These massive seabirds with large, strong bills and tiny wings were well known at one time in some Northern European coastal villages. Although their wings were too small for them to fly, they made the birds fast and agile swimmers beneath the surface.

The Gauls and Bretons called them pengwyns, meaning “white heads,” a popular name inspired by the large white spot behind the birds’ bills. The word was picked up by neighbouring cultures and became “penguin” in English and “pingouin” in French.

These slow-moving and placid “pengwyns” were easily slain in their nesting colonies on the islands just off the coast. Fishermen and sailors clubbed thousands of them to death. They collected the eggs and used the adults and chicks to make soup or simply as fish bait. Their blubber was also used for lamp oil, and the feathers for stuffing mattresses and pillows.

In the meantime, Antarctic explorers from Europe had brought back tales of curious web-footed animals with tiny wings, similar to the “pengwyns” that had by then become quite rare in the North Atlantic. The English called them “so Read More
These massive seabirds with large, strong bills and tiny wings were well known at one time in some Northern European coastal villages. Although their wings were too small for them to fly, they made the birds fast and agile swimmers beneath the surface.

The Gauls and Bretons called them pengwyns, meaning “white heads,” a popular name inspired by the large white spot behind the birds’ bills. The word was picked up by neighbouring cultures and became “penguin” in English and “pingouin” in French.

These slow-moving and placid “pengwyns” were easily slain in their nesting colonies on the islands just off the coast. Fishermen and sailors clubbed thousands of them to death. They collected the eggs and used the adults and chicks to make soup or simply as fish bait. Their blubber was also used for lamp oil, and the feathers for stuffing mattresses and pillows.

In the meantime, Antarctic explorers from Europe had brought back tales of curious web-footed animals with tiny wings, similar to the “pengwyns” that had by then become quite rare in the North Atlantic. The English called them “southern penguins,” while the French, wishing to distinguish between the two groups, named them “manchots”.

In 1830, an earthquake destroyed a volcanic island off Iceland, and with it one of the last “pengwyn” colonies. Fourteen years later, after years of research, naturalists finally found the last remaining pengwyns, on an Icelandic islet: a pair and one egg. They seized the egg and carried off the two birds, which were killed fora museum..

© Biodôme de Montréal, 2005. All rights reserved

Pengwin's wing

Pengwin's wing

Biodôme de Montréal

© Biodôme de Montréal, 2005. All rights reserved


Pengwin's Head

Pengwin's Head

Biodôme de Montréal

© Biodôme de Montréal, 2005. All rights reserved


Pengwin's Egg

Pengwin's Egg

Biodôme de Montréal

© Biodôme de Montréal, 2005. All rights reserved


Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo Penguin

Biodôme de Montréal

© Biodôme de Montréal, 2005. All rights reserved


Stuffed Great Auk

Stuffed Great Auk

Biodôme de Montréal

© Biodôme de Montréal, 2005. All rights reserved


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Learn more about the ecosystems in the Americas;
  • Observe the diversity that each ecosystem offers regarding the flora, fauna as well as climate;
  • Identify the elements that shape different ecosystems, such as vegetation, wildlife, soil, etc.;
  • Develop different causes and consequences of human actions on ecosystems (from grade 4);
  • Formulate and justify possible solutions on issues, such as global warming, in order to preserve our ecosystems and biodiversity on Earth (from grade 6).

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