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The Last Arctic King Penguin

Peter is an independent International Zoo Consultant working in zoos for over fifty years.

Mrs. Wegger feeds a king penguin aboard the whale factory ship Thorshavn 1930-31. A few years later the first king penguins were taken to Norway.

Mrs. Wegger feeds a king penguin aboard the whale factory ship Thorshavn 1930-31. A few years later the first king penguins were taken to Norway.

The Last Arctic Penguin

The last sighting of an Arctic King Penguin was on the 2 July 1954, at Selsoyodden in Hamaroy Norway. This was nearly twenty years after the release.


The Arctic Circle

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First Arrivals

The first King Penguins to arrive in the Arctic in 1936 were six pairs and a single juvenile. They were captured on South Georgia and transported on the SS Neptune on behalf of the Norwegian Nature Protection Society led by Carl Schoyen. The birds were released in two different locations. Two pairs at Røst in Lofoten, and two pairs and a juvenile at Gjesvær in Finnmark.

The release sites were chosen with care, being offshore islands which were relatively free of predators.


SS Neptune

SS Neptune

Other Species Introduced

In 1938 thirty Macaroni Eudyptes chrysolophus, as well as African Penguins Spheniscus demersus and Gentoo Penguins Pygoscelis papua were released into the same area. None of these birds lasted more than a year.

The Inevitable Losses

Sightings of the released Penguins were rare. One was shot dead when it wandered into a farm in 1937 and a healthy bird caught on a fishing line in 1944. There were several sightings in 1953.

The King Penguins did however breed as chicks were sighted over several years.

Why Penguins?

It was all a bit complicated but in the main it was to provide meat. The Great Auk Pinguinus impennis had become extinct from over hunting sometime between between 1844 and 1850 and it was suggested that Penguins may make a suitable replacement. The Norwegian whaling magnate Lars Christensen, envisioned penguin farming as a Norwegian industry. Some foresaw that Penguins would become a Norwegian bird.

Reindeer Rangifer tarandus had been introduced to South Georgia from Norway in 1911 as a source of meat. I imagine the idea of taking some Penguins back to Norway would not have taken a lot of thought.

The idea of taking Fur Seals north and Eider Ducks south was also explored.

“Penguins will be a Norwegian bird” according to this article in Tidens tegn, 4 June 1938.

“Penguins will be a Norwegian bird” according to this article in Tidens tegn, 4 June 1938.

Great Auks

Great Auks by Fairhead on the Northern Irish coast

Great Auks by Fairhead on the Northern Irish coast

Reindeer and Penguins

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Other Northern Penguins

On the 18th July 2002 a boat fishing off the coast of Noyes Island in Alaska hauled in a Humboldt Penguin Spheniscus humboldti in a net. It was extremely agitated and so was released again but not before it was photographed. The same species was also seen near Vancouver Island, Canada in 1978 and also near Washington in the 1980s.

Read more of Penguins and zoos in The Zoo Hubs

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 03, 2020:

That is good to know. Thanks for the update.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on December 03, 2020:

Peggy Woods - Not so sad. The birds were in the wrong place and could in the long run have damaged the environment.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 03, 2020:

If the last sighting of an Arctic King Penguin was in 1954, it is unlikely that there are any more of them. It is sad when species completely disappear.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 03, 2020:

So is it thought that the 2002 penguin descended from the Arctic releases? Very interesting.

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