African penguin gasping in hot air

African Penguins: Heat Stress

Early in the week, the temperature rose sharply, the wind dropped and the beaches baked in the South Peninsula, Cape Town.  A chance visit to see our charismatic African penguins at Boulders Beach on Tuesday 4 February, in the mid afternoon brought to the fore the consequences of climate change and distressing scenes of heat stressed penguins. The brooding season is in full swing, with many eggs and newly hatched chicks in various sizes crowded in the nursery area.

With beaks stretched wide, to thermoregulate their core temperature through panting and the pink glands above their eyes radiating pink- hot heat, these little creatures were having a hard time of it.   Those that could moved to the waters edge but the nesting parents battled to keep the chicks cool and in the shelter of  of their body shade.  Eggs were abandoned, and sadly chicks succumbed to the heat lying lifelessly at their parent’s feet.  Even more distressing were the attacks on abandoned baby chicks straying into territorial space.  The relentless pecking with those sharp beaks drove the  desperate chicks scurrying away. African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) and chick suffering heat stress

African penguin (Spheniscus demersus)
Baby chicks protected by parent’s shade.
African penguin abandoned eggs
Abandoned penguin eggs in shallow egg scrape.

African penguin tending eggs in the heat,

African penguin gasping in hot air
Egg sitting in the heat.


AFrican penguin (Spheniscus demersus) dead chick
Lifeless body of a dead chick.

African penguin (Spheniscus demersus)  attacking baby chick.

Foxy Beach at Boulders
Keeping cool by the waters edge

16 thoughts on “African Penguins: Heat Stress

    1. Jude, had the same reaction.. immediately located the rangers and asked about erecting shade cloth and also find out what measures they were taking. They’d involved SANCCOB who had taken some of the abandoned chicks to rehab. In the long term they’re going to have to find solutions to keep them cool if the heat persists (or gets worse). Alerted various people, waiting to get a response. Will post further news.

      1. makes sense to me. Easy to erect shade cloth and not expensive either. I hope something is done. I guess in the long term the penguins will move. After all they only really arrived here in 1984, before that it was just a beautiful beach!

      2. Was reading how crucial the guano component was for nesting sites in terms of heat regulation as opposed to nesting in sand. Another consideration is that their prey – sardines and anchovies are moving easterly and a new conservation area has been set up at Dyer Island. It may well be that it’s inevitable that they move.
        The Boulders Beach colony has certainly been quite a feather in the conservation cap…. from those early few nesting couples to at least 3000 strong.

  1. Sad to see. It is now time for us to refer to it as climate changed. Hopefully your penguins will get through this season and have a better season next year.

    1. “Changed” it is! I’m also hearing it being referred as climate crisis; the impact is awful. I’m hoping to get feed back from the rescue and rehabilitation facility where they took the abandoned chicks. They breed all year round, but how they come back after losing eggs and chicks per season is worrying. Their numbers are decreasing drastically through lack of prey and ongoing predation. Things are stacking up against their survival.

  2. Thank you for posting images of this unique penguin living in such a challenging climate and the difficulties of mere day to day survival to help remind us that climate change is very relevant and present.

    1. Appreciate your comments Laura. One can feel so helpless in the face of the inevitable, whether we’ve reached a tipping point and can’t reverse the slow inexorable slide downwards. Hope to be able to report back on some positive solutions for these charismatic little creatures.

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