Wondering what eats penguins? Here I’ll answer this by listing and describing all the penguin predators. Most of them you may already know, but some you may not have thought would hunt penguins.
Here’s a quick summary, then we’ll get straight into the list of what eats penguins.
Orca (killer whales), seals, sea lions, Antarctic fur seals, foxes, great white sharks, south polar skua, and giant petrels, and sometimes humans are common predators of penguins. Penguin predators vary by location, type of water, and season. The sick and infant penguins are mostly targeted.
What eats penguins – The list of penguin predators
Let’s get into the list of penguin predators in more detail. And you might also like to know what penguins eat.
Orca (Killer whale)
Orcas are one of the main predators of penguins. But surprisingly, penguins only make a small portion of an Orcas diet.
As part of the dolphin family, these predators are mostly found in the Arctic and Antarctic areas.
Not every type of orca feeds on penguins. Those who do not benefit from proper teeth development are unable to prey on penguins. This includes dolphins themselves, who are not physically capable of eating larger prey like penguins.
When not hunted in the water, killer whales are sometimes able to target penguins on land. Killer whales will often break through a sheet of floating ice from below, or, tip their prey over from smaller floating ice islands.
They then chase after their targeted penguin. As fussy eaters, orcas will first remove the feather and the skin before getting to the breast meat of the penguins.
Second, on the list of penguin predators are seals, but predominantly the leopard seal.
Leopard seals mostly feed on penguins in and around the Antarctic waters, as they can attack penguins both in the ocean and on land.
Again it’s the large leopard seal that preys mostly on penguins.
The smaller seals mainly stick to fish and other small creatures as they do not possess adequate teeth to hunt or prey on larger animals like penguins.
Leopard seals mainly use their jaws to capture and dismember their prey. For the most part, the Emperor, Gentoo, Adelie, and Rockhopper penguins are usually targeted.
To detect penguins, the seals will study movement on the horizon, sniff into holes in the ice, or search on the shoreline for penguins.
They have very efficient and tricky hunting tactics.
When they hunt on the ice or land, they move very awkwardly, scaring the penguins and compelling them to jump to the ocean.
Then the seal jumps back into the water and uses its faster and more agile techniques to chase down the penguins.
In water, seals grab the feet of the penguins, shake and beat the body against the water surface.
That’s not all they do, check this article to find out more about what seals do to penguins.
Sea lions are another marine mammal that is a common predator of penguins.
Characterized by its small external ear flaps, long fore flippers, and large torso, it’s mostly the male sea lions that hunt on penguins. Males are referred to as a bull.
A male sea lion can grow as large as 8 feet in length, and weigh up to 660 lb (300kg).
In water, they can reach speeds of up to 19-35 mph (30-56km/h). In this environment, they can easily chase penguins.
To hunt the penguins on land, sea lions use their hind flippers to help disable the penguins, and when the prey is subdued, it then grabs the penguin by the neck and returns to the water to eat it.
Antarctic fur seal
These penguin predators are mostly found in the Antarctic region.
Closely related to the sea lion, antarctic fur seals can grow up to 6.5 feet in length and weigh 200-475 lb (90-215kg).
They can move as fast as 12.5 mph (20km/h) on land and are even faster in water. Their speed makes it much easier to hunt down penguins.
While krill is their primary food preference, they will feed on penguins when occasions allow them to – or due to scarcity of food.
We have to remember that not all penguins live directly on the Antarctic continent. Some do live in nearby areas.
The Galapagos penguin is one such example. In these types of areas, the fox is another potential predator of penguins while on land.
They will often hunt down penguins in the absence of their natural prey like frogs, birds, and rabbits.
They will continue to hunt penguins until there are no more they can reach. They do this by attacking their neck.
Once subdued, they will save the prey for later – or when their regular prey is unavailable.
Along the coastline of Australia and New Zealand, foxes are the main predators of the Little penguin (Eudyptula minor).
Great white shark
As one of the greatest predators in the ocean, the list of penguin eaters is incomplete without the great white shark.
Great white sharks can grow up to 20 feet and weigh as much as 5000 lb (2,268 kg).
Their diet is varied, so as with Orcas, penguins only make up a small portion of their diet. Therefore, they will eat penguins whenever they are easily available.
However, the shark’s preference for penguins as a food source differs as they age or reach sexual maturity.
They mostly prefer to feed on penguins of a specific species …specifically, those that live in warmer waters and use their sense of smell and hearing to hunt them down.
You might like to know which sharks actually use their tongue.
South polar skua
The south polar skua is a seabird breed in the Antarctic region, known to feed mostly on penguin eggs and the young chicks of penguins.
They have a very interesting preying strategy, in which they intentionally choose to settle near a penguin breeding colony.
This means they’re best placed to easily steal penguin chicks or penguin eggs. This is largely from young penguins who are inexperienced or inattentive to their eggs or their offspring.
Skua birds also prefer to hunt in pairs, where one will perform the actual stealing/hunting, and another will distract the penguins away from the eggs or the chicks. When the penguin mating and breeding season is over, the Skuas will return to eat fish, much of which they will steal from other birds.
Another large seabird known as a popular predator of penguins is the Giant Petrel. Rather than being opportunistic predators, they will prey on penguins whenever possible.
Like skuas, they also mostly opt for abandoned young chicks, penguin eggs, and wounded adult penguins who cannot defend themselves.
They make use of their sharp bills to catch, kill, tear apart, and eat penguins. So you might be wondering if birds have teeth?
Let’s go on to look at whether humans eat penguins.
Humans have been known to capture and eat most members of the animal kingdom, this has included penguins. This does not occur in modern times due to changes in the law. So Penguins are now free from human hunters.
Due to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, it is now illegal to catch and eat penguins in most countries. In the past, Antarctic explorers, such as the Victorians, would have captured and eaten penguins for sustenance. Reports of the time indicate they are fishy in aroma and flavor.
What eats penguins – Summary table
|Penguin Predator||Hunts on Land or Sea||Notes|
|Orca (Killer Whale)||Sea||Occasional penguin Hunters|
|Leopard Seal||Land and Sea||Other seals occasionally eat penguins|
|Sea Lion||Land and Sea||Occasional penguin hunter|
|Antarctic Fur Seal||Land and Sea||Occasional penguin hunter|
|Fox||Land||Targets penguins during food scarcity|
|Great White Shark||Sea||Occasional penguin hunters|
|South Polar Skuas||Land||Targets, Eggs, Chicks, and weak birds|
|Giant Petrel||Land||Targets, Eggs, Chicks, and weak birds|
|Humans||Land||Now illegal to hunt and eat penguins|
That’s what eats penguins – here’s more wildlife help
I hope this has thoroughly answered the question of what eats penguins. Be sure to check out further interesting facts and information about all manner of wildlife from Ranger Planet. Here are some related articles to get you started.