Emperor Penguins Do the Royal Wave

By Susan Aiello • Published: October 1st, 2011
Category: Animal Airwaves

Penguins have more than fat and feathers to keep them warm on frigid Antarctic days. Like fans at a blustery football game, they huddle together and do the wave.

Researchers discovered that Emperor penguins do a slight shuffle every 30 to 60 seconds. Using time-lapsed photography, these subtle movements reveal a fluid motion that undulates through the colony. So how does it work?

Gradually, the birds at the cold periphery flow into the warm center and those in the middle travel outward, so that everyone gets equal body heat from their cozy cousins. Unlike human crowds, the packed penguins never panic or jam together.

So studying this bird ballet may reveal secrets that can be applied to other mass behaviors, such as traffic tie-ups or stadium crowds. Now, if we could just get people to take off those big hats when they sit in front of you.