Penguin Species Series #18 - The Northern Rockhopper Penguin


Northern Rockhopper Penguin--Species #18


Northern Rockhopper Penguin, Eudyptes moseleyi


Coolest Fact: Rockhoppers are perhaps the most monogamous of penguin species.


Where It’s Found: Tristan da Cunha Archipelago, Gough Island—South Atlantic; Amsterdam and Saint Paul Islands, Indian Ocean.


Crucial Facts:

· IUCN Status: Endangered.

· Population: Steep declines since the 1950s, on the order of 90%. Declines are ongoing at 3-4% per year. More than 80% are on Tristan da Cunha (about 160,000 pairs) and Gough Islands (about 32,000 pairs).

· Mating: Strongly monogamous. Once there were millions of these penguins on these islands.

· Nesting: Clutch of 2 eggs, laid in nests on cliffs and in tussock grass. First egg is usually lost within a few days.

· Annual Cycle: Adults return from sea in August, immediately pair up and court. Incubation of 32-34, brooded by male. Female does all the foraging.

· Life span: About 10 years, though some can live much longer.

· Food: Small crustaceans, squid, krill, fish.

· Threats: Causes of the population declines are not well-known. Historically, the main threat was human harvesting for food (meat and eggs).


Our First Sighting: April 8, 2017

Gough Island, South Atlantic


Our Story:

Northern Rockhopper Penguins are among the most remote and inaccessible of all the penguin species. Susan and I took an expedition ship as it repositioned from the Antarctic to the Arctic summer. It made a brief stop at Gough Island to try to see the colony there.


When we arrived at Gough, a gale was building, and we almost were unable to lower the Zodiacs so we could approach the shore to get good views and photos of the penguins. In a sleeting rain, we clambered into the Zodiacs, which approached the island on large, 10-foot ocean swells. Though landing on the island is forbidden—it’s one of the great seabird nesting islands in the world—we rode the surf close to shore. We did in fact see the penguins well as they swam around us and gathered in small groups along the waterline.


The Northern Rockhopper Penguin did not exist as a separate species when we began our penguin quest. It was split off from the Rockhopper Penguin on the Falkland Islands in recent years—made its own species. As we watched them from the Zodiacs, it was obvious why they we given their own species status. Their golden crest is much more luxuriant than their southern cousins. Lots of golden feathers hang in ornamental glory from their heads. As one person in our Zodiac observed, “These penguins never have a bad hair day.”


Susan and I were wet and cold and miserable—and very ridiculously happy. Our long quest was accomplished. Penguin number 18!

This new penguin series includes stories, information, and photos not yet published. Read about our quest to see all 18 of the world’s penguin species in my book “Every Penguin in the World.”


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