Antarctica’s king penguins have quite the catch-22. Every summer the penguins must come ashore to breed, but to do so means that they must first fatten up while still in the water, since penguins are excellent swimmers but not so great at catching prey on land with their stubby little legs. Only problem is: penguin gets too fat, penguin’s gonna fall down. And when the penguin can’t walk, it’s that much more susceptible to being scooped up by predators.
So to try to figure out exactly how much weight a penguin can put on before it becomes a risk to itself, the University of London’s department of life sciences sent a research team led by Astrid Willener to capture 10 male king penguins when they came on shore to breed on Possession Island, between Madagascar and Antarctica.
The penguins received two training sessions of 10 minutes to get used to walking on the treadmill. The posture (leaning and waddling) of the penguins while walking was then determined by the researchers. To quantify the waddling, the amplitude of peak left and right leaning was calculated.
But not all of the penguins were gung-ho about forced exercise.
“Once the speed is set, the penguin usually can walk fluently. But an individual that is not able to walk straight away on a treadmill is difficult to train. Sometimes the penguins were lazy and ‘water-skied’ on the treadmill by leaning their back on the back wall of the treadmill. That is obviously not good for the data collection.”
In the end they found that while the skinny penguins obviously were more adept while waddling on a treadmill, the fat ones were eventually able to adapt as well, even if they were “not as efficient and less stable.” One common trait among all penguins, however, was expressing frustration when the last penguin didn’t clean up the treadmill for the next penguin. It’s called basic gym etiquette, bro.