Picky Penguins Refuse Cheap Food Despite Cost Of Living Crisis

If someone turns up to dinner in a tuxedo, they’re going to expect a certain level of swank.


Dr. Katie Spalding

Katie has a PhD in maths, specializing in the intersection of dynamical systems and number theory.

Freelance Writer

A penguin eating a fish
I’m afraid I’m going to have to return this to the kitchen. Image credit: nattapan72/

If you’ve been feeling the pinch in your wallet lately, you’re not alone. The whole world is suffering from what economists are calling “stagflation,” with the cost of living on the rise, economies slowing down, and recessions looking likely for nations across the planet.

We’re almost all having to make some sacrifices lately. Buying store-brand rather than name-brand, for example. But for some picky penguins, that’s just not good enough when it comes to the tasty treats they've come to expect.


“Even if they’ll take it in their beaks, they’ll just spit it out,” Hiroki Shimamoto told VICE World News. He’s the head zookeeper at Hakone-en Aquarium, in the Kanagawa prefecture south of Tokyo, where the resident 20 penguins and five otters have recently had to make a dietary downgrade when it comes to the fish they eat and are clearly not impressed.

“I’m not sure if the animals can taste a significant difference, but you can tell they’re not used to it,” he said.

Japan’s economy has been significantly affected by global events, with COVID-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine spurring rarely-before-seen price hikes in the island nation. That has meant that the price of running Hakone-en has risen by about 20 percent this year alone – and has left the keepers struggling to cut costs.

While the previous menu was a selection of fatty aji, or Japanese horse mackerel, the tenants of Hakone-en have been slowly converting to a cheaper type of mackerel called saba. At first, just one-tenth of the animals’ diet was converted to the less expensive meat – but as costs have continued to increase, so too has the amount of saba.


On top of this, the aquarium says they’ve had to take measures like turning off lights and reducing how often they clean the filtration tanks – though not to the extent that the animals’ health would be affected.

But if someone turns up to dinner in a tuxedo, they’re going to expect a certain level of swank – and for those feathery fellas who continue to turn up their beaks at the new offerings, rest assured: they aren’t going without, Shimamoto told VICE. 

“For the ones who refuse to eat the new fish,” he said, “we just give them what they used to eat.”


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