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Gentoo Penguin

Scientific Name: Pygoscelis papua


Gentoo penguins are the fastest swimmers of all 17 species of penguins. Capable of reaching speeds of 20 mph and diving as deep as 300 feet in the water, these swift swimmers weigh a moderate 13-16 pounds.

Like all penguins, gentoo penguins are primarily black and white. Their white bellies are an example of counter shading. When in the water, predators below the swimming penguins cannot see the penguins’ white bellies against the light-colored sky. You can tell a gentoo penguin from other penguins by looking for a wide white stripe across its head (kind of like ear muffs).

Gentoos nest on rocky shores. They carry and pile stones, pebbles, grass, sticks and anything they can find to make a circle. Two eggs are laid inside the circle, and if there’s lots of food, both chicks will survive. After about 80 to 100 days the chicks grow adult feathers, and they go out on their own.


Gentoo penguins live on many of the islands of the Antarctic region, but their main colony is on the Falkland Islands.

Status in the Wild

As of 2000, gentoo penguins were listed as near threatened on the IUCN red list. Their major threats are habitat degradation and loss due to oil spills, water pollution and overharvesting of ocean fish.

Riverbanks Facts

Many of the Zoo’s penguins arrived at Riverbanks in refrigerated trucks. Others arrived, comfortably, in ice-packed vans driven by uncomfortable keepers wearing coats, hats and gloves!