05 May 2018

Are emperor penguins eating enough?

ANTARCTICA – For emperor penguins waddling around a warming Antarctic, diminishing sea ice means less fish to eat. How the diets of these tuxedoed birds will hold up in the face of climate change is a big question scientists are grappling with.

Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have developed a way to help to determine the foraging success of emperor penguins by using time-lapse video observations relayed to scientists thousands of miles away. The new remote sensing method is described in the Journal of Applied Physics.

20 April 2018

Emperor penguin foraging behaviour revealed

ANTARCTICA – An unavoidable delay in a research ship's voyage to Antarctica resulted in some surprising and important findings about the behaviour of emperor penguins.

Dr Kim Goetz observing emperor penguins during
the study at Cape Colbeck. Photo: Patrick Robinson
A newly-published paper written by NIWA marine ecologist Dr Kim Goetz and collaborators outlines the previously unknown diving and long-distance swimming abilities of emperor penguins outside the breeding season.

Dr Goetz’s project involved tagging 20 emperor penguins in 2013 and analysing the data on their movements transmitted via satellite. She discovered the penguins travelled between 273 km and nearly 9000 km and completed dives that ranged between 1 and 32.2 minutes, exceeding the previous recorded dive record of 27.6 minutes.

But it was finding the penguins in the first place that was most intriguing.

05 April 2018

Penguins go through the flow

SUBANTARCTIC – Colonies of breeding king penguins behave much like particles in liquids do, according to a new study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and international colleagues. This "liquid" organisation and structure enables breeding colonies to protect themselves against predators while also keeping members together.

A king penguin breeding colony on
Possession Island, Crozet Archipelago.
Photo by © Céline Le Bohec (CNRS / IPEV / CSM)  
King penguins are threatened by climate change with warming temperatures shifting their main food sources farther south. The new information on how penguin colonies form and structure themselves –and how colonies may depend on the physical features of new breeding grounds – is crucial to predicting the species' resilience.

"King penguin colonies are also of special interest because only they and emperor penguins do not build nests, and no one has previously examined the effect this has on their colonies," said Richard Gerum, a Ph.D. student at the University of Erlangen-Nuernberg and lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Physics D.

28 March 2018

Sad end to first journey of yellow-eyed penguin chick Takaraha

NEW ZEALAND – Takaraha, a juvenile yellow-eyed penguin that captured attention in recent weeks, has been euthanised after suffering a non-survivable injury to its left flipper, believed to be inflicted by a predator.

Takaraha was one of 23 juvenile yellow-eyed penguins being remotely tracked by University of Otago researchers investigating dramatically declining survival rates of the endangered species. The young bird made headlines after setting a blistering speed up the South Island’s east coast on its fledgling journey just over a fortnight ago.

27 March 2018

First tracking of yellow-eyed penguin juveniles

NEW ZEALAND – A select group of this season’s yellow-eyed penguin chicks are having their first expeditions into the ocean remotely tracked, as University of Otago researchers investigate dramatically declining survival rates of the endangered species.

Improvements in tracking technology have made the research possible, with transmitters now small enough to fit on yellow-eyed penguins.

Each of the 23 penguins involved in the study is equipped with a satellite tag, transmitting messages to overhead satellites, which triangulate the penguin’s position on the ocean’s surface. Some of the devices are able to send stored GPS positions by text message every two days. The tags are attached to the bird’s lower back using cloth tape under a small patch of feathers, and are secured with cable ties.

13 March 2018

'Supercolony' of Adelie penguins discovered in Antarctica

ANTARCTICA – For the past 40 years, the total number of Adélie penguins, one of the most common on the Antarctic peninsula, has been steadily declining – or so biologists have thought. But a new study led by Stony Brook University ecologist Heather Lynch and colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is providing new insights about this penguin species. In a Scientific Reports paper, the international research team announced the discovery of a previously unknown “supercolony” of more than 1,500,000 Adélie penguins in the Danger Islands, a chain of remote, rocky islands off of the Antarctic Peninsula’s northern tip.

28 February 2018

King penguins may be on the move very soon

SUB-ANTARCTIC – King penguin colonies in Crozet, Kerguelen and Marion sub-Antarctic islands  – more than 70% of the global king penguin population – may be nothing more than a memory in a matter of decades, as global warming will force the birds to move south, or disappear. This is the conclusion of a study carried out by an international team of researchers and published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

King penguins. Photo (c) Celine LeBohec.
"The main issue is that there is only a handful of islands in the Southern Ocean and not all of them are suitable to sustain large breeding colonies" said Robin Cristofari, lead author of the study, from the Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien (IPHC) (a mixed research unit of the CNRS and the University of Strasbourg) and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco (CSM).

King penguins are picky animals – in order to form a colony where they can mate, lay eggs and rear chicks over a year, they need tolerable temperatures all year round, no winter sea ice around the island, and smooth beach of sand or pebbles. But, above all, they need an abundant and reliable food source close by to feed their chicks.