Penguins seem to have no special fear of humans, and have approached groups of explorers without hesitation. This is probably because penguins have no land predators in
Antarctica or the nearby offshore islands. Instead, penguins are at risk at sea from predators such as the leopard seal. Typically, penguins do not approach closer than about 3 meters (10 ft) at which point they become nervous. This is also the distance that Antarctic tourists are told to keep from penguins (tourists are not supposed to approach closer than 3 meters, but are not expected to withdraw if the penguins come closer).
Penguins are popular around the world, primarily for their unusually upright, waddling gait and (compared to other birds) lack of fear of humans. Their striking black-and-white plumage is often
likened to a tuxedo suit. Mistakenly, some artists and writers have penguins based at the North Pole. This is incorrect, as there are almost no wild penguins in the northern hemisphere, except the small group on the northernmost of the Galápagos. The cartoon series Chilly Willy helped perpetuate this myth, as the title penguin would interact with northern-hemisphere species such as polar bears and walruses.
Penguins have been the subject of many books and films such as Happy Feet, Surf's Up and The Penguins of Madagascar, all CGI films; March of the Penguins, a documentary based on the migration process of the Emperor Penguin; and a parody titled Farce of the Penguins. Mr. Popper's Penguins is a children's book written by Richard & Florence Atwater; it was named a Newbery Honor Book in 1939. Penguins have also found their way into a number of cartoons and television dramas; perhaps the most notable of these is Pingu, created by Silvio Mazzola in 1986 and covering more than 100 short episodes. Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "Whether they were walking (March of the Penguins), dancing (Happy Feet), or hanging ten (Surf's Up), these oddly adorable birds took flight at the box office all decade long
The tendency of penguins to form large groups feeds the stereotype that they all look exactly alike, a popular notion exploited by cartoonists such as Gary Larson.
Penguins featured regularly in the cartoons of
UK cartoonist Steve Bell in his strip in The Guardian Newspaper, particularly during and following the Falklands War.