Polar Biology

, Volume 33, Issue 11, pp 1589–1594 | Cite as

Killer whale predation on penguins in Antarctica

  • Robert L. Pitman
  • John W. Durban
Short Note


We report here the first published observations of killer whales (Orcinus orca) feeding on penguins in Antarctica. The sightings took place in the Gerlache Strait off the western Antarctic Peninsula during February 2010. Two species of pygoscelid penguins were taken—gentoo (Pygoscelis papua, at least four individuals) and chinstrap (P. antarctica, 2). From remains left at the surface, it was clear that the killer whales fed mainly on the breast muscles, although some penguins may have been swallowed whole. The killer whales were ecotype B, which are purported seal specialists, but we also saw ecotype A, prey specialists on Antarctic minke whales Balaenoptera bonaerensis, chase, but not catch penguins. Because of their small relative size, if penguins are regularly targeted by killer whales in Antarctica, the impact on their populations could be significant.


Antarctic Peninsula Chinstrap Penguin Gentoo Penguin Killer whale Orcinus orca Predation 



This work was supported by US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Natural History Film Unit. We would like to thank Jerome and Dion Poncet of the Golden Fleece for their capable boat handling, and a special thanks to the BBC Frozen Planet film crew—E. White, D. Anderson and T. Fitz—for their enthusiastic support and assistance with our research efforts. D. Ainley improved our manuscript with his comments.


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Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Protected Resources Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationLa JollaUSA

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