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Zoo Penguins Change Behavior and Culture

by Ron Kurtus (updated 19 January 2022)

A culture is a set of behavior traits that a specific group of a species follows. Although it is mainly seen in various human groups, animals can also form cultures in their own specific groups.

This was seen in penguins at the San Francisco Zoo. When new penguins were introduced, the existing ones took up the behavior of the new ones.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Common penguin traits

Penguins are extraordinary social birds and very inquisitive. They often swim and feed in groups. Some species nest in huge colonies called rookeries during the breeding season.

Penguins communicate by vocalizing and displaying body language. This helps to communicate nesting territories and mating information.

New penguins introduced

In November 2002, the San Francisco Zoo brought in six Magellanic penguins that had been formerly owned by Sea World in Aurora, Ohio. They added them to the 46 residents in the Zoo's penguin pool.

Typically, the San Francisco penguins would leisurely swim in the pool. When the six penguins were introduced to the new surroundings, these new penguins started a routine of swimming furiously in circles around the pool.

After observing this behavior of the newcomers, the other penguins soon joined in. Now, all 52 penguins start swimming in unison early in the day and rarely stop until dusk, when they stagger out of the pool.

Possible reason

All of them are Magellanic penguins, which in the wild would make migrations of around 2000 miles along the coast of South America. It is possible that the change in environment or addition of newcomers somehow stimulated the migration instinct.


Penguins in captivity seem to copy the behavior traits of newly introduced penguins. This may be because they are inquisitive and highly social. The newcomers may have also triggered some sort of migration instinct in the animals.

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Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Penguin Behavior - From Seaworld Adventure Parks

Cultures in Animal Groups

Behavior Resources


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