Are There Penguins In Norway? All You Need To Know!

There are many people that are wondering about the Norwegian wildlife, and a question I often get is if there are penguins in Norway or not. So, let’s take a look at the state of penguins in Norway!

There are no wild penguins in Norway, and they have never been here naturally. However, there was an important king penguin colony in Lofoten in the 1930s. There are also puffins, razorbills and murres in Norway, which could easily be mistaken for penguins.

Real penguins are simply not found in Norway or anywhere close. As a matter of fact, there are no penguins in the arctic at all, so it would make no sense that they should be in Norway.

King penguin
There are no wild king penguins in Norway. Photo published with permission.

In reality, penguins are found on the southern hemisphere in the Antarctic. Norway is in the northern hemisphere in the Arctic. So even though Norway could in theory be a nice place for penguins, getting here would be next to impossible for them.

The history of the penguin colony in Lofoten

People have attempted to get penguins to Norway, and there was an attempt to establish a colony of king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) on Røst in Lofoten in 1936. The penguins were captured on the antarctic island South Georgia and transported to Lofoten where they were released at Røst.

The king penguins only stayed at Røst for a short while before leaving, but were later seen around in the Lofoten islands during the next decades.

But the group who wanted penguins in Lofoten didn’t give up. They tried to import a new batch of penguins again in 1938, and imported groups of macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) and gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) this time.

The different species didn’t do any better, but ended up dying one by one. It’s uncertain if these penguins died because they didn’t get anything to eat (they refused to accept any fish they were given) or because of some disease.

A few of the king penguins apparently survived for long, and the last observation of one was in 1954 in Hamarøy in Lofoten, almost 20 years after they were brought to Norway!

However, none of the penguins began breeding, so even the most durable of the king penguins eventually passed away before establishing a colony.

And as for the reason why people wanted to get penguins to Lofoten: simply to make it even more popular for tourists. But considering the fact that Lofoten get around 1 million yearly visitors, the penguins were not really needed for that.

In hindsight, biologists and conservationists in Norway are very happy that the colony didn’t really form. They were put out in an area that is now extremely important to certain breeding bird species, and could potentially have stolen the breeding sites from these vulnerable and smaller bird species.

Also read: Norway has done the same thing with musk oxen, but that turned out better.

Penguins on the way to Lofoten
Penguins on the way to Lofoten. Photo by Sverresborg Trøndelag Folkemuseum / Digitalt Museum / Alf Schrøder (1880–1951).

The puffins, razorbills or murres could be mistaken for a penguin

Puffins are small birds that many people mistake for penguins. And that’s not really strange, because they kind of look like one, especially when standing up. These birds with their colorful beaks are a popular tourist attraction in themselves, and can be found in Lofoten. As a matter of fact, these birds breed at Røst where they also attempted to get a real penguin colony.

Puffins. Photo published with permission.

The razorbills are another bird that could easily be mistaken for a penguin. These birds are found along the coast in western and northern Norway, and are actually very common. These have huge breeding colonies at Røst, just like the puffins.

Razorbill. Photo by Chme82 / CC BY-SA 4.0.

And finally we have the common murres. These are often mistaken for penguins, especially when they are seen walking. They often walk much like a penguin does, and are occasionally found in southern Norway. When this happens, we get headlines of people who think they have found penguins in Oslo and other big cities (yes, this really happens every few years).

The common murres are breeding on Bjørnøya, a part of the Svalbard island group, but can often be found in mainland Norway outside of breeding season.

A family of common murres
A family of common murres. Photo by DickDaniels / CC BY-SA 3.0.

And a honorable mention is the great auk. This species is sadly extinct because we humans hunted it until the population collapsed, but if we hadn’t most people would be mistaking the great auks for being penguins. These guys really did look like penguins, and were known as the arctic penguins when they were alive.

Their downfall was how easy they were to hunt, and how much meat they had on them. They made for some very easy meals for people living close to the coast, especially after the invention of gunfire.

Great auks
Great auks are not extinct. Painting by John James Audubon, Bird Artist of America. (1785-1851).

Penguins in zoos in Norway

There are a few zoos and aquariums in Norway where you can see penguins. The most famous ones are the penguins at Akvariet i Bergen. They keep gentoo penguins (the same species that were briefly in Lofoten).

Akvariet i Bergen
Akvariet i Bergen. Photo: יעקב / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Another option is Atlanterhavsparken in Ålesund. You can see Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) from South America there.

Humboldt penguins at Atlanterhavsparken
Humboldt penguins at Atlanterhavsparken. Photo by Fiver, der Hellseher / CC BY-SA 4.0.

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