From the November 2012 edition of National Geographic magazine:

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.)

Images below are from the November 2012 edition of National Geographic magazine, which includes an exclusive video and interactive graphic that show penguins rocketing out of the water onto the ice. Photos courtesy of Paul Nicklen/National Geographic.

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  • 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

  • The danger of ambush by leopard seals is greatest when entering the water, so penguins sometimes linger at the edge of an ice hole for hours, waiting for one bold bird to plunge in.

    © Paul Nicklen/National Geographic

  • “These penguins have probably never seen a human in the water,” says photographer Paul Nicklen, “but it took them only seconds to realize that I posed no danger. They relaxed and allowed me to share their hole in the sea ice.”

    © Paul Nicklen/National Geographic

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