Will You Find Penguins in Alaska?

Penguins are flightless birds; how far can they roam?

Jamie Bichelman - Author

May 13 2024, Published 2:53 p.m. ET

A colony of Gentoo Penguins are pictured on Danko Island in Antarctica.
Source: iStock

Penguins waddle — not walk — around icy environments, inspire popular video games, and are always in dire need of more conservation efforts.

Because of the frigid temperatures in which penguins thrive, you are likely wondering if penguins can be found in Alaska, still the coldest state in the U.S.

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So, can you spot the adorable, flightless bird on your next trip to Alaska? Let's explore the penguin's habitat and whether this animal is found living in the 49th state.

A colony of Gentoo penguins are pictured atop snow on the Danco Coast of Antarctica with snowcapped mountains and water in the background.
Source: iStock
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Are there penguins in Alaska?

Of the 18 known species of penguins, all but one (the Galápagos penguin) live exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere, according to a PBS Nature fact sheet on penguins.

Alaska, being the westernmost, easternmost, and northernmost state in the U.S., unfortunately does not play host to any known penguin species, according to Sea to Summit Alaska. And we hate to break it to you, but it's also a myth that penguins live at the South Pole, according to National Geographic.

Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are some of the prominent regions where you're likely to find the various species of penguins, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Five such species of penguins call Antarctica home and four species live in sub-Antarctic islands, per the Australian Antarctic Program. Most penguins live south of the equator, per USA Today. Some species can also be found in Chile and Peru.

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Two penguins stand atop a rocky area with snow-capped mountains in the background.
Source: iStock

That doesn't exclude, however, the possibility that some adventurous penguin stragglers may find themselves landing on Alaska's shores.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, sailors throughout the decades have reported penguin sightings off of U.S. and Canadian coasts. In 2022, one Humboldt penguin famously landed on the deck of a fishing boat along the coast of Southeast Alaska.

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"He looked really scared at first. He was literally shaking, quivering, maybe wondering what kind of predicament he was in,” fisherman Guy Demmert was quoted as saying at the time. The crew quickly returned the penguin to the water.

The Anchorage Daily News theorizes that the rare Alaskan penguin sightings are likely due to ships that take penguins from their native habitats in the Antarctic, effectively making them illegal pets, before abandoning them in unnatural territories like Alaska.

A polar bear is pictured along the shores of Hudsons Bay in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, in November 2020.
Source: iStock
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Are there polar bears in Alaska?

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, polar bears can be found on St. Lawrence Island in southern Alaska. During the summers, polar bears can be found denning in various areas, including the northern coast of Alaska.

Thanks to recapture, tagging, and studies of polar bear populations in and around Alaska, the Alaskan government believes there are 19 distinct populations of polar bears throughout the state's regions.

Regardless of the regions in which they reside throughout the seasons, polar bears are in desperate need of our advocacy and support as climate change and damaging practices threaten polar bear populations.

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