We present data on diving pattern and performance (dive depth, duration, frequency and organization during the foraging trip) in gentoo penguins Pygoscelis papua, obtained using time-depth recorders (n= 9 birds, 99 foraging trips). These data are used to estimate various parameters of foraging activity, e.g. foraging range, prey capture rates, and are compared in relation to breeding chronology. Foraging trip duration was 6 h and 10 h, and trip frequency 1.0/day and 0.96/day, during the brooding and creche periods, respectively. Birds spent on average 52%of each foraging trip diving. Dive depth and duration were highly bimodal: shallow dives (< 21 m) averaged 4 m and 0.23 min, and deep dives (> 30 m) 80 m and 2.5 min, respectively. Birds spent on average 71%and 25%of total diving time in deep and shallow dives, respectively. For deep dives, dive duration exceeded the subsequent surface interval, but shallow dives were followed by surface intervals 2–3 times dive duration. We suggest that most shallow dives are searching/exploratory dives and most deep dives are feeding dives. Deep dives showed clear diel patterns averaging 40 m at dawn and dusk and 80–90 m at midday. Estimated foraging ranges were 2.3 km and 4.1 km during the brood and creche period, respectively. Foraging trip duration increased by 4 h between the brood and creche periods but total time spent in deep dives (i.e. time spent feeding) was the same (3 h). Of 99 foraging trips, 56%consisted of only one dive bout and 44%of 2–4 bouts delimited by extended surface intervals > 10 min. We suggest that this pattern of diving activity reflects variation in spatial distribution of prey rather than the effect of physiological constraints on diving ability.