It is well known that the penguin is a very unique type of bird that lacks the ability to fly. Many scientists believe that they are descendents of very early types of birds, and that they were forced to adapt to living in the water in order to survive. Thus, their “wings” that were once feathered for them to fly are now flippers that allow them to swim and glide underwater.
Many times penguins are photographed on shore in their colonies. However, they actually spend about ¾ of their time in the water. In fact, depending on where they live, they may spend weeks or even months at a time in the water before returning to land. This is true especially in Polar Regions in which the penguins are surrounded by ice.
So how are these creatures able to spend so much time in the water?
They do so by using their penguin wings, which are called flippers. These are hard, rigid paddles that are covered with tiny stiff feathers. The penguin’s flippers are shaped much like the wing of an airplane. This is very interesting considering the fact that the flippers are not used for flight, but for simply guiding and maneuvering in the water. Since penguins have solid, heavy bones, they are less buoyant and can gain speed underwater on the up and down strokes of their flippers. This is different from normal birds whose hollow bones and wing shapes only allow increased speed on the down strokes.
Penguins use their flippers to dive a great distance into the water to obtain their food. Depending on the species, it may be up to 1,700 feet! However, it is necessary that they surface for air on a regular basis. The period of time that they can remain under the water without doing so is from two minutes to twenty minutes depending on the species. Thus, they must use their flippers to quickly navigate the waters at amazing speeds.