Are Penguins Friendly To Humans?

Most penguins reside in freezing regions of the Southern Hemisphere.

That means they are unlikely to encounter large mammals including humans.

So, wild penguins are either extremely curious or utterly indifferent to human presence.

That said,

Penguins raised in captivity are somewhat friendly to humans. 

Regardless, a large population of humans finds penguins endearing.  

But have you ever wondered:

How Do Penguins View Humans?

Seemingly, they are indifferent to human existence.

You see, most penguins live in places where humans don’t normally live.

And so, the only time wild penguins get to meet humans is when scientists travel to study them.

Therefore,

Most wild penguins have never seen a human before, much less interact with one.

Now, penguins living in artificial wildlife facilities may get to interact with humans on daily basis.

Such penguins get so accustomed to humans that they view them as friends or acquaintances. 

However, these penguins cannot truly represent the penguins living in natural conditions. 

Authentic knowledge regarding penguin behaviors comes only from observing these birds in their natural habitats.

More precisely, from the experiences narrated by ornithologists visiting native penguin colonies in Antarctica or other regions. 

According to Penguin Experts,

Most adult penguins don’t spare human observers a second glance.

Meanwhile, penguins younger than 7-months may get curious enough to come close to humans, but mainly as groups.

Some researchers explain this behavior to be conditioned. 

How so?

Well, most humans don’t visit penguins living in Antarctica.

However, ornithologists regularly go on expeditions to study these penguin colonies, sometimes living there for years. 

Most penguins living in such colonies have met at least one scientist in their lifetime. 

This also explains why younger penguins are curious about humans, as they have not yet met any of the scientists.

Perhaps,

For adult penguins, a human scientist with its camera gear and bags is just a creepy regular visitor, nothing worth much their time.

But, 

Are Penguins Afraid Of Humans?

Interestingly, they are not.

You see, in the animal kingdom, dominance is declared through large size.

So much so, that rival animals stretch their bodies to appear larger than their actual size.

Now, an average human is about 5.5-feet tall and weighs approximately 70kgs.

Compared to humans, the largest of penguins i.e. Emperors Penguins can grow up to 4-feet tall and weigh about 45 kgs. 

Meanwhile, the smallest of penguins namely Blue Penguins, typically grow only as much as 1-feet tall and weigh a mere 1.5kg (See Figure 1). 

Humans are taller and bulkier than penguins, making them seem threatening.   

Are Penguins Friendly to Humans? 

Figure 1: Comparing Human characteristics to Largest and Smallest of Penguins

So, common sense dictates that a penguin should be afraid of humans. 

Yet, penguins don’t seem the slightest bit affected by human presence.

Although, It seems puzzling that penguins meeting humans for the first time are more curious than they are afraid. 

So, a more appropriate question would be asking,

Why Are Penguins Not Afraid Of Humans?

Only a penguin can tell for sure. 

However, ornithologists explain this behavior through the following theories:

1. Inability To Perceive Threat

Perhaps penguins are too dumb to recognize human size as a sign of dominance. 

However, penguins have quite developed brains relative to their body masses.

So much so, penguins have complex enough cognitive functions to even recognize their own mirror reflections. 

Besides, penguins have been reported to evade large sea animals.

Which means, It seems highly unlikely that penguins are unable to perceive humans as a threat.

2. Conditioned Responses

The oldest known penguin fossils are estimated to be from about 60 million years ago.

These penguin ancestors were larger than current penguins, typically exceeding 7-feet height and weighing as much as 101kgs. 

Such penguins must have little to fear from humans. 

Also, there are no authentic historical records of humans hunting or eating penguins as a staple diet.

So, If during the course of evolution humans and penguins ever interacted, then, 

Penguins learned from the experience worth centuries to not fear humans. 

The theory is supported by the fact that penguins don’t seem much curious about humans that have already visited their colonies. 

This does not explain how the extinction of the Great Auks did not affect penguins much. 

Auks being close relatives of penguins were still often predated and sold for aesthetic purposes.

Eventually, humans ended up killing even the last pair of Auks for monetary gains.

But then, penguins did live further South than any other animal.

3. Absence Of Land Predators

Most mammals living in cold regions like polar bears are found in the Northern Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Typically, there are no land-based mammalian predators around penguins

While birds like skuas and petrels may hunt baby penguins, adult penguins are usually safe from such raptors.

That said,

Marine predators like Killer Whales and Leopard Seals often hunt penguins.

Therefore, penguins are relatively safe on land. 

Perhaps, penguins don’t see land animals like humans as a threat to them.

4. Reliance On Society

Unlike corvids, penguins don’t form hierarchical families.

However, penguins tend to stick in colonies consisting of hundreds to millions of penguins.

The members of a colony huddle together to keep each other warm and secure.

For instance, baby penguins stay together in absence of their parent to avoid being predated by raptors.

Also, adult penguins can hunt as a group.

So,

Mayhaps, penguins are not afraid of humans because they know that they have backup in numbers. 

But if you are wondering about the penguin-human relationships.

Then, you may be one of those penguin enthusiasts hoping to adopt one as a pet. 

So, you may be curious:

Do Penguins Bond With Humans?

Sometimes, they do.

Well, if penguins are not afraid of you that doesn’t mean they will fall in love with you.

You have better chances of cuddling with a dog or a budgie than with a penguin. 

Besides, humans can no longer adopt a penguin as a pet.

Why?

Because penguins are critically threatened by global warming.

Besides, whenever humans come in contact with penguins, they end up giving the diseases. And so,

Most penguin conservation programs do not allow humans to visit natural penguin colonies or hold them for that matter.

Even the ornithologists studying penguins are not allowed to touch them without cause, even if a penguin approaches them.

Still, some facilities do allow humans to touch penguins. 

But that too under strict regulations. 

Of course, if you are an employee at some wildlife care facility, you may get to caress penguins on regular basis. 

Mostly because human workers hand-feed fish to penguins in captivity.

This is to ensure that no penguin over-eats or gets poor nutrition.

Therefore, 

Penguins raised in captivity may get attached to their human feeders.

Despite forming a bond with a human, a penguin may still not cuddle with such a person.

However, such a penguin will not reject humans from getting nearby.

Anyways, have you ever Wondered How a Penguin Feels like?

I tell you, penguins are soft but pretty solid.

Also, it has silky and downy feathers, perfectly aligned and exactly how you have imagined it.

Perhaps, mushier than your average neighborhood dog but still more solid.

Or as Skipper from Penguins of Madagascar would say, “Cute and Cuddly boys, cute and cuddly”.

Do Penguins Attack Humans?

Rarely ever.

You see, penguins tend to stay away from useless conflicts.

Even among their colonies, penguins rarely fight.

In fact, penguins don’t even bother other species of penguins.

However, 

Like other animals, penguins are extremely protective of their young ones. 

Also, they are quite family-oriented.

So much so that

If a female penguin loses her chick, she tries to steal another egg.

This is usually the only time penguins may end up fighting each other. 

If a human gets too close to a nesting penguin, then it will attack 

But,

How will a Penguin Attack a Human?

Penguin legs are extremely short with webbed feet

Penguins can hardly walk, much less kick with their feet. 

That also means a penguin will be unable to catch a human (see figure 1).

So, the attack will likely happen only when a human gets extremely close to a penguin.

While a penguin cannot kick, it can surely slap with its sturdy flipper-like wings.

Furthermore, penguins have long poking bills.

Though, penguins lack teeth, their beaks can grow as much as 8cm in length.

Since an average penguin can reach as high as human legs. 

That means..

A penguin will likely scratch a human leg. 

Few cases have been reported with penguin bites causing lacerations on wildlife workers’ hands.

In the wild, however, a penguin is unlikely to fight alone.

Or,

If a human provokes a penguin in a colony, then he may get beaten up by all the members of that colony.

While most penguins would just chase out a human.

Penguins like Chinstraps, Gentoo, and Adelie are more aggressive than other penguins.  

Such penguins will even attack a camera gear if it’s set up to close to their nesting space.

So, I advise you to get a toy like Joey Tribbiani’s Hugsy and forget about holding a nesting wild penguin.

Wrapping Up 

Since penguins do not have many land predators, therefore, they are not much afraid of land animals or even human presence.

In fact, most penguins are usually indifferent to human presence.

Some penguins have been reported to form bonds with humans. 

A penguin will attack a human only if it deems him a threat to its offspring.

Here’s another interesting article about penguins which you’ll definitely find interesting

Can penguins fly?