Did you know that penguins have started arriving in Iceland? And not just one or two, but by the thousands! Find out more here.

EDIT: This was an April's Fool joke. You still have to head to South Africa, Australia or Argentina to see penguins in the wild!

Usually, around this time of year, Icelander's greet a flock of migrating birds to its shores, perhaps most famously the Atlantic puffin. But this year, an extraordinary natural occurrence is taking place. Penguins are flocking to Iceland by the thousands!!

These unforeseen circumstances have been met with puzzlement since penguins normally reside in the Southern hemisphere, not the north. The situation has been met with incredible joy, especially for those tourists (and locals) currently residing in Iceland. Visitors have been welcomed by dozens of penguins in the past week, with large numbers seen at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and along the South Coast. 

The above footage is from Iceland's South Coast, on the shores of Vatnajökull ice cap, Europe's largest glacier.

Basically, penguins are flocking to Iceland by the thousands, and although this is leaving most people pleasantly surprised, there are some downsides to this new Nordic inhabitant, namely that they are battling puffins over natural resources.



Why are the Penguins Emigrating to Iceland?

King Penguins arriving at Iceland's South Coast

Although the exact reason why the penguins are arriving in Iceland is unclear, there are some educated guesses as to why. This, however, is a sudden change, and an unexpected one, so marine biologists will be researching the causes for months, or even years, to come.

One of the most likely reasons behind the migration is that the penguins are simply following their food.

For a while, it has been abundantly clear that the North Atlantic is undergoing fundamental change and environmental pressure, and plankton from warmer seas has been travelling further north and replacing the colder sea plankton.

The sea surrounding Iceland's coastlines is actually very favourable to the penguins, as it is exactly the right temperature for them. Penguins thrive best in the cold sea but are also happy in slightly warmer temperatures, such as the ones by the south coast of Australia and up along the western side of South America. And although Iceland's sea is cold, it isn't as cold as most people would expect, as it is warmed up by the Mexican Gulf Stream.

What Changes Will Happen in Iceland?

Penguin and Puffins look quite similar and should be able to live together in harmony

Although the arrival of the penguins has mostly been met with positivity, there are some negative sides to their presence in Iceland. The biggest one being their impact on other wildlife, especially the puffin.

There have been receding numbers of puffins recently along Iceland's coastlines, due to a decrease in their food, i.e. plankton and small fish.

This happens to be the same food that the penguins eat, so it is believed that this mass emigration of penguins to Iceland is due to them following their food sources up north from more southern regions in the world.

Where penguins usually live in the world.

The above map shows where penguins usually reside, and although people often joke about penguins living in Iceland, it has never been the case so far. However, by the looks of it, Iceland has now gained a new inhabitant!

Although Icelanders, in general, are positive towards this new animal as part of its wildlife, this does pose a threat to the already endangered Atlantic puffin.



What Happens Next?

The Atlantic puffin feeds on small fish and plankton

The majority of the Icelandic population hopes that nature will balance itself out and that both puffins and penguins can live together in harmony on Iceland's shores. There are, obviously, some debates as to how this will affect Iceland's nature and environment.

Iceland's minister for the environment and natural resources, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson is doubtful on what the impact will be on Iceland's ecology. He released a statement where he says: "These unprecedented circumstances pose a threat to both Iceland's marine life, that has been very sustainable up until now, and Iceland's wildlife in general. There is simply no way knowing what will happen next".

A press release from the Icelandic Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources states that:

"Since early February of this year, 2018, research teams at Hafrannsóknastofnun [The Icelandic Marine Institute] have been observing the widespread movement of Crested Penguins, many of which have arrived onto our shore, whilst others have continued on to Greenland. Though a non-native species to Iceland, local residents in the south have reported ever-increasing colonies near Diamond Beach and other locations on shore. Visitors to Iceland are asked to respect the Icelandic wildlife, refraining from feeding the penguins and leaving them ample space."

Penguins have made Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon their home

Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, the Minister of Tourism and Industry, is more positive however and said "We welcome all immigrants to Iceland and we are certain they will aid Iceland's already blossoming tourism industry".

And how could they not? They are SO CUTE!

Cute penguins are Iceland's newest inhabitants

So, although there are many uncertainties as to what will happen in the near future, I for one am pretty thrilled about this latest development in Iceland's wildlife and hope that the penguins are here to stay. The world and the nature is constantly changing and surprising us, so we just have to put our faith into Mother Nature taking care of itself!

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