06 October 2017

A first look at geographic variation in gentoo penguin calls

Many birds use sound to attract mates and defend territories – vocal communication is central to their lives. Penguins are no exception, but we know little about how or why penguin vocalisations vary geographically between isolated populations.

Gentoo penguin calling. Credit: M Lynch.
A new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances takes a broad look at vocalisations across the range of gentoo penguins. It concludes that while their calls do vary from place to place, we still have a lot to learn about the processes at work.

The gentoo penguin’s “ecstatic” call, consisting of repeated pairs of short syllables, is used to attract and contact mates. Maureen Lynch and her PhD advisor Dr Heather Lynch (no relation) of Stony Brook University recorded ecstatic calls at 22 gentoo penguin colonies across the Antarctic Peninsula, southern Argentina and nearby islands.

They found variation in call frequency and duration both within and between colonies, but saw no clear patterns based on latitude, region or subspecies. An algorithm based on their data was able to classify calls to correct colonies better than random, but with a high error rate.

04 October 2017

Penguin-mounted video captures gastronomic close encounters of the gelatinous kind

SOUTHERN OCEANS – Footage from penguin-mounted mini video recorders shows four species of penguin eating jellyfish and other gelatinous animals, a food source penguins were not previously believed to eat. Scientists reported the findings this month in the Ecological Society of America's peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Video logs confirmed that penguins targeted gelatinous animals for meals  – the birds did not merely ingest them accidentally while aiming for fish or other prey. Connecting this link in the food web helps ecologists understand the ecological niche of "gelata", a group the authors have defined based on shared gelatinous physique and ocean habitat, though it includes organisms from very different branches of the tree of life.

19 August 2017

The penguin that never was: "a fun and unexpected story"

NEW ZEALAND – A Tasmanian penguin long thought extinct never even existed, University of Otago-led research has discovered.

New science has debunked old science by showing the bones from the so-called Hunter Island penguin were actually from three different living penguin species, including two from New Zealand.

Otago Department of Zoology PhD candidate Ms Tess Cole says the findings, using ancient DNA methods, were unexpected.

11 August 2017

Scientists track penguins by analysing tail feathers

ANTARCTICA – Knowing where and how Antarctic penguins, and other seabirds and marine predators, migrate is critical for conservation efforts. Electronic tracking devices have helped scientists track marine animals’ migration patterns, but the devices can be expensive, invasive for the animal and challenging to retrieve.

A pair of nesting adult chinstrap penguins
in the South Shetland Islands,
Antarctic Peninsula.
Photo credit: M. Polito, LSU
Now, scientists have discovered a new and potentially better way to track where penguins go over the winter using forensics. The study was published on 9 August in Biology Letters.

“You can say, penguins ‘are where they eat,’ because a geochemical signature of their wintering area is imprinted into their feathers,” said Louisiana State University (LSU) Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences Assistant Professor Michael Polito, the lead author of the study.

Chinstrap and Adélie penguins are part of the family of “brush-tailed” penguins named after their long, stiff tail feathers. These birds shed all of their feathers after each breeding season and before they migrate to their oceanic wintering grounds. However, their long tail feathers continue to grow well into the winter when penguins are at sea.

09 August 2017

Hundreds of penguin deaths go unreported by the NZ fishing industry

NEW ZEALAND – Hundreds of penguins, including endangered yellow-eyed penguins, are dying in fishing set nets each year, according to conservation organisation Forest & Bird.

Yellow-eyed penguin. Photo credit: Kimberley Collins
Information released under New Zealand's Official Information Act shows that Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) recorded 14 penguin deaths in the year from October 2015 to October 2016, but Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said this is likely to be vastly underreported.

“Thirteen of the 14 deaths were reported by MPI observers, who cover only 3 percent of fishing boats,” Mr Hague said.

“The real number of penguin deaths is likely to be in the hundreds, since the 97% of the fishing fleet that has no observers has reported only one dead penguin.”

08 August 2017

Drug safety for penguins

UNITED KINGDOM – Researchers from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine have determined the most effective drug dose to help penguins in managed care fight off disease.

Aspergillosis is a common respiratory fungal disease in African penguins under managed care. Historically this disease was treated with the antifungal medication itraconazole. Unfortunately, due to drug resistance, this treatment failed.

Recently another antifungal medication, voriconazole, has been used but, due to the dosing being based on other avian medications, this has resulted in the penguins suffering from adverse drug effects.

Drug exposure
Researchers, led by Dr Katharine Stott, sought to determine the safest and most effective dose of voriconazole for African penguins.

13 June 2017

Council frustrated by more dog-related penguin deaths

NEW ZEALAND – Another dog attack in Wellington resulting in the death of two little blue penguins has highlighted the importance of careful supervision of dogs – even in off-leash exercise areas.

The most recent incident occurred in the off-leash exercise area at Houghton Bay beach on Saturday 10 June. This attack closely follows the death of a little blue penguin on Wellington’s waterfront last month.

Both attacks are a stark reminder of the need to keep all dogs on a leash where required, and strictly monitored when not, said Councillor Peter Gilberd, who holds Wellington City Council's Natural Environment Portfolio.