I know, gross, right? Anchovies are given a bad rap for being smelly, disgusting, and slimy. There is one guy that loves this rather unpopular food item, though - the Humboldt Penguin.
Traditionally, Humboldt Penguins live off the coast of Peru and Chile. They are what I like to call the "beach birds". Approximately 15-19" tall and 9lbs as full blown adults, these penguins feast on the fish, squid, and crustaceans found in the ocean waters around their homes. Their wings have been adapted to act like flippers, helping them to "fly" through the water at up to 30mph, with a dive depth of 500 feet. They have webbed feet to help with swimming, but also have claws to help them climb out of the water onto slippery rocks. Two layers of feathers protect them - a top layer to repel wind and water, and a bottom downy layer to keep them warm. They go through a phase called "catastrophic moulting". Unlike most birds who moult a few feathers at a time, penguins will shed all their feathers at once. They can look a bit like an exploding over-stuffed pillow. During this moulting period, they are not protected against water, so they will stay on land.
In the wild they live on average about 20 years. However, of the 17 species of penguin, the Humboldt is the most threatened due to over-fishing of their prey species, entanglement in fishing nets, catastrophic weather, and commercial removal of guano (penguin poo which becomes solidified mounds with the penguins then nest in, which also makes great fertilizer).
You may be asking yourself now, what is the point of the anchovies? The Humboldt Penguin numbers are dwindling, and a large problem is a lack of sustainable fishing practices in the areas where they live. One small thing we can do to help the penguin is to start eating anchovies more regularly. Basic economics will tell us that demand drives up cost. If the monetary value of these fish goes up, it will cause sustainable management of fisheries to become a priority, and workers in these areas will need to be paid higher wages. This will lessen the over-fishing, leaving more fish in the ocean for species like the Humboldt Penguin to chow down on. However, if you just can not bring yourself to eat anchovies, you can still do your part by choosing to eat only sustainable fish, squid and crustaceans, helping to conserve wild resources.
If you want to learn more about the Humboldt Penguin, visit:
I am an archaeologist, Oregon Zoo Guide, and wildlife biology student. Much of my time is spent at the zoo with the bears, or out on the nature trails of the Columbia Gorge.