Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

National Geographic feature on penguin propulsion

Posted 22 Nov 2012 / 0

2012-11-22This month’s National Geographic features a valuable article called “Escape Velocity” that chronicles how Emperor Penguins reach incredible velocities to launch through holes in the ice and out into safety. Mostly a pictorial featuring Paul Nicklen’s amazing underwater photography, the article shows how these penguins use the controlled release of air trapped in their feathers to reach speeds that would otherwise be impossible to reach in the high-friction ocean environment. Essentially, these penguins utilize the same technology that reduces friction for hovercrafts and knock-hockey players, as the time the release of bubbles with their final push out of the water. Why so much emphasis on speed? Well, if there were leopard seals waiting at the water’s edge to grab you, you would want to get out quick too.

There’s also this really great video showing how Nicklen got these photos:

The manner in which these penguins can fly out of the water is really impressive, but the awkwardness of their landing somehow takes away from the valor of this adaptation. But as this article points out, the real innovation is in the feathers.


A Minor Post, Adaptation, Articles, Behavior, Coevolution, Marine Ecosystems, Polar Marine, Predation

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