Are There Penguins in Canada?

The Northwest Territories – Yukon, Nunavut, and the northern regions of many provinces make up over 40% of Canada’s landmass, classified as Arctic and Northern. About 150,000 people live in Canada’s Arctic, with more than half Indigenous. But are penguins part of this ecosystem? I bet you are thinking about the same thing. 


They are both cold, they’re both icy, and they’re both surrounding the pole. But Earth’s Arctic and the Antarctic are very different types of places. Most of the Arctic is sea ice, connected to surrounding landmasses, compared to the Antarctic, just sea ice.

Canadian Resettlement Project For Penguins

Operation Flightless Dawn is a controversial government-funded project aimed at reducing the impacts of climate change on animals in the Arctic, where melting ice is causing havoc on the seal, polar bear, and orca populations, as well as their whole food chain.

In what seemed like a coco-cola ad bought to life, a dozen pairs of endangered northern rockhopper penguins were among the birds bought to Cornwallis coast. The penguins come from the St Andrews Bay Colony in South Georgia, home to one of the world’s largest king penguin populations.

“Most king penguin colonies are very stable. The one at South Georgia’s St. Andrews Bay has hundreds of thousands of breeding pairs and will barely notice a few relocated birds,” says Robin Hawking, an ecological engineer, and lead penguin re-conditioner. “And we’re very hopeful for their long-term breeding prospects in the Arctic.”

penguin group small
penguin group small

The project’s penguins are raised in a corral on the Cornwallis shore, with netting enabling them access to both land and the vast ocean. Since June 2016, when the research team brought the birds to Cornwallis Island from the other side of the world, subantarctic birds have lived under the watchful eye of scientists, and by all accounts, Rookeris’s northward move was a hit. Unlike the preceding experiment, which was declared unsuccessful by Norwegian research organizations in the 1930s.

Penguins Of Canada

The original penguin, the now-extinct North Atlantic great auk, was the first bird called a penguin. The Great Auk’s scientific name is Pinguinus impennis. It had a black back and a white belly, like the beautiful penguins. So, when explorers encountered similar birds in the southern hemisphere, they merely called them penguins since they looked so similar. The great auk was discovered in Canadian seas off the country’s east coast and was very popular in the Northern Hemisphere, including Iceland, Scotland, Greenland, and Terranova. But how did they become extinct? They are the same reasons why penguins are not suitable to stay in Canada; let’s see why?

king penguin walking in zoo
king penguin walking in zoo

Why don’t there seem to be any penguins in Canada?

Canada’s northernmost region is in the Arctic, including Northern Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut), which is extremely cold, with some areas remaining frozen throughout the year. The Arctic is home to many birds, including puffins and terns. Unlike polar bears, penguins do not naturally live in Arctic regions such as northern Canada. Nevertheless, given the exclusion of zoos.

Some may believe that this is a natural home for penguins, yet there are no penguins in this area. On the other hand, Penguins are more common in the southern hemisphere than in the northern and polar hemispheres.

Let us see the reason why there are no penguins in the Arctic, and hence no penguins in Canada:

• Predators

Penguins are flightless birds. No flightless birds live in the Arctic today as they couldn’t escape natural terrestrial predators if they couldn’t fly.

For Instance: Puffins effectively exist in the northern hemisphere because they can fly and hence face few (if any) terrestrial predators such as polar bears and foxes. But unlike penguins, puffins can fly and escape attacks and lay their nests up on cliffs. On the other hand, Penguins cannot fly and prefer to reside on distant islands since fewer predators are on land.

• Penguins’ eggs

Penguins’ have evolved to breed, nest, incubate and raise their chicks at ground level or in caves. Most penguins lay two eggs in the same nest, although the two largest species, Emperor Penguin and King Penguin, only lay one. At the same time, the elegant emperor and Adelie penguins are the only penguins who meet and raise their cubs in Antarctica, farther south than any other penguin.

These eggs are fragile, and predators like skuas and giant petrels passing above in the south might consume them, but they would have been natural prey to arctic foxes, polar bears, and wolves – maybe even humans if they lived in the north.

For Example, Canada’s arctic penguin, the Great Auk, became extinct due to the above two reasons – In 1844 – the collectors killed the last two known Great Auks off Iceland’s south coast. The highest sum ever paid for a dead bird was $18,000. In 1971 the Iceland Natural History Museum paid for a stuffed flightless Great Auk.

The Great Auk nested in huge colonies and had huge eggs, making them desirable for egg harvesters. Beginning in the 1500s, they were targeted for their eggs, feathers, and meat since they were flightless and vulnerable.

  • Colder Climates

Most of us usually associate penguins with zoos and cold climates, so, surprisingly, penguins cannot live in Canada due to their temperature.

Did You Know that even penguins aren’t fully content with Canada’s current frosty weather? Calgary Zoo in Alberta had to bring its penguins inside to survive.

Customarily Zookeepers in Calgary Zoo at Alberta get the penguins inside a warmer shelter when the temperature dips to 25 degrees.

In 2018, Calgary witnessed a temperature of 28 degrees below zero Celsius, or 40 below if you count wind chill, making it risky for the Penguins to survive outside; only advanced technology allows us to regulate weather and climates indoors.

This phenomenon is not just related to a species of penguin. Fifty-one penguins from four varied species call the Calgary Zoo their homes, such as the Gentoo penguins, Humboldt Penguins, King Penguins, and Rockhopper penguins.

  • A Competitive edge

As humans, even birds cannot know it all, and hence they can either choose to fly or dive, and penguins choose to dive, which gives them a competitive edge, and I hear you ask how? They help them adjust to the Galapagos Islands, right at the equator.

The Galapagos Penguin is the sole exception to this rule as they live in the northern hemisphere in the Galapagos Islands, right at the equator.

Penguins are one such flightless water bird. With wings that have evolved into fins (common to all penguins), Galapagos penguins are agile swimmers, well adapted to life in the water, where they spend half of their lives. The Galapagos penguins live in the current that runs through the Galapagos Islands in the cold of the Antarctic Humboldt. There is also much salt water, making the conditions acceptable for these penguins to survive.

Male adult Galápagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) swimming on Isabela Island off Moreno Point, Galapagos Islands.
Male adult Galápagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) swimming on Isabela Island off Moreno Point, Galapagos Islands.

Hence, penguins sacrificed lightweight, flexible wings for stiffer, heavier flippers, making them unsuitable for flying but evolving into true underwater specialists.

On the negative side – Deep diving is a valuable skill; long dives give penguins a competitive edge when feeding in the aquatic environment. They share with many more giant whales, seals, and birds to catch their prey easily. But what do penguins eat? Krill, squids, and fishes are widely available in Antarctica, which is penguins’ primary food source and is not widely available in the arctic.

  • Did you know that only two species, the emperor penguins and the Adélie, make Antarctica their year-round home? Penguins Adapted to Antarctica Can’t Survive in Canada. The heavy coat of feathers and fat deposits on penguins such as the emperor penguin make it challenging to migrate from one cold region.
  • Fly or dive?

Penguin bones are likewise thicker than most other birds, rendering them too heavy to fly, but they can quickly dive deeper since they are less buoyant.

Many seabirds can fly and dive, but this comes at a cost. The better they are at one, the lesser at the other in general. But this makes it difficult for penguins to survive as predators are on land. The main danger is that polar bears, penguins’ natural predators, are not found in the Antarctic or Antarctic Islands.

king penguins in calgary zoo
king penguins in calgary zoo

Where can you see penguins in Canada?

Although there are no native penguins in Canada, you may see them in zoos and aquariums. Penguins are a common animal in zoos, so you can probably find them at any big zoo or aquarium.

Here are several areas in Canada where you may see penguins:

  • The Calgary Zoo has four penguin species: Gentoo, Humboldt, King, and Rockhopper Penguins.
  • The Vancouver Aquarium has the African penguin endemic to Africa’s southern shores.
  • The Toronto Zoo has a few African penguins.

The facts to get cleared with answers are indeed interesting. I hope you got the response to the factual discussion that happened one day with your friends or family where you left the space filled with sheepish smiles.


Image Source:

Canada by WikiEarth~enwiki / CC BY
penguin group small by Antarctica Bound / CC BY
king penguin walking in zoo by Pixel-mixer / Pixabay License
Galapagos penguins by Charles James Sharp / CC BY
king penguins in calgary zoo by Akiroq / Pixabay License


I got interested in penguins from a young age and as I grew I realized that penguins are such fascinating birds. I made it a mission to create a website where all information about penguins could be accessed in an easy to read format.

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