What is “porpoising”?


By Scott A. Rowan

What is “porpoising”?

Penguins are such efficient swimmers that they are able to “fly out of the water” and “take flight” for seconds at a time. Penguins have been measured leaping more than 7 feet out of the water, a technique that is often seen in dolphins and porpoises which is why this penguin technique is called “porpoising.”

The exact purpose of porpoising isn’t known, but it’s likely a combination of reasons.

The most obvious benefit penguins get from porpoising is to avoid a predator who is getting too close and they fear they many not be able to outswim. Porpoising allows penguins to swim even faster because of the reduction in drag by briefly flying through the air, which can help avoid predators, but it also can help them become a better predator.

By porpoising, penguins are able to arrive at a choice region quicker than other penguins who are competing for the same prey.

Porpoising also allows penguins to take a quick gulp of air while swimming quickly. By swimming in this fashion, as opposed to holding their breath and then coming to the surface to get another gulp of air, penguins are able to cover long distances, quickly and nonstop.

Not all penguins porpoise. The largest penguin, the Emperor Penguin, is not known to porpoise likely due the larger size and heavier weight the penguin has. However, just because they haven’t been filmed porpoising doesn’t mean that Emperor Penguins don’t participate in the activity. African Penguins are not known to porpoise, but in the 1980s researchers observed the species porpoising. Which means that possibly all penguins porpoise at some point.

Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap Penguins are known to porpoise often. King Penguins have been observed doing it occasionally as well.


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