Do People Eat Penguins? (Is It Legal?)

What’s your first association when you hear the word penguin? Cute? Snow? Tuxedo? Dinner? Yeah, that last one just doesn’t sound right. Who in their right mind would want to eat this adorable, upright walking bird that’s not afraid of people? Well, let’s find out.

Do people eat penguins? No, not especially and there are a few reasons for that; they live too far (on the South Pole), their meat tastes weird, they are mostly comprised of fat, they would require extreme conditions to be kept on farms, they are extremely cute, and most importantly – all 18 species of penguins are legally protected from hunting and egg collecting.

But of course, some folks did eat penguins in the past, and those folks are South Pole explorers. When in 1897, their ship Belgica got stuck in ice, they went through canned food pretty fast and they were looking for alternatives. Enter, penguins.

The abundance of penguins was a gift from God for the crewmates and it is what helped them survive and even beat scurvy until they could continue their journey.

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They even, allegedly, came up with a novel idea of catching the penguins. They were using music, believe it or not. They would summon both penguins and seals to the ship by simply playing a tune on their cornet (similar to trumpet).

Frederick Cook reported on December 16 (p. 382):

“At mealtime, a cornet is used to call the men together, and the penguins, it seems, also like the music; for when they hear it they make directly for the ship, and remain as long as the music lasts, but leave once it ceases. In this manner, we have only to wait and seize our visitor to obtain penguin steaks, which are, just at present, the prize of the menu.”

Do people eat penguins
The cook on the Endurance preparing an emperor penguin for consumption

This is extremely sad if you think about it. To lure curious penguins that like music and then snatch them and cook them is disturbing to me. But on the flip side, they would probably (definitely?) starve if they wouldn’t go down the path of eating penguins.

Let’s move on…

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Is It Legal To Eat Penguins?

It is in fact not legal to catch or eat penguins because they are protected by the Atlantic Treaty that was signed in 1959 by 12 countries that had a vested interest in Antarctica. The Treaty makes it illegal to harm, or in any way interfere with, a penguin or its eggs.

Are Penguins Endangered?

The majority of today’s penguin species have declining populations and according to the IUCN’s Red List, their conservation statuses range from Least Concerned to Endangered.

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Can You Buy Penguin Meat?

Penguin meat isn’t a popular food choice in the regular market and in the black market. I guess its reputation as a hardy dish precedes it.

And as we know, penguins are protected by laws and international treaties. This of course doesn’t stop poachers from killing or trapping and selling other wild animals on the black market.

But most penguins luckily live in extreme places like Antarctica and it’s probably not worth it for poachers to catch them.

There might be another, very important reason why they’re not interesting and you can’t buy their meat anywhere – there isn’t a bullshit made-up story about their “medical” or “health” benefits as there is with many other, less fortunate animals.

Are Penguins Poisonous To Eat?

No species of bird is injecting or producing venom, but some birds are known to be poisonous to touch or eat. And although there are a few birds that have toxic meat and/or feathers, the most known example being the common quail, penguins are not poisonous to eat.

Birds that have toxic meat, sequester poisons from animals and plants that they digest, and most commonly from poisonous insects.

Let’s go back to the quail for a sec. Eating quails can cause coturnism, an illness featuring muscle tenderness and muscle cell breakdown. Quails with toxic meat have previously fed on poisonous plants.

You can even get poisoned if you consume, for example, potatoes fried in quail fat!

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What Does A Penguin Taste Like?

Let’s circle back to our Polar explorers and see what they thought that penguin meat tasted like for them. They said that penguins tasted like “a piece of beef, odiferous codfish and a canvas-backed duck roasted together in a pot, with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce”. Mhmm, tasty.

Can You Eat Penguin Eggs?

Penguin eggs, same as penguin meat, is not allowed for consumption since 12 nations signed the Atlantic Treaty in 1959 that protects Antarctica and preserves its living resources. It’s illegal to harm, or in any way interfere with, a penguin or its eggs and bring them out of Antarctica without reporting to the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR).