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CNN Today

Why Do Penguins Waddle, You Ask?

Aired January 1, 2001 - 4:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: So here's a question that has surely been burning a hole in your brain: Why, you ask, do penguins waddle? Why don't they walk straight?

CNN's Don Knapp tells us that university researchers have spent a lot of time and a lot of important research dollars figuring this out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON KNAPP, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Penguins do some things with grace and ease. But that funny waddling walk of theirs isn't one of them.

TIM GRIFFIN, UNIV. OF CALIF. BERKELEY: Previous research had showed that penguins burn twice as many calories to walk a given distance as other animals of the same body weight.

KNAPP: U.C. Berkeley researchers thought it might be the bird's side-to-side waddle that was using up its energy.

GRIFFIN: And so we're measuring the forces that the penguin's feet are exerting on the ground.

KNAPP: Grad student Tim Griffin says a study of Emperor penguins at San Diego's Sea World turned up a surprise.

GRIFFIN: We found that waddling actually didn't require increased work. Instead, walking appears to be costly for penguins because they have such short limbs, which requires their leg muscles to generate muscular force very rapidly.

KNAPP: While they may be burning more calories to start each step, penguins are remarkably efficient in transferring that energy from one step to the next.

(on camera): Researchers use a bowling pin to explain a penguin's waddle. Just a little initial energy gets it going. Gravity and the penguin's own muscle power keep it moving.

GRIFFIN: So like a pendulum swings back and forth using gravitational energy and kinetic energy, penguins also preserve mechanical energy in the side-to-side direction, in their waddling direction. KNAPP (voice-over): Walking penguins waddle not only from side to side, but front to back. Humans may find that amusing. But Griffin says a penguin's waddle is more efficient than a person's walk.

Don Knapp, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN: We're all going to take up waddling now.

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