Can You Eat Penguins? (Is It Illegal And Are They Tasty?)

One of the more random questions I stumbled upon when I was researching them is can you eat penguins? This made me wonder what they taste like, and if it is even legal to eat them.

I did some reading around this and scoured the internet to see what I could find. Below is a very brief summary, followed by a much more detailed answer to the question can you eat penguins.

So can you eat penguins? Legally you cannot eat penguins in most countries because of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. People such as explorers did used to eat them, so it is possible. Eating too many could lead to mercury toxicity. If you did choose to eat a penguin or it’s eggs, they would generally taste quite fishy!

The above is just a very brief answer to the question of eating penguins. I have gone into much more detail below about what they taste like, if they are harmful, and if it is even legal to eat penguins.

Read on to find out more information about this!

Can You Eat Penguins?

Can You Eat Penguins

Ok so the question of can you eat penguins really has two broad themes to it when I came to answering this. The first is can you physically eat a penguin? Like would it be edible, would it kill you etc.

The second question that came up was the legality of such an act. Is it even legal to eat penguins, or is it entirely illegal? I have answered this question in more detail below, so let’s get back to the first question.

Can you eat penguins? Like is it possible to do so, and if so how would you go about this? Now penguins are covered in large amounts of blubber. They need this both to stay warm, and to help with some buoyancy during long periods in the sea.

The first thing you would need to do before even contemplating eating a penguin is to cut away all of this blubber. This would get rid of a lot of the oily texture and fishy taste!

One of the most developed parts of a penguin that would be good to eat would be its breast muscles.

This is because of the fact that a penguin’s pectoral muscles are well developed due to a lot of swimming. That means that the part of a penguin with the best source of meat would be its breast.

Ever wondered do penguins have knees? Well they do, and they also use these to propel them through the water along with their breast muscles.

Penguins also have tails too. These help them to steer in the water.

Penguins also have good eyesight, which allows them to dive deep in the water around them to look for food.

Do People Eat Penguins?

For the reasons directly below, these days no people do not eat penguins. This does not mean though that at some point in time people there were not eating penguins. There are countless stories and articles online about explorers eating them, with recounts of what they tasted like.

So today people don’t eat them, but in the past people did. It was only after the treaty that I discuss below came into effect that people actually stopped doing so (that we know of within the confines of the law anyway)!

Many of the types of penguins still alive today live in Antartica. They are fairly sociable creatures, and often mate for life. An interesting fact I have learned recently is that penguins can even bury their dead!

In the past, explorers would have used penguins as a source of food. Travelling for such long periods would have made it impossible to carry large amounts of food with them, and so penguins would have been consumed to help with this.

I did find a few examples of this in different stories online. Further on in this article I provide some evidence from one such explorer from his diary entry detailing exactly what penguins taste like.

Dr Frederick A. Cook was aboard a ship called the Belgica which was exploring Antarctica. The ship became stuck in the ice on the way back to America, and spent a whole winter stuck in Antarctica.

Explorers Used To Eat Penguins
The Belgica ship was stuck in Antartica for a whole winter. Frederick Cook, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When all of the food had been eaten, and penguins were gathering around the boat to see what was going on, the explorers began to eat them.

Interestingly enough Dr Cook thought that eating penguins would give them much needed vitamin C. It is a deficiency of this that caused many explorers of this age to die of scurvy.

By eating the penguins, they were able to survive and not come down with this disease which affected many explorers of the day.

Is It Illegal To Eat Penguins?

This is an interesting question, and one we should think about when asking the question can you eat penguins.

Now like I said, most of us don’t ever and probably will never see penguins in every day life. I have seen them a couple of times, but this was at Edinburgh Zoo. The chances of me snacking on one there are really slim to none.

But what if you did actually come across a penguin in the wild. Would it be legal to eat it? Well a large amount of the 21 currently extant species of penguins live in Antarctica. I mean how often are you going to go there?

There are of course penguins living in other areas too. I didn’t know this until I started researching penguins. In fact most people believe that penguins and polar bears can be seen together, but they actually live at opposite ends of the planet.

There are penguins living in other places. For example a penguin by the name of the little penguin can be found in southern parts of Australia. Here the waters are cool enough for them to swim, catch fish and survive. These types of penguins will sleep in little holes to stay safe.

Argentina plays host to a species of penguin called magellanic penguins, and the Falkland Islands have magellanic, rockhopper, gentoo, king, and macaroni penguins living there.

Believe it or not there is also a breed of penguin called the African penguin, that can be found in southwestern Africa, including in Namibia and Port Elizabeth!

So if you were native to places near any of the above destinations, it is possible that you may see a penguin. So if you do, can you eat penguins?

It Is Illegal To Hunt Or Kill Penguins
The Antarctic Treaty of 1969 makes it illegal to eat penguins. Herman Phleger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Well in a treaty that was signed in the 1950s the harming of both penguins and their eggs became prohibited.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 means that it is illegal to hunt or harm either a penguin or it’s eggs.

This was signed in 1959 by 12 countries. It came in to force in 1961. The countries that signed this were:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Chile
  • The French Republic
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Norway,
  • The Union of South Africa
  • The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
  • The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • The United States of America,

This treaty was signed by the above countries on 1 December 1959 in Washington. It has gone on to be signed by 48 countries in total to date.

So it is illegal to hunt, harm or kill a penguin, or to interfere with either a penguin or its eggs. So you couldn’t hunt one and kill it and then eat it. Not if you were belonging to any of the countries that signed the treaty.

If you found one dead on the ice, that might be a slightly more grey area. However, I would think that even eating a penguin that you found dead would be frowned upon, and would not be wroth the risk.

Can You Buy Penguin Meat?

Really for the reasons set out above, you can not buy penguin meat, certainly not legally in most countries. As a large amount of the world’s countries heavily involved in import and export trade have signed the treaty, it would make the buying and selling of penguin meat illegal.

If penguins were killed for meat in any of the countries they are known to live, it would be near impossible to both get the penguins out of the country, and smuggle them into another country for trade.

Unless it was then sold in some kind of shady penguin meat black market, the chances of being detected for selling this would surely be very high.

I did see this weird article when I was researching this, which seems to be some kind of weird tongue in cheek joke. The article suggests that people can and should start eating surplus penguins, and that these could even be reared somewhere specifically for being eaten. Sounds wild and a fairly odd joke to make!

What Do Penguins Taste Like?

What Does A Penguin Taste Like

I wasn’t even sure where to start with this question. I mean what do penguins taste like ?I don’t know first hand because I haven’t eaten one for sure!

But other people have, so I looked to them to see what they had to say. On an expedition to Antartica, Dr Frederick A. Cook, the surgeon on a ship wrote in his diary about eating penguins. This is his experiences of eating penguins, and he said they taste like:

a piece of beef, odiferous cod fish and a canvas-backed duck roasted together in a pot, with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce.

Most other people writing on the subject seem to suggest that penguin meat tastes either fishy or like krill, two of the things penguins like to feed on the most! So mostly penguin meat is very oily, even if you cut away all of the blubber, and tastes rather a lot like fish!

Interestingly enough, when I was looking into this I also found out that penguins do not produce urine. They do not have a bladder, and so instead produce just poop that can be fired up to four feet!

Penguins get rid of excess salt by filtering it out using a gland called the supraorbital gland.

What Do Penguins Eggs Taste Like?

The general consensus to the question of what do penguin eggs taste like is fishy! Again, just like the eating of penguins themselves, the treaty signed in 1959 prohibits the eating of penguin eggs too. It is illegal to harm or disturb either a penguin or its eggs.

I had to look a bit further back in time to find evidence of people eating these before the treaty was signed. I found a story of a man who ate penguin eggs in the 1950s, in South Africa.

According to this story, at this time penguin eggs were readily available, and could even be ordered for delivery! The government of the time had granted a license for people to harvest these eggs, alongside the eggs of other animals.

According to the author of this story, the eggs simply tasted very fishy! These were specifically the eggs of African penguins, once known as Jackass penguins.

Are Penguins Poisonous?

Another interesting question, and certainly one to think about when asking can you eat penguins.

Penguins aren’t inherently poisonous to eat. They’re not really dangerous to humans on the whole. Penguins certainly don’t tend to attack humans, and like I said they are not really poisonous either.

You could eat a penguin and it would not kill you. It’s more about the long term effects of doing this. Say if you ate penguins regularly over a prolonged period of time.

Like many seabirds, due to their environment and their diet, penguins are high in sulphides. This makes for not particularly tasty eating. Worse than this, a lot of seabirds, again due to their diet, are fairly high in mercury.

This means that eating too much penguin could result in mercury toxicity. This can be extremely harmful to the lungs, kidneys and digestive system, and could ultimately kill you!

So while eating one penguin is not going to kill you, eating too many could be just a little bit of a problem!

Summing Up

So there you have it. A rather long and complex answer to the seemingly simple question of can you eat penguins.

Whilst eating a penguin in isolation would not kill you, eating many could be harmful due to eventually experiencing mercury toxicity.

Even more important than this though is the fact that due to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, it is now illegal to eat penguins, and their eggs. You can not harm or removes these from their natural habitat.

If you were to eat a penguin or its eggs, according to most sources they would taste pretty fishy. I can’t imagine they would make for a particularly appetising dish, even if you were allowed to eat them!

I hope you have found the information in this article useful in answering the question can you eat penguins.

if you have anything to add to this, or would like to ask a question then please feel free to leave a comment below.

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