigate quickly through the water. They can hold their breath for over two minutes and reach depths of 400 feet when diving.

Lifespan

African penguins typically live for about 10 to 15 years in the wild, although some individuals have been known to live longer. In captivity, with proper human care, these animals can live to be up to 27 years old.

Diet

African penguin swimming
African penguin swimming | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

African penguins are carnivorous, primarily feeding on fish, such as anchovies, sardines, and herring. They also enjoy eating squid and crustaceans. They are skilled hunters and use their streamlined bodies and strong beaks to catch their prey underwater.

Endangered species

African penguins are classified as an endangered species and placed on the red list of endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their populations have declined significantly due to various factors, including overfishing, habitat loss, pollution, and predation.

In the past, there were millions of African penguins, but sadly, today, there are less than 42,000 in the wild. Conservation efforts, such as the establishment of protected areas and breeding programs, are underway to help protect and restore their populations.

In addition, Hawaii is home to a significant number of endangered species due to its unique ecosystem, isolation, and human impact, making it a crucial location for conservation efforts.