We generally don’t tend to come across penguins in every day life. They live in places I certainly don’t tend to visit for sure. But do penguins attack humans, and if so what would this look like?
I was interested in finding out the answer to this and so did some research. I managed to find some real life examples of this and what it looks like when penguins do attack.
So do penguins attack humans? Yes penguins do attack humans. It is quite rare, as penguins live away from humans and other mammals. If a penguin feels threatened it will attack by pecking with its beak, and hitting you with it’s wings. A penguin’s beak can be long and has a hook on the end of it which can pierce a person’s skin.
So there you have it. The answer to the question of do penguins attack humans appears to be a yes.
There is more to it than this though. Let’s take a look below at some of the different types of penguins, where they live, and what happens if they do actually attack humans.
Do Penguins Attack Humans?
So in answering the question of do penguins attack humans, let’s stop and think for a second about what exactly we are talking about. There are actually a huge number different types or species of penguins.
There seems to be some conflict as to exactly how many, with some sources ranging from 17 to 22 different types. I’m going with Wikipedia which has it at 21 currently extant species.
Many of these penguins live in different places, and will of course have different temperaments. Most of the different types of penguins live below the equator, and although some do prefer warmer climates, many live in and around the area of Antarctica.
So the first thing to think about when answering the question do penguins attack humans, is how likely a human is to come across one in every day life. Certainly for the penguins that live in Antartica, this is not going to be very likely.
Penguins do have well developed eyesight, having binocular vision as humans do. So they would definitely see us coming!
Now the biggest of these different types of penguins is the emperor penguin. This penguin can grow to 100 cm (39 in) in height, and can weigh between 22 and 45 kg (49 to 99 lb). This is pretty big for a bird for sure.
The emperor penguin lives in Antarctica, and so this is one that you are probably going to be less likely to see, unless you go exploring there! These types of penguins can also be kept in zoos, with the first instance of this being in Aalborg Zoo in the 1960s.
Since then emperor penguins have been successfully bred in a number of places, with the first of these being SeaWorld San Diego.
So you will absolutely see penguins such as the emperor penguin in zoos and other places like this. You are not likely to get too close to them, so if any human were to be attacked it would be the employees handling them.
You do have to watch out for them shooting their poop though. Penguins do not pee, and instead fire all of their waste out of their anus. This can travel up to four feet, so if you are not careful you could end up being covered in it.
As they do not urinate, penguins can turn saltwater into freshwater using a special gland called the supraorbital gland.
By nature, most penguins are generally friendly creatures. Many of them mate for life and hang about in large groups.
Penguins will often sleep together in large groups to stay safe from predators. They are social creatures that even go so far as to bury other dead penguins!
They are mostly hunted by giant sea birds or aquatic mammals. For this reason they are not used to seeing humans about. If a penguin were to see a human in the wild, they would probably be more confused by them than anything else.
For this reason it is not that likely that penguins will attack humans. Not for no reason anyway. Like pretty much most animals, penguins are highly protective of their young.
If you were to get too close to a penguin’s nest, particularly if it contained babies, you can probably expect to be chased away. If you were then attacked by a penguin for this reason, you can expect to be pecked at or bitten, and battered a bit by the penguins wings.
Would this hurt? For sure! An emperor penguin’s beak or bill is about 8cm long and can cause some serious damage.
Like I said above, penguins tend to be social creatures. To defend against the cold a penguin will huddle with as many as 100 other penguins.
Now if you were to walk into this huddle and start causing problems you might have an issue. Imagine being attacked by 100 of these. One beak and a couple of wings is one thing, but a hundred of them is another thing altogether!
Can Penguins Bite?
In answering the question do penguins attack humans, we would probably need to know if they bite.
So do penguins bite? Yes penguins can and do bite. In many cases they have a very long beak, with the emperor penguin possessing a beak 8cm in length. A penguins beak also has a hook on the end of it which can easily pierce a person’s skin. Imagine being attacked by a whole colony of these!
Penguins will defend both themselves and their young using both their beak and their wings. So penguins can bite, but interestingly enough we can’t bite back. It is illegal to eat penguins since the signing of the Arctic Treaty in the 1950s.
Are Penguins Dangerous?
We have to remember that the chances of penguins and humans coming into contact with each other are really very small. Unless you are either exploring some remote part of the world where they live, or are working wth penguins in a zoo or animal sanctuary, you are not going to see one.
For this reason, penguins are largely not dangerous to humans. Unlike some animals that will attack you if you are on their turf such as lions or tigers, penguins are not really going to do this.
Penguins aren’t able to move at speed, as they waddle around rather than properly walking or running. If you have ever wondered do penguins have knees, the answer to that question helps us understand why they cannot in fact chase after you.
They do have knees, but they just can’t and don’t use them as we do.
Attacking a human for a penguin will only be a last resort in the wild. If they feel that you are going too near their nest, of course they will protect and defend this. Otherwise they are probably going to leave you alone!
In zoos or animal sanctuaries, penguins may take a nip or a swipe at you if they feel threatened, but it is not really going to be a deathly encounter.
I did find some examples of penguins attacking humans, which I have written about below. Again these are not life and death situations though!
Where Do Penguins Live?
Where penguins live is highly relevant to the question of do penguins attack humans. Why? Well I think if they mostly live in places that not many humans go, then it has a bearing on the answer.
Many penguins live in Antarctica. Not all of them, but many. Penguins including emperor penguins, gentoo penguins, chinstrap penguins and adélie penguins all live in and around the icy areas of Antarctica. All of these types of penguins can be recognised by their long tails.
Are many of us ever really going to see penguins there? Not really. Of course there are explorers who will go here. But Antarctica is the only continent without an actual indigenous population.
People will visit here, and people will even stay here during the year. It’s just that there are no full time residents.
Of course if you are in Antarctica, and come across penguins, then you may have some sort of interaction with them. Again, you are really only going to have a problem with them if you are too close to their nests and they feel threatened.
Of course not all penguins live in Antarctica. A penguin know as the little penguin actually resides in Australia. Although Australia has a hot climate, the southern parts have cool waters that allow these penguins to live quite happily.
Parts of South America also play host to a number of different penguins too. Magellanic penguins are native to Argentina, and the Falkland Islands are the home of five different species of penguins. These are Magellanic, rockhopper, gentoo, king, and macaroni penguins.
So in answering the question of do penguins attack humans, it is important to remember that it is not only in the unlived in Antarctica that humans can encounter them!
Are Penguins Aggressive?
On the whole as a species I would say that penguins are not hugely aggressive creatures. There are many penguins that are quite peaceful, and don’t attack humans or each other.
That’s not to say they won’t attack if they feel threatened. It’s just that many of the different species of penguins don’t go out of their way to cause trouble.
There are, however, some breeds of penguins that are more aggressive than others. Some penguins such as the rockhopper penguin can be aggressive. This is part of a group of penguins called crested penguins.
They regularly fight each other, and these can often be bloody encounters. Fights will be over territory, and I have seen videos of penguins trying to steal other penguins babies, which resulted in massive brawls. Again this is with other penguins, and not so much with humans.
Are Penguins Scared Of Humans?
Are penguins even scared of humans? This is an interesting question and can help us in understanding if and why penguins do attack humans.
To be scared of something, you normally have to have encountered it first right? For most penguins, they will go their whole lives without coming across a single human being. So I doubt they will have developed a fear response to humans.
The fact is that certainly in Antarctica, there are no lands mammals around to hunt or scare penguins. Yes they can be attacked in the water, and yes they can be attacked by some giant seabirds such as petrels or skuas.
If a penguin was to see a human being in the wild, it is more than likely going to be curious rather than scared. If you stayed at a safe distance, and didn’t go too close to it’s nesting site, the chances are penguins won’t be too scared or bothered by you.
What Happens When Penguins Attack Humans?
I read somewhere that being attacked by a penguin could be likened to being grabbed by a pair of pliers and beaten with a pair of sandals. While this doesn’t sound amazing, it’s not going to kill you. Unless the sandals are huge and made of cast iron!
I saw a Quora discussion that included people working in zoos who have been bitten by penguins. Again I would not describe this is an attack, more like a minor altercation. You can read what some of these people have to say here.
I also saw a really cool photo in this article about a penguin attacking a GoPro in Antarctica. This was an adélie penguin lunging at a GoPro that had been set up to specifically watch the behavior of penguins.
Whilst not a human attack, it does show that penguins in Antarctica will attack if they feel there is something strange or threatening to their existence.
I also love this story in the Daily Mail, with videos too. The story and videos both describe and show an encounter between a photographer and a rockhopper penguin.
The penguin on the Falkland Islands obviously took exception to the photographer being there. This resulted in the poor photographer being chased around and pecked at by the penguin, before it decided to go for her camera!
So there you have it. The answer to the question do penguins attack humans is yes they do. Not terribly often, for a number of reasons. Firstly because we don’t exactly come across them in everyday life.
In the wilds of Antartica, penguins generally live in groups, away from humans or any other mammals. If they see you there, they will more than likely be confused rather than scared.
If you do come too close to them and they feel threatened, they will peck at you and beat you with their wings to protect themselves or their young.
Some penguins, such as rockhoppers, are more fierce than others. They will fight among themselves, and as the story above shows, can and do attack humans too.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and I hope it helped to answer the question of do penguins attack humans.
If you have any questions, or would like to add more information, then please leave a comment below.