How Do Penguins Turn Saltwater Into Freshwater?

Penguins spend a lot of their time in salty waters, and as a result will often drink this. I had read somewhere about them being able to turn this into freshwater, and so wondered how do penguins turn saltwater into freshwater?

So how do penguins turn saltwater into freshwater? Penguins don’t actually turn saltwater into freshwater. Rather the sodium chloride is filtered out of their blood stream by a gland called the supraorbital gland. This sits above the eye socket and works to filter out salt. This is then passed out through the penguins bill in the form of brine.

So the answer to the question of how do penguins turn saltwater into freshwater is a little more complex than just simply turning it from one thing to another. Keep reading to find out more about this, as well as why penguins will drink sea water, and what else they can drink too!

How Do Penguins Turn Saltwater Into Freshwater?

How Do Penguins Turn Saltwater Into Freshwater

This really is a bit of a trick question, as technically penguins do not actually turn or convert saltwater into freshwater. This actually goes against a lot of the misinformation I found when researching the answer to the question of how do penguins turn saltwater into freshwater.

Penguins don’t actually convert saltwater into freshwater. Rather they have a very clever way of removing the salt or sodium chloride. Interestingly, they are not the only marine birds that can do this.

Due to spending a large amount of time both in and around water, marine birds will inevitably take in large amounts of saltwater. As penguins do not pee or urinate, they need to find another way to get rid of the salt that they take in from the sea water.

Like I said, penguins will drink a large amount of seawater. Sometimes this will be due to simply spending a lot of time swimming in the ocean, and sometimes because this is the only water available for them to drink.

Penguins can have good eyesight, and can spend a long time underwater being able to see perfectly well. They have tails which help them to steer in the water too.

So how do penguins turn saltwater into freshwater? It’s more useful to think about it in terms of filtering the salt out of the water rather than turning one into the other. I guess it has the same sort of result, just technically slightly different.

The key answer to the question of how do penguins turn saltwater into freshwater lies in something called the supraorbital gland. This is a nasal gland found in penguins, and also in many other marine birds as well.

Penguin Supraorbital Gland
The supraorbital gland is situated above the eye of a penguin, and is normally pinkish in color.

In humans, and other mammals, the kidneys do the heavy lifting when it comes to filtering out salt or sodium chloride, which can then be passed as urine. In penguins, it is the supraorbital gland that does this job.

This supraorbital gland in penguins is found just above the eye, and is often a pinkish color. Water is filtered out by capillaries in the head, and is passed out of a penguin’s bill as brine. Doing this allows a penguin to survive long periods in saltwater.

Why Do Penguins Look Like They Have Runny Noses?

Penguins can often look like they have runny noses. Not surprising as they live in such cold conditions you may think? This would make sense, but is not the reason why they have what looks like a runny nose.

Believe me, penguins aren’t going to catch a chill in the cold. They are specifically built for living in cold, harsh conditions. So they are not going to catch a cold, and their nose won’t run because of this.

So why do penguins look like they have runny noses? This is really to do with the process of filtering out the salt in the water they ingest. This is filtered out by the supraorbital gland, and passes through a penguin’s beak as brine. This will be in liquid form, and so gives the appearance of a runny nose. Penguins can and do also sneeze this out!

So next time you see a penguin with a runny nose, remember that there is something much more complex going on. A process that is actually helping a penguin to survive in living conditions that contain a large amount of saltwater.

Can Penguins Drink Sea Water?

Maybe not such a weird question to ask, especially seeing as this is where a large amount of the different penguins spend a large amount of their time! It’s also relevant when we are looking at the answer to the question of how do penguins turn saltwater into freshwater.

In short, yes penguins can drink sea water. If they are completely short of any fresh water to drink, they can and will drink sea water. This is possible due to the supraorbital gland I talked about above.

If they do ingest a lot of salt from the water, penguins can filter this out using this supraorbital gland!

When penguins are out at sea, looking for food, or swimming from one area to another, they can do so for long periods of time. When they are in this situation, there will be nothing but sea water for them to drink. In this situation they will do so out of necessity.

It is also the case that they will take in a lot of this sea water when they are hunting for food in the water. They will scoop their prey directly from the water, and at this time they will also take on board some of the sea water too.

Do Penguins Drink Fresh Water?

As I have discussed above, if a penguin does need to drink sea water, they can do so because they can filter the salt out of this. Drinking the sea water would be more out of necessity than choice. Obviously fresh water would be better for them to drink!

Do Penguins Drink Freshwater
Penguins can drink freshwater from rock pools and streams

So do penguins drink fresh water? Yes penguins do drink freshwater. Depending on where they are, they will drink from pools and streams when on land. They can drink rain collected on their back during rain showers, and penguins can eat snow and ice in places like Antarctica where other forms of fresh water are scarce!

So while penguins can and do drink sea water when necessary, it is better for them to drink fresh water. This will mean no filtering out of salt from the sea water. Whilst it is safe for penguins to drink sea water because of this filtering system, drinking fresh water would simply mean that they would not need to do this.

This is the case for penguins such as those living in zoos and animal enclosures. In this situation the supraorbital gland will simply go unused for this.

What Do Penguins Drink In Antarctica?

In Antarctica, where fresh water is scarce, penguins really only have a few options in terms of sources of liquids to drink. As I said above, they can and will drink sea water where that is the only option.

It’s not so likely that they will encounter rock pools and streams of water in Antarctica, but penguins can and will eat ice and snow as a source of fresh water.

Summing Up

So there you have it. The answer to the question of how do penguins turn saltwater into freshwater really lies in the wording. They don’t actually turn saltwater into freshwater. Rather they filter the sodium chloride or salt out of the water.

They do this using a gland above their eye socket called the supraorbital gland. This gland filters the salt out of the water, and this is then passed out of a penguins nose in the from of brine.

Penguins can and do drink sea water when it is the only source of water available. They will also ingest this when they are scooping up food whilst swimming in the sea.

Penguins also can and do drink freshwater. On land they will get this from pools of water and fresh water streams. Where this is not available, they can eat ice and snow to help hydrate them.

If you would like to add any information to this, or have any questions, then please leave a comment below.

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