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Actual Penguins Vs. Actual Sharks: Who Wins At Hockey?

The Penguins are back in Pittsburgh tonight for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals against the San Jose Sharks.

It’s an epic battle of the sea creatures, which got some of us in the newsroom wondering: which animal actually has the skills and talents most applicable to playing hockey?

First, we have to establish what species of shark and penguin each team claims as their mascot.

According to Katy Wozniak, lifelong Penguins fan and penguin keeper at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG aquarium, Iceburgh is most likely either an emperor or king penguin because of the orange markings on his head and neck.

S.J. Sharkie, San Jose’s mascot, is probably a great white shark, said Dave Ebert, Director of the Pacific Shark Research Center about an hour south of San Jose. He is not a hockey fan.

They are definitely a critically endangered species so I hope the Penguins show them some mercy and let them survive for another game.


“Penguins are very fast. They are actually built for speed,” said Wozniak. “They have a very heavy, solid bone structure and their shape is kind of like a torpedo.”

In the water, king penguins can reach speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. But while penguins are among the fastest birds underwater, sharks are even faster, Ebert said.

“Great white sharks, they’ve been clocked up to about 25-30 miles an hour when they put on a quick burst of speed,” he said.

Penguins 0 – Sharks 1


Both penguins and sharks are extremely agile in the water. Wozniak said penguins have perfected swimming in a zig zag pattern to get away from predators, while sharks “can literally turn on a dime if they need to,” according to Ebert.

Without running them both through an obstacle course, both agree it’s difficult to award a point in this category. It’s a tie.

Penguins 0 – Sharks 1

Credit Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

  Ability to work as a team

Penguins depend on each other for survival. They hunt wing-to-wing, huddle together to survive cold winters and even motivate each other during long migrations, Wozniak said. Their vocalizations are very expressive, and they can direct calls toward individual penguins.

“They use vocalization to communicate, so display calls are directed toward a certain member of their colony. They can make threat calls to claim their territory,” she said. “And that other penguin knows who they’re calling or who they’re talking to.”

Sharks sometimes work together, said Ebert, particularly when trying to take down large prey. But they’re nowhere near as communicative and cooperative as penguins.

Penguins 1 – Sharks 1


Remember Fox’s ill-received effort in the late 1990s to make hockey more accessible to newcomers by highlighting the puck in red? It didn’t go over well, and they nixed the technology after two seasons, but the fact remains  a hockey puck is very tiny and moves very quickly. So good eyesight is essential for hockey players, right?

Turns out both penguins and sharks have pretty great eyesight, in daylight and at night, in murky water and in clear water. Without an eye chart, a hard one to call.

Penguins 1 – Sharks 1

Ability to intimidate opponent

Does this point need much elaboration? Sharks are scary. Penguins are cute.

Penguins 1 – Sharks 2

Ability to ice skate

Penguins literally live on the ice. It’s kind of their thing.

“They can slide and walk on ice more effectively than anything else,” Wozniak said. “They are adapted; they are built to survive and to walk on icy surfaces.”

According to, the 1968 Penguins' first mascot, Penguin Pete, was a real penguin who was actually taught to ice skate. (Things didn't work out that well for him long-term, but that was no fault of Pete's.)

Sharks, on the other hand: “Well they don’t like cold water,” said Ebert. “It could be kind of cool water, but they don’t like cold water.”

The bigger problem: penguins have lungs, and sharks have gills. Since hockey is played on land, where gills are more hazard than help, we’ve got to give it to the penguins.

Penguins 2 – Sharks 2

So who wins?

No surprise for this series: we’re tied at the end of regulation play. Ebert said sharks and penguins often co-exist peacefully in nature.

Tune in to the real game tonight at 8:00 on NBC.