It is only in the last decade or so that we have started to realize how long Emperor Penguins are able to stay underwater…and it is a considerably long amount of time. In fact, Emperor Penguins can stay underwater for longer than any other bird!
How Long Can Emperor Penguins Stay Underwater?
A group of people at the University of California carried out a study that determined that Emperor Penguins are able to stay underwater for as long as 27-minutes. This is considerably longer than most other penguin species, which tend to cap out at 20-minutes underwater, although some can barely handle 3-minutes without needing to surface.
Of course, one of the reasons why we didn’t know penguins could last this long underwater is down to the fact that Emperor Penguins rarely need to head under the water for that long, particularly the ones that we are able to directly observe. So, while Emperor Penguins could potentially head underwater for up to 27-minutes, you can rarely expect them to be around there for that long.
How Deep Can Emperor Penguins Dive?
What is surprising is the depth that Emperor Penguins are able to dive down to. Although, we suppose it partially explains why they do have a need to hold their breath for so long.
Emperor Penguins are able to dive to depths of around 500-meters. For the imperial lovers out there, that is a whopping 1640 feet. Of course, by the time they are hitting that depth, they need to come up for fresh air. So, once again, don’t expect those Emperor Penguins to be languishing around at this depth for too long.
Emperor Penguins are able to dive this deep due to their unique bone and muscle structure. It is much more resistant to the pressures of the water.
Why Are Emperor Penguins Able To Stay Under Water For So Long?
The University of California didn’t just look at how long Emperor Penguins can stay underwater for, they also took the opportunity to work out why this was happening.
They discovered that when Emperor Penguins dive underwater, they are able to turn their pulse all the way down. This means that the body has to work less hard and, when the body is working less hard, there is not as much need for oxygen.
In addition to this, the blood of the Emperor Penguin is slightly different from conventional blood. It carries oxygen around the system in a slightly different way. So, once again, the Emperor Penguins are able to function on just what they breathe in before they take a deep dive under the water.
Interestingly, the way at which an Emperor Penguin regulates their oxygen levels seems to be much closer to that of other sea-dwelling mammals (e.g. whales and dolphins), than it is to their bird chums that fly through the air. We suppose that this goes to show that Emperor Penguins have been able to really adapt to the environments that they live in.