Can Penguins Breathe Underwater? (3 Things to Note)

by Chukay Alex
Updated on

Not in this case, regrettably. Penguins can breathe underwater because they lack gills.

However, they cannot breathe underwater despite their ability to hold their breath for long periods without gasping for air.

As a result, they behave similarly to humans. For example, if Penguins tried to breathe underwater, their lungs would fill with water, and they would drown.

To catch their prey in the ocean, penguins must scuba dive.

Underwater, penguins, on the other hand, require oxygen to breathe.

The typical underwater dive time of a penguin is 6 minutes because the majority of its food is found at higher levels of water.

Emperor Penguins, on the other hand, eat deep-sea creatures like squid, fish, and krill. Therefore they can go up to 20 minutes without taking a breath.

When hunting for food, Emperor penguins have been observed diving as deep as 1,800 feet.

Gentoos, a different species, can go down to a depth of 500 feet.

Because penguins are so little compared to other water creatures like seals, their lungs can only hold so much oxygen.

The penguins’ lungs and air sacs are also compressed underwater, which is bad news for them.

Each dive requires less than one-third of the oxygen provided by these vital airways.

Can Penguins Survive Underwater?

Can Penguins Breathe Underwater

When swimming underwater, penguins can go for long periods without coming up for air.

HbO2 is extremely sensitive in penguins, which helps them to utilize every last molecule of oxygen in their systems while diving.

As a result, several major organs get a lot of blood.

In fact, the hemoglobin in penguins is so potent that other animals would die from severe tissue damage if they went diving with penguins.

The penguin’s muscle tissue also aids in its ability to breathe effectively while submerged.

Myoglobin, a blood protein found in enormous concentrations in penguin muscle tissues, allows the bird’s muscles to store even more oxygen.

The penguin’s muscles can perform without oxygen because of a unique enzyme that neutralizes lactic acid buildup in the muscles.

As soon as the penguins come to the surface and resume normal breathing, the lactic acid buildup will be expelled from their bodies.

In addition, the heart rate of penguins can be lowered to five beats per minute to further reduce oxygen usage.

These birds can spend more time diving underwater since they use less energy.

How Do Penguins Breathe?

The breathing mechanism of penguins is among the most advanced in the animal kingdom.

When they raise their heads out of the water and inhale and exhale rapidly, they may easily take in liters of air!

Instead of storing their breath in their lungs, they use air-sacs to store it.

As a result, they are not reliant on constant use for oxygen as we are. As a result, more time is spent beneath the surface foraging for fish.

Related: Here is an article I wrote on are penguins friendly

How Long Can A Penguin Breathe Underwater?

Although most penguin species can hold their breath for upwards of 20 minutes when diving for prey, a few can only do so for 3-5 minutes.

Penguins must hold their breath while hunting for fish, which is their primary food source.

Penguins have to dive underwater to get fish because they can’t use their beaks to catch them.

The penguins eat about 6 kg of fish every day, which means they dive beneath water 200 times a day on average.

They have lungs, not gills. Therefore they must watch out lest their lungs overflow with water and cause them to drown.

Therefore, a penguin will regularly poke its head out of the water to get some fresh air while fishing.

How Can Penguins Hold Their Breath For So Long?

Penguins can hold their breath for a long time because they can cope with the severe pressures of the deep ocean, thanks to their capacity to collapse their lungs when diving.

As a result, the gas exchange does not occur at great depths, and nitrogen does not accumulate in the lungs.

While marine mammals’ lungs can collapse as they dive, diving birds’ lungs and surrounding components are extremely rigid.

The inherent buoyancy of penguins allows them to return to the surface with less effort.

Because only oxygenated air can reach the parabronchi as their lungs have a one-way airflow!

Thus, allowing the lungs to store up to 30% more of the body’s total oxygen than marine animals’ lungs can.

Increasing the amount of oxygen in the tank will allow the wings and shoulders to expend more energy while diving deeper into the ocean.

In addition, the air in the penguin’s lungs and air sacs will allow it to naturally return to the surface once it reaches these depths.

Because they need less oxygen while diving, Emperor Penguins’ heart rates drop to 15 to 20 beats per minute.

As a result, the Emperor Penguin has more energy to devote to hunting

Can A Penguin Drown?

Drowning is an infrequent occurrence for penguins.

This only happens if they get caught in something, or if predators like leopard seals deliberately drown them, or if they get dragged along by something.

Also check out this article I wrote on can penguins eat chocolate

Do Penguins Breathe Through Lungs?

Penguins, unlike fish, do not have gills and must come to the surface to breathe regularly.

Their lungs, on the other hand, are not as well-stocked with oxygen as ours are. Therefore, before diving, the air is inhaled into those air sacs, not the lungs.

Penguins’ ribs expand when they breathe, just like ours do, and oxygenated air passes through the windpipe, bronchus, and lung just like it does for us.

The parabronchi of the lung are where gas exchange takes place.

Humans’ exhale do not send deoxygenated air backward. Instead, a second bronchus carries the exhaled air to the windpipe, where it is expelled.

Can Emperor Penguins Breathe Underwater?

Emperor penguins are, without a doubt, the best divers in the avian world.

Their maximum depth is 500 meters, and they can stay underwater for 20 minutes or more.

As they dive into the water while holding their breath causes lactate accumulates in their muscles until they exceed the ‘eclectic diving limit.’

At this point, their body switches to anaerobic metabolism, which uses no oxygen.

As a result, they reduce their pulse rate and turn off all of their extraneous organs.

These characters seem to enter some sort of suspended animation, except they continue to move.


Penguins can dive to great depths, but they are unable to breathe when submerged.

In water, though, they can take in a lot of oxygen and store it there for a long time.

To keep themselves fueled, they eat while swimming.

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About the author

Chukay Alex

Chukay is a season writer and farmer who enjoys farming and growing plants in his backyard farm. When he is not farming you can find him at the nearest lawn tennis court, hitting a mean backhand down the line.


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