Up Close Hands – on Fun Photographing Penguins

Black, white and adorable: I loved penguins before I started this photograph project – and now love them even more!

Penguins are believed to date back to 65 million years ago. Imagine that! This means that penguins survived the mass extinction of dinosaurs. Fossils indicate that some extinct penguins use to be man-sized.


Currently there are 18 species of penguins in the world, all found in the southern hemisphere except for the Galapagos Penguin. Out of the 18 species, the Cowan Tetrapod collection (CTC) is home to 12 of them including: King, Emperor, Rockhopper, Macaroni, Erect-crested, Adelie, Chinstrap, Gentoo, Galapagos, Magellanic, Humboldt, and the Little Penguin. The Cowan Tetrapod Collection has 57 specimens, 16 of which are penguin eggs! The majority of the feathered specimens once delighted visitors at the former Stanley Park Zoo.

Penguins are built for swimming. Did you know that penguins spend nearly 75% of their life in water hunting for food and that they can hold their breaths under water for up to 15 minutes. In water, their strong flippers propel them up to 32 kmh. On land, the flippers give an extra boost as they hop up steep rocky cliffs.

Despite not having visible “ears”, penguins have really good hearing. In the cacophony of 80,000 penguins or more, they can zone-in on their mates and chicks by listing for their voices. To another penguin, the call of their family members is as unique as a human fingerprint.


Aptenodytes patagonicus, King Penguin. PHOTO: CYNTHIA LUNG (me!)

Adult penguins make excellent parents. In most species, after the females lay their eggs, she departs to go fishing, while the male penguins stay on land to incubate, and later, look after the chick(s). Specifically in Emperor and King penguins, the males starve themselves and endure the harsh Antarctic winter in order to incubate the egg(s). Talk about dedication and loving parents! During this time, the father has a unique way of suppressing the acid in their bellies so that they can preserve last eaten meals longer for emergency meals for chicks. When the female returns with a belly full of krill, squid, and fish, the role of the parents switch and the mother feeds their young by regurgitating food into their mouth. Penguin parents take care of their young until the chicks grow adult feathers and are able to swim.

As a work-learn student this summer, I worked with Christopher Stinson setting up digitizing protocols to initiate the taking of photographs of the entire Cowan Tetrapod Collection at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. I got to handle and photograph all the CTC penguin specimens. In the near future, all my photos will be viewable as part of the CTC bird specimen catalogue.

Written by: Cynthia Lung, a Cowan Tetrapod Collection Summer work-study work learn student