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Feb 13 2014

Racing a penguin

Someone I know said that a friend of his had spoken of penguins as being frightening creatures. He was puzzled by this and upon questioning him realized that he thought that penguins were large animals, roughly the size of an adult human.

I realized that I too had thought of penguins as being larger than they really are. This was even though I had seen penguins in the wild in New Zealand. But those were known as ‘fairy penguins’ and so I assumed that they were a variation that was unusually small. In reality, most penguins are only around two feet in height though the very largest penguins, the Emperor Penguins, can reach heights of about 3.5 feet.

Maybe this misperception is because when we see photographs of penguins, they are usually in the Antarctic surrounded by other penguins and so we have no scale by which to judge their size.

But here is a video of a penguin that seems to have formed an attachment to a human and we get a sense of how small they really are. But quite fast, it seems. And very cute.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    left0ver1under

    Penguins have different interactions with humans than most animals likely because of their location as they evolved, their isolation from humans for millennia. An animal that hasn’t tried to eat you isn’t likely to be seen as a threat (e.g. deer and rabbits).

    I’ve seen articles and videos of penguins, dolphins, meerkats, manatees and other wild animals that are unafraid of people. I’m talking about animals that don’t prey on humans, not predators like polar bears, crocodiles or the great cats (e.g. tigers) who see us as lunch. I wouldn’t doubt its because humans didn’t or couldn’t hunt such animals in the past, so they didn’t raise (or stopped raising) their young to fear us.

  2. 2
    Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach

    Penguins are indeed terrifying creatures, mostly because of their competence with explosive ordinance, as demonstrated in this excerpt from a 1992 documentary.

  3. 3
    rdmcpeek43

    John Boehner walks *exactly* like this, only much slower. And he’s definitely not cute.

  4. 4
    Crimson Clupeidae

    Then there’s this:

    Penguin getting tickled.

  5. 5
    rq

    *squeeeeeeeeeeeee*

  6. 6
    Al Dente

    The famous migrating penguins are fairly large for penguins.

  7. 7
    TxSkeptic

    Fantastic footage Al, almost as good as this one about the discovery of the migrating penguins.

  8. 8
    leni

    He was puzzled by this and upon questioning him realized that he thought that penguins were large animals, roughly the size of an adult human.

    I wish penguins were as big as humans and could fly. Sometimes nature is so disappointing.

    I guess I’ll have to make do with emus, which (who?) actually are pretty scary.

  9. 9
    DsylexicHippo

    Funny. I had the same misperception and that too for the same exact reasons – scale issue in photos/videos from the Antarctic. Until I saw them in a zoo.

  10. 10
    Dunc

    I guess I’ll have to make do with emus, which (who?) actually are pretty scary.

    If you want a really scary bird, there’s always the cassowary – up to two metres tall, weighing up to 130 pounds, with 5 inch claws and a surly disposition.

  11. 11
    estraven

    We have a display at the Detroit Zoo that features penguins of varying sizes, including Emperor Penguins, and they are delightful to see. It’s like they are flying, except they are flying through water. I know that lots of people are against zoos, but I am so grateful to have seen things like this. Maybe that’s just selfish, or maybe it makes people more appreciative and respectful of our fellow creatures.

  12. 12
    leni

    If you want a really scary bird, there’s always the cassowary – up to two metres tall, weighing up to 130 pounds, with 5 inch claws and a surly disposition.

    Don’t forget the incredible speed and leaping distances! I’ve heard collisions described as getting hit by a car with claws. Definitely way scarier than a giant flying penguin.

    Funny. I had the same misperception and that too for the same exact reasons – scale issue in photos/videos from the Antarctic. Until I saw them in a zoo.

    Was it disappointment or relief? Or both maybe?

  13. 13
    Matt G

    Yeah, that guy in the video is laughing now, but it won’t be quite so funny when the penguin swallows him whole.

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