| | Courtesy Darin Fordyce|

Who can resist the charms of a bird that waddles around dressed in a tuxedo? Not fishermen, apparently.

Biologists have never found any penguin colonies north of the Galapagos Islands, which are near the equator. But over the years there have been a few sightings of Humboldt penguins, which are native to Peru, off the northwestern coast of the U.S. What are these penguins doing so far from home?

Biology professor Dee Boersma and doctoral student Amy Van Buren at the University of Washington have been scratching their heads over this, and they have ruled out several theories. They say the flightless birds probably didn’t swim 5,000 miles from Peru, because they would have had to cross dangerously warm waters. And they say the penguins didn’t escape from a zoo, because zoo birds would have flipper tags.

The biologists’ best guess about what happened: penguin kidnapping. They theorize that fishermen in the Southern Hemisphere accidentally hauled the birds aboard in their nets and then kept them as pets until they reached the north.

In the early- to mid-20th century, scientists made their own attempts at transplanting penguins to the Northern Hemisphere, but were unsuccessful due to predation. Back in Peru, penguins don’t have to worry about being eaten by bears. —Dawn Stover