Content for this article is from the November edition of National Geographic magazine, with exclusive video and an interactive graphic.
EXCLUSIVE: Watch video of penguins rocketing out of the water and onto the ice, then interact with a step-by-step graphic that shows how they do it, available in the November digital edition October 25.
"When an emperor penguin swims through the water, it is slowed by the friction between its body and the water, keeping its maximum speed somewhere between four and nine feet a second. But in short bursts the penguin can double or even triple its speed by releasing air from its feathers in the form of tiny bubbles. These reduce the density and viscosity of the water around the penguin's body, cutting drag and enabling the bird to reach speeds that would otherwise be impossible. (As an added benefit, the extra speed helps the penguins avoid predators such as leopard seals.)" Continue reading at National Geographic.
Preparing to launch from the sea to the sea ice, an emperor penguin reaches maximum speed. © Paul Nicklen/National Geographic
An airborne penguin shows why it has a need for speed: To get out of the water, it may have to clear several feet of ice. A fast exit also helps it elude leopard seals, which often lurk at the ice edge. © Paul Nicklen/National Geographic
Life is safer at the colony, where predators are few and company is close. © Paul Nicklen/National Geographic
For more photos from this project look for the app Paul Nicklen: Pole to Pole, available Oct. 25.