The waterscape and soundscape of a marine bird
: studies on the behaviour of king penguins at sea and on land

  • Tessa Abigail Van Walsum

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The life of the king penguin on land and at sea is challenging. They are exposed to icy waters while foraging at sea, performing thousands of deep dives over many days. On land, king penguins live in a cacophony of noise that they must interpret, both for themselves and their chicks. Previous research has illuminated much about penguin diving abilities and adaptations, yet there is still more to learn. For example, we know little about why king penguins perform shallow dives in between their deep foraging dives. My analyses of tens of thousands of time-pressure profiles for diving king penguins suggest that these birds show no immediate signs of fatigue while performing consecutive deep dives. There is no evidence that king penguins need to perform shallow dives to recover quickly from deep dives. The function of this shallow diving behaviour remains a mystery.
King penguins, from a young age, learn to recognize their parents’ calls, while adult king penguins discern the suitability of a potential, or recognize their mating partner from their vocal communications. We know little else, however, about the ways that king penguins respond to the sounds in their environment. My sound playback experiments are the first to delve into the behavioural responses of king penguins to a range of sound stimuli, varying in familiarity, complexity and frequency. My work here shows that penguins respond markedly differently to various sounds. My analyses suggest that fundamental frequency could be important, and that bird age can affect the vehemence of response, in tandem with whether the bird is asleep or awake. Apart from these observations I was unable to ascertain associations between penguin response and sound type. My research may have asked more questions than it has answered – my thesis concludes with a discussion on avenues for future research into the king penguin’s ecology, and the technology we need to support those investigations.
Date of Award8 Feb 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorLewis Halsey (Director of Studies), Andrea Perna (Co-Supervisor) & Yves Handrich (Co-Supervisor)


  • Penguin
  • king penguins
  • dive
  • sleep
  • sound
  • behaviour

Cite this