Adélie penguins are feisty little things. At around 28 inches tall, they are the smallest of the Antarctic penguins. Their diminutive stature, however, doesn’t hold them back: they are quite capable of fending off large seabirds and seals. Along with emperor penguins, they are the only penguin species that lives and breeds exclusively on the Antarctic continent. The species was first discovered in 1840 in Adélie Land, which itself was named after Adèle Dumont d’Urville, the wife of the French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville.
Despite having the classic penguin waddle, Adélie penguins are competent walkers. They are capable of completing epic treks between their breeding colonies and winter foraging grounds. When they congregate at the breeding colonies along the rocky Antarctic coastline, there can be as many as 150,000 breeding pairs. Here, the males build rough nests out of stones, and the bigger and better the nest, the more likely they are to attract a female. They collect the small rocks from the surrounding area, but sometimes the sneaky little penguins will spot a particularly nice stone in a neighboring nest, which they’ll steal when no one is looking. Once the chicks hatch, it’s only seven to nine weeks until they are ready to leave the colony and head out to sea, normally not returning until a few years later when they themselves are ready to breed.
Like other penguins, Adélies are efficient divers, diving as deep as 575 feet in search of krill, small fish and squid. Their normal swimming speed ranges from 2.5 to 5 mph, but when hunting or escaping from predators, such as leopard seals and orcas, they can reach speeds of just over 9 mph.
Because Adélie penguins spend much of their time on the cliffs, rock slopes and beaches of continental Antarctica, you’re likely to see them during an Antarctic cruise. And they are great fun to watch, as they waddle around and dive into the water.