A research was conducted by a team led by Kyle Elliott from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, to find out why penguins cannot fly. The conclusion derived from these research activities was that a penguin’s flippers are better suited for swimming and diving. It is difficult to fly with the help of such flippers. In fact, the flippers of penguins were never meant for flying. Their sole function was to assist penguins to swim efficiently. In other words, penguins would have developed much better wings if they had chosen flying over swimming.
The research conducted on cormorants and murres proved to be of great help in understanding why penguins can’t fly. Both these birds have an anatomical structure similar to that of penguins. Recorders were fitted on murres to measure the depth, time, and temperature of dives. On the other hand, cormorants were fitted with data-loggers to record temperature, depth, and changes in acceleration that takes place while diving.
- The wingspan of a penguin is smaller than that of most birds. One of the benefits of having such wings is that the drag experienced while swimming is reduced to a great extent.
- One of the differences observed in the flight of a penguin and that of other aquatic birds is that a penguin employs a beating motion of its wings. Most aquatic birds move underwater by means of the paddling movement of their webbed feet.
- The body of a penguin is bulkier than that of other aquatic birds. It helps it dive deeper and keep its body insulated from the surroundings.
So what is the significance of studying the thick-billed murre’s flight. This comparative study helps us understand that in spite of higher flight costs, murres did not shed their flying instinct. This is because, even if flying is a laborious activity for the murres, they benefit from it in different ways. Flying allows them to flee predators. The action of flying also helps them move between their nests and foraging grounds. It might be one of the reasons why murres didn’t give up flying, even if this activity consumes a lot of energy.
Finally, we can say that penguins were smart enough to shed their flying instinct to survive in the predominantly aquatic surroundings of the Southern Hemisphere. They have evolved into efficient diving creatures.