To Swim Faster, Emperor Penguins Shake Millions of Micro-Bubbles from Their Feathers

by Owen James Burke

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Photo: Paul Nicklen/National Geographic. Video below.

National Geographic Fellow and photographer Paul Nicklen captured this shot while on assignment in Antarctica to film emperor penguins, champion freedivers that can reach depths of nearly 2,000 feet, and stay there for over twenty minutes hunting fish, squid and krill.

When it does come time to rocket to the surface, the deepest diving bird known to science and rattles its feathers to expel trapped oxygen, or “micro-bubbles”. This not only looks cool; it functions like a turbo charge and allows the 70-pound penguin to swim two to three times faster.

Göran Ehlme, who was working beside Nicklen, captured this video depicting the finely tuned physiological adaptation:

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