55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
Regular Hours:


9:30 am – 5:00 pm


11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:


8:30 – 9:30 am


10:00 – 11:00 am

Please note: The Academy will be closing at 3:00 pm on 10/24 (final entry at 2:00 pm). We apologize for any inconvenience.

There are no notifications at this time.

Live Penguin Cams

Watch our penguins swim, flirt and nest on three live webcams. Native to the coasts of South Africa and Namibia, these flightless birds have an important conservation story to tell.

Meet the Colony

It may be the waddling. Or their sophisticated tuxedoes. Or perhaps it's the fact that they are highly social and form long-term bonds. Whatever the reason, penguins have a knack for capturing our hearts. The Academy's colony of African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) does just that, while helping educate thousands of visitors a day about their fascinating biology and plight in the wild.

Each bird in the exhibit wears a colorful wing band, which helps Academy staff and visitors quickly distinguish one bird from another. Males are banded on the right, females on the left. Couples, which typically have the same colored wing bands, can often be seen grooming one another near the next box they share.

Scuffles over territory are common, and there is a definite social hierarchy within the colony. Through pointing (when a penguin lowers its body to the ground and point its beak at another penguin), biting, fighting and braying, dominant birds (usually older) establish a pecking order, and will literally put a juvenile bird in its place by chasing or herding if they feel challenged. African Penguins feed on anchovies and sardines in the wild, and we simulate their diet at the Academy by offering sustainably caught herring and capelin, supplemented by vitamins, including B-1, E, and a multi-vitamin. At every feeding a volunteer records what each bird eats, gathering data which helps biologists monitor the well-being of each individual.

The Academy exhibit closely mimics the penguins' natural environment through both its physical variability and changing climatic conditions. The physical features of the exhibit — water, rocky shore, cozy burrows — encourage the full range of penguin behaviors, and through sophisticated use of light and temperature controls, Academy penguins experience sunrise, sunset, and everything in between. Water and air temperatures in the exhibit also change to mimic natural seasonal cycles.

There is never a dull moment in the penguin exhibit. Watch for these commonly seen behaviors and processes which offer a window into penguin biology and their complex social interactions:

African Penguin, preening


In order to stay warm, a penguin must constantly work to keep their feathers clean, well-oiled, and waterproof. This behavior is called preening, and can be done while swimming or on land. Penguins have an oil gland at the base of their tail, and nip at it to transfer the oil to their beak, so they can apply it to the rest of their body.

African Penguin, head-shaking and bowing

Head-shaking and bowing

These behaviors begin during courtship when a new couple is getting to know one another. Throughout their relationships, which can last a lifetime, partners will continue to bow and shake their heads at one another to reinforce their bond.

African Penguin, slender walk display

Slender walk display

When moving through the territory of other birds, African Penguins adopt a slender posture in which the body is stretched vertically, and the neck is elongated and the head held high. By moving in this manner, the penguin signals to other birds that it is not a threat and need not be pecked. You can watch our penguins exhibiting this behavior when walking on land and approaching a nest box.

African Penguin, ecstatic display

Ecstatic Display

The most common and loudest behavior of the African Penguin is the ecstatic display, seen and heard every day in the exhibit. Standing with its feet apart, a penguin slowly raises its head, pointing the beak upwards. Wings lifted outward, the chest heaves with an inhale of air, followed by a loud braying sound. This display is most frequently seen and heard when a penguin has wandered into another’s territory. It communicates territory ownership, identifies the penguin (each bird’s bray is unique) and often draws the mate back to their territory.

African Penguin, molting


Penguin feathers are highly adapted to provide insulation, but they wear down over time and need to be replaced. About once a year, each bird goes through a molting process which takes weeks to complete. New feathers are manufactured beneath the skin and essentially push the old feathers out as they grow in, causing the birds to appear quite disheveled. In the weeks leading up to molting, a penguin will eat more than usual to bulk up for an extended period of time out of the water. In our exhibit, biologists feed molting birds on land, but in the wild, this would be a time period without food.

April 11, 2013

Introducing a new penguin chick

On January 28, 2013, the Academy’s first African penguin chick since the new building opened hatched to a Species Survival Plan-recommended pair of penguins in our colony. The parents, Ty and Robben, have been raising their new chick diligently for the past few months. This is the first-ever chick for Ty (the mother), and the first for this couple, who did a good job taking turns sitting on the egg and defending their nest during the 37-day incubation period. We periodically candled the egg to check the chick’s development during this time.

Once the chick externally pipped (meaning it began to peck its way out of the egg), it took almost 24 hours for it to entirely emerge from its shell. The Animal Health Department did a quick exam and weight measurement to ensure its health before returning it to its parents. Then the entire family was moved to an off-exhibit area where the chick could grow up without the interference of other curious couples.

Penguin chick on day 8

Penguin chick on day 8

We were delighted that the parents did all of the rearing on their own, and continued to weigh the chick periodically to track its progression. At just under a month old, it started venturing out of the nest box. Shortly thereafter, it received a full physical including blood work to determine gender, and…it’s a BOY!!

When they first hatch, penguin chicks are covered in downy feathers, have soft feet, and their wings are flexible. In the last two months, our little guy has lost his down and replaced it with juvenile feathers that are gray and white in color. He now has a unique spot pattern on his belly that will remain the same for the rest of his life. Once his wings had hardened and his feet were rough, he was ready to start swimming. On day 57, we started introducing him to the water in a kiddie pool for a few minutes at a time, gradually increasing the duration.

Penguin chick on day 60

Penguin chick on day 60

Once he was comfortable swimming, we introduced him to his new exhibit and the rest of the colony slowly, over a period of days. In just 72 days, he has grown from 70 grams to 3 kg, close to full adult size. He is doing very well and we are excited to see how his personality develops as he matures.

Come by to welcome him to his new home, and be sure to enter the Name the Penguin Chick Contest before April 30. Academy staff will select the top three names based on originality and connection to the Academy’s mission to explore, explain and sustain life, including the African Penguin SSP program. The final three names will be put out to public vote, and the winning name will be announced during a naming ceremony in May.

February 12, 2013

Pierre is turning 30!

Pierre has had a long and exciting life. He first hatched out at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore on February 16, 1983. He was donated to Steinhart Aquarium in June of that same year and has been with us ever since. Staying put doesn’t mean that Pierre hasn’t had some adventures throughout his years here. He has lived in three different exhibits in three different buildings during his years at the Academy—the original Steinhart Aquarium building, our temporary Howard Street location, and African Hall in the new Academy—and has had numerous biologists and veterinarians tend to his everyday needs.

As part of the Species Survival Plan we have tracked the number of offspring Pierre has had and which zoos and aquariums most of them have gone off to. In his 30 years, Pierre has had several mates with whom he has produced 16 chicks. His lineage is now represented worldwide, with some of his chicks living as far away as Ohio, Idaho, and even Japan! These offspring have gone on to produce approximately 26 grand chicks and 4 great grand chicks! He is not currently recommended to breed since he is genetically very well represented.

Living to such an old age for an African Penguin means that Pierre has had some health obstacles that penguins in the wild, which have shorter life spans, would not have. He was the first penguin to wear a wetsuit to help him get through a difficult molt, a story immortalized in the children’s book Pierre the Penguin, written by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by Laura Regan. He even has his own Wikipedia page. Pierre has had allergies almost all of his life and gets allergy medication daily to keep him from excessive coughing. Every day, a biologist hides his allergy medication inside a fish, which he gets during one of our daily penguin feedings. Like humans, penguins can develop cataracts with age. Pierre had surgery on both of his eyes to remove cataracts and help improve his vision.

Pierre is doing very well overall and we are excited to see what future adventures he has in store for us. Pierre is banded on the right wing with a solid blue band, so keep an eye out for him when you come to visit or are watching on our web cam!

Pierre the Penguin

Pierre the Penguin

October 12, 2012

Raising Awareness

African Penguin Awareness Day 2012

This Saturday is African Penguin Awareness Day. SANCCOB, an organization that has been working in-situ with African penguins for 30 years, has provided materials for educators and kids to use this weekend. The African penguin population has plummeted 90% in the last 100 years and the species is currently listed as endangered by IUCN.

Click here to download posters and other educational materials.

Learn more about SANCCOB here.

April 24, 2012

World Penguin Day!

Every year on April 25th, coinciding with the annual migration of Adélie penguins living in Antarctica, we celebrate World Penguin Day!


Right around this time Adelie penguins migrate an average of about 8,100 miles during the year as they follow the sun from their breeding colonies to winter foraging grounds (remember they’re in the Southern hemisphere) and back again. Here at the Academy we display a different species of penguin, the African penguin, which doesn’t migrate but we love taking this opportunity to not only express our admiration for these lovable birds but also to consider our responsibility towards them. As of today eleven of the world’s eighteen penguin species are considered to be either vulnerable or endangered. This means that, if no measures are taken to protect them, there is a real risk that population levels for these species will not be sustainable and extinction will follow. This looms very large on our minds here because one unfortunate member of the endangered species list is the African penguin.


Penguins are vulnerable to overfishing of their food sources, climate change, pollution (especially oil spills), introduced predators, and human encroachment on  their breeding grounds. It is only by protecting their environment that we can ensure the future of penguins, which are now understood to be an important indicator of the health of our planet.  We need to recognize that the fundamental changes affecting penguins will one day, without a doubt, affect our own lives.

So let’s all take a moment on Wednesday to appreciate how fascinating this family of flightless birds is and why we need to preserve their natural environment. Some ideas? Come visit our colony here at the Academy and learn something new about penguin biology or behavior. Wear black and white or even a tuxedo in honor of countershading–dark backs and white undersides. Watch a movie or read a book about penguins. Order some wine from Penguin Bay Winery. Even better make a donation to an organization like SANCCOB which does a tremendous amount of work to conserve and protect wild African penguins.


Most importantly have a great World Penguin Day and do something, anything, penguinish!

December 20, 2011

New Penguin Sinclair

Sinclair, the newest member of the Academy’s African penguin colony, was introduced to our exhibit for the first time this past Monday and is the first new bird to be brought into the renovated building. She arrived in San Francisco on November 17th in great condition from Tulsa Zoo in Oklahoma. Below is a picture of her being picked up from the cargo area of San Francisco Airport:


Sinclair was hatched at New England Aquarium on March 28th, 1991. We received Sinclair as part of our commitment to cooperatively manage this endangered species with other zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  African penguins are managed under what’s referred to as a Green-level Species Survival Plan (SSP). This means that the population of the species in captivity is considered sustainable for the long-term which, in more detail, means that we can maintain 90% genetic diversity within the group for at least 100 years. Breeding is prioritized to maintain or increase gene diversity largely through considerations of mean kinship, avoidance of inbreeding, and the degree of uncertainty within an individual’s pedigree.

As a general rule any new animals (whether fish or snakes or penguins, etc…) brought into the Academy are subject to a 30 day quarantine period where they are isolated from the rest of the collection to avoid transmission of any pathogens they might be carrying. Sinclair did wonderfully down in what has previously been referred to as “the Love-shack” with her recommended mate Agulhas (green-banded male). The two almost immediately started sharing their nest-box and were seen bowing and shaking their heads to each-other, all good signs for the formation of a strong pair bond.

So far Sinclair has been doing well on exhibit and is sporting a green wing-band on her left wing to match Agulhas. She has been holding her own with the rest of the colony yet is very mellow to work with. It was a lovely surprise to find that she has not been at all aggressive with the biologists who’ve been caring for her. We haven’t seen her in Agulhas’s nest yet but the two have been in close proximity and have even been braying together.

Hopefully the two will have a long and prolific future!


Though the Academy's penguin colony is healthy and growing, their wild relatives aren't faring as well. Based on major population declines (at least 90% over the 20th century), African penguins were designated as an endangered species in September 2010 by the IUCN and the USFWS. In 1930, there were roughly a million of these charmers in their native West African habitat, but penguin biologists now estimate that there are only about 25,000 African penguin pairs remaining in the wild.

Penguin experts believe that commercial fisheries are largely to blame for the decline - fisheries continue to draw down stocks of the fish that African penguins consume, leaving them with an increasingly empty pantry. Climate change and shifting ocean currents are also causing the penguins' preferred prey species to move, making it harder for the penguins to find them. The waters off South Africa contain major shipping lanes, and oil spills are frequent and deadly for African penguins. SANCCOB, the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, is the biggest rehabilitation center in the region, and responsible for successfully rehabbing tens of thousands of penguins affected by spills.

The good news is that African penguins are finding a strong ally in the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program sponsored by the California Academy of Sciences and 53 other zoos and scientific institutions in the U.S. and Canada. The SSP's goal is to ensure the long-term survival of a viable population of African penguins. Since 1983, numerous chicks hatched at the Academy have moved to other zoos and aquariums around the country in order to maximize long-term genetic diversity in the captive-bred population. That population acts as a reservoir for genetic diversity, and could eventually be used to bolster wild penguin populations.

Breeding pairs in the wild dig burrows in guano or sand, or build nests under bushes and boulders, but past guano collection by people has made suitable burrow territory harder to come by. Conservation efforts in Africa include ongoing monitoring of population trends, and introducing artificial nesting structures. Additional research is needed on the impacts of fishing and predation, reintroduction and translocation techniques, and shifts in penguins' food sources.

Feeding Times


Listen during feeding times, everyday at 10:30am and 3:00pm PST as Academy biologists answer questions from visitors. Audio is only available during these times. Enjoy!

We’re On


The Academy is excited to partner with Ustream, the leader in live and interactive video streaming, and share our Penguin Cam feeds. Stay tuned for additional cams!

Live Webcams


View the Philippine Coral Reef Cam.

View the Farallones Cam.

View the Shark Cam.

Notice Anything Wrong?


Our live webcams are installed in very wet and salty environments, and with animals that can get rambunctious at times. If you notice anything that doesn’t seem quite right with any of the webcams, please let us know—click here to send us an email about it.

Warning: Cute Alert!


Pocket Penguins

Pocket Penguins, streaming in real-time, provides an intimate view into our live African penguin exhibit. Now available as a free download for Android smartphones and iPhone.

Pierre Sports a
New Look


He´s not just our oldest penguin, he's our most fashionable! Check out the custom wetsuit designed and tailored just for Pierre.

Schaller, P., 2009. Why and How to Make a Penguin Wetsuit. Drum and Croaker, 40:17-25. Read paper »

More Splash


The new penguin tank at the new Academy holds 25,000 gallons of water - more than twice the size of the old tank. That leaves plenty of room for penguin play and unprecedented viewing access for Academy visitors.

RSS Feed


  PenguinCams Blog »

Academy Blogroll