African or Blackfooted Penguins
Blackfooted penguins are also known as African penguins as they live along the south west coast of Africa in the nutrient rich Benguela Current where they feed on shoaling pelagic fish. Because of the vulnerable nature of the population of blackfooted penguins there are numerous zoos and aquariums in North America participating in a captive breeding program for blackfooted penguins.
Blackfooted penguins are similar in appearance to the other 3 penguins in the same family, with a dark back, and white front, and a broad white white band on both sides of the head extending up from the chest behind the eyes. They have a black band across the front of the chest.
Size: about 70cm, 28 inches tall
Weight: 2 to 15kg, 4.5 to 11 pounds
Lifespan: 10-11 Years
Range and Population
Blackfooted penguins are geographically isolated from other penguin populations along the south west coast of Africa and surrounding islands. They have suffered a dramatic drop in population caused by many reasons such as habitat alteration, human exploitation (eggs and guano), and competition with fisheries for food. There is presently about 60,000 breeding pairs, less than 10% of the population 100 years ago. The blackfooted penguin is considered a vulnerable species.
Living in a milder climate the breeding period for blackfooted penguins is much longer and less well defined than for most penguins. Rookeries form September to February depending on geographic location along the coast. Incubation lasts 5 to 6 weeks with both parents taking turns to incubate the eggs and care for the young chicks, and taking turns to feed.
Food and Predators
Blackfooted penguins eat fish such as anchovies, pilchards, horse mackerel and round herrings, and to a lesser extent squid and crustacean such as krill.
At sea the main predators are sharks, fur seals and orca. In the rookeries the main threat to chicks and eggs is from kelp gulls and sacred Ibis. The Stony Point penguin colony has been prey to a number of different land based predators.
Where to See Blackfooted Penguins
It is possible to see blackfooted penguins in the wild. The Colony most accessible to tourists is the Boulders Beach colony in Simons Town.
Seeing blackfooted penguins in the wild is not a cheap or practical option for most people. Luckily there are a few zoos and aquariums with blackfooted penguins which makes them more accessible.