Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua


Justification of Red List Category

A recent estimate of the global population indicates that there has been an increase from 314,000 to 387,000 pairs (Woehler 1993; Lynch 2013). The population appears to have increased in the south of its range, while annual monitoring of the Falkland Islands’ (Malvinas) population indicates a positive trend over the past 25 years. Based on the overall population increase, this species has been downlisted as Least Concern.

Population justification
Populations are increasing at most sites where they are monitored on the Antarctic Peninsula, particularly at those sites at the southern extent of the breeding range (Lynch et al. 2008, Ducklow et al. 2013, Lynch 2013); here regional populations have grown by more than 1,100% since 1974 (e.g., the Palmer Archipelago, Fraser 2016; Fountain et al. in press). However, at some sites, significant inter-annual variability in the numbers returning to breed is now evident (Fraser unpublished), suggesting that prior rates of increase may be slowing.

Trend justification
Probably stable, or increasing in the southern part of the range. Likely decreasing in the southwest Indian Ocean. Rates of change simulated from integrating diverse census data from 70 breeding sites in the southwest Atlantic across 31 years in a robust, hierarchical analysis, showed that average rates of increase are 2.4% ± 0.3% per annum (Lynch et al. 2012). At Marion Island in the southwest Indian Ocean there was a 52% decrease in 18 years or 2.1 generations between 1994 and 2012 equivalent to a 74% decrease in three generations (Dyer and Crawford 2015).

Distribution and population

Gentoo penguins are defined morphologically as a single species with a northern and southern subspecies. A recent phylogenetic tree based on mitochondrial DNA showed a deep division between populations in the Indian and Atlantic oceans, with  at least three distinct clades, two in the respective sub-Antarctic and Antarctic zones of the Atlantic Ocean, and a deeply divergent and unnamed third clade in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean (de Dinechin et al. 2012).

Pygoscelis papua has a circumpolar breeding distribution that ranges in latitude from the Fish Islands on the Antarctic Peninsula (66°01'S) (Fraser unpublished) to the Crozet Islands (46°00'S) (Lynch 2013).

Population trends are difficult to establish because of large year-to-year fluctuations in the size of the breeding population. The global population was estimated at 314,000 breeding pairs (Woehler 1993), however, a more recent estimate of 387,000 pairs suggests that the population may now be increasing, particularly in the south of its range (Lynch 2013). The three most important locations, containing 80% of the global population, are the Falkland Islands (Malvinas): 132,000 breeding pairs at about 84 breeding sites (Baylis et al. 2013), South Georgia: 98,867 pairs (South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands) (Trathan et al. 1996) and the Antarctic Peninsula (incl. South Shetland Island): 94,751 pairs (Lynch et al. unpublished). Other breeding sites include Kerguelen Island: 30,000-40,000 pairs (Weimerskirch et al. 1988) and Crozet Island: 9,000 pairs (Jouventin 1994) in the French Southern Territories, Heard Island (to Australia): 16,574 pairs (Woehler 1993), South Orkney Islands: 10,760 pairs (Lynch et al. unpublished), Macquarie Island (Australia): 3,800 pairs, South Sandwich Islands: 1,572 pairs (Convey et al. 1999) and Prince Edward Island (South Africa): 1,000 to 1,250 pairs (Dyer and Crawford 2015). Small numbers (<100) are also found on Martillo Island and Islas de los Estados in Argentina (Bingham 1998, Ghys et al. 2008).

On the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) annual monitoring has provided increasing evidence of large fluctuations at the population scale over extended time periods (c 10-12 years; Pers. Comm. A. Stanworth). Reports of population declines by c.45% from 1932-33 to 1995-96(Bingham 1998), observed and following periods of apparent stability (Trathan et al. 1996, Bingham 2002, Clausen and Huin 2003, Crawford et al. 2009, Forcada and Trathan 2009) are within the scale of these fluctuations (Pers. Comm. A. Stanworth). Population trends have been positive for the last 13 years (Crofts and Stanworth 2016) with indications of an overall positive trend over the past 25 years. Breeding pair estimates are currently higher than those observed in 1932-33 (132,000 compared to 116,000) (Baylis et al. 2013).

The populations at sub-Antarctic islands may have decreased substantially in the past—at Bird Island, South Georgia by c.67% in 25 years (J. P. Croxall in litt. 1999), and at Marion Island (Prince Edward Islands) by 52% (Dyer and Crawford 2015) between 1994 and 2012. However, populations at some locations now appear to be stable or increasing (Forcada and Trathan 2009; Lynch 2013; Dunn et al. 2016), though populations are still declining at Marion Island (Crawford et al. 2014) and may still be declining on Heard Island and on Kerguelen Island (Lescroël and Bost 2006), all in the southwest Indian Ocean. The reasons for the increases are unknown, but could be related to changing marine foodwebs.


Nests on flat beaches or among tussock grasses in South Georgia and the Falkland Islands and in grasses at Marion Island. Further south, on the Antarctic Peninsula, nests are typically on low lying gravel beaches and dry moraines. Colonies are much smaller than other Pygoscelis species, with the largest including only c. 6,000 breeding pairs (Lynch et al. 2008). Opportunistic feeder, preying predominantly on crustaceans, fish, and squid. Preference for foraging inshore, close to the breeding colony. Winter habitats are less well studied, but available data suggest more local movements relative to its congeners and a preference for coastal areas (Tanton et al. 2004; Hinke et al. In Review)


Historically, egg collection was widespread on the Falkland Islands (Clausen and Pütz 2002), and some legal egg collection still continues (Otley et al. 2004). Increasing oil exploration around the Falkland Islands is a growing concern (Lynch 2013). Disturbance from tourism has been shown to cause decreased breeding productivity (Trathan et al. 2008, Lynch et al. 2009) and the associated marine traffic is likely to impact penguins foraging in inshore waters (Lynch et al. 2010). Interactions with fisheries may also be a problem (Ellis et al. 1998). Environmental change may be influencing food availability at the Prince Edward Islands (Crawford et al. 2014). Oil spills may also be important at local scales. Protection of habitat on land and at sea is important, with the designation of appropriate protection for transit, foraging and rafting areas at sea.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Long-term monitoring programmes are in place at several breeding colonies.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue/extend long-term monitoring of breeding colonies. Minimize disturbance to breeding colonies. Minimize oil and other pollution in breeding and foraging areas as this could have significant consequences for a sedentary inshore forager like the gentoo. Terrestrial protections for gentoos should include the protection of breeding habitat and the minimization of colony disturbance during the breeding season. In the Antarctic, visitor site guidelines already specify minimum approach distances of 5 meters and off-limit areas.

Investigation of eradication of invasive mice at Marion, as well as foxes and other invasive species at the Falkland Islands.

Best practice guidelines for reducing risk of disease outbreaks at islands are being developed by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. Once available, these guidelines should be implemented.

The impact of any proposed fishery on the prey of gentoo penguins should be carefully assessed before such a fishery is allowed. Consideration should be given to declaring marine protected areas at important feeding grounds of gentoo penguins.


Identification  51-90 cm. The third largest penguin, although body size is highly variable across its range. Males typically larger than females. Black face, head and back. Conspicuous, but variable, white patches above eyes, typically meeting across the crown. Bright red-orange bill with black along the upper mandible and at the tip. Feet, pale whitish-pink to red.


Text account compilers
Allinson, T, Benstead, P., Calvert, R., McClellan, R., Moreno, R., O'Brien, A., Symes, A. & Trathan, P.

Ballard, G., Barbraud, C., Bost, C., Crawford, R., Croxall, J., DuBois, L., Fraser, W., Hinke, J., Lynch, H., Makhado, A., Schmidt, A., Schneider, T., Stanworth, A. & Trathan, P.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2018) Species factsheet: Pygoscelis papua. Downloaded from on 22/10/2018. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2018) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/10/2018.