Birds that fly underwater
Penguins are a group of flightless seabirds found between 45 and 60 degrees south in the Southern Hemisphere. The greatest number are found on the coasts of Antarctica and on the subantarctic islands. Different reports say there are between 16 and 19 species of Penguin, and together they form the largest group of flightless birds.
On land penguins can seem awkward, almost comical. But in water they are graceful, majestic and supremely strong swimmers. We shouldn't also forget that 2 species of these birds live in regions too cold for almost any other form of life known to man. For that reason alone they deserve their nomination.
Only 2 species, Adelie (Pygoscelis adeliae) and the Emperor (Aptenodytes forsteri), are confined to chilly Antarctica. The others are found throughout the southern oceans on islands, and the coastlines of Africa, South America and Australia. The northern most species, Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), live just a few miles north of the equator.
Anatomically, penguins have flippers instead of wings and therefore cannot fly. Though they are feathered they spend most of their lives at sea and must return to land to mate and lay eggs. On land, they either waddle on their feet or slide on their bellies.
Having evolved streamlined bodies, they can swim at up to 25 kms per hour (15mph). And they are not just superb swimmers, but also world class divers!
The reason for the penguins' distinctive markings is something that is quite common to most creatures who "operate" in the sea. The white underside and a dark upper-side is camouflage against predators (think of leopard seal looking up against the light of the sky, versus one looking down at the murkier depths...).
Your chances of seeing one in the wild
Pretty good - depending on which species you want to see (it's harder of course to get to see the famous Emperor penguin simply because of its geographic isolation in Antarctica).
Today, penguins face a number of threats, including destruction of nesting habitats, competition with fishermen for fish and shrimp, and introduced predators such as rats, dogs and foxes which eat penguin eggs and young.
However, the greatest potential threat to penguins in global warming, as they are extremely sensitive to climate change.