12 November 2019

Without Paris Accord, emperor penguins are in dire straits

ANTARCTICA – Unless climate change is slowed, emperor penguins will be marching towards extinction, according to a newly published study co-authored by a University of Canterbury (UC) scientist.

“Basically, if we don’t hit the Paris Accord emissions goals, emperor penguins are in deep trouble,” said paper co-author UC scientist Dr Michelle LaRue, a Lecturer of Antarctic Marine Science in the School of Earth and Environment.

Emperor penguins are some of the most striking and charismatic animals on Earth, but a new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the United States has found that climate change may render them extinct by the end of this century. The study, which was part of an international collaboration between scientists, was published on 7 November in the journal Global Change Biology.

11 November 2019

Hey! Ho! Hoiho! Yellow-eyed penguin crowned NZ Bird of the Year for 2019

NEW ZEALAND – Widely considered an underdog, the valiant hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin) has smashed the feathered ceiling to win Bird of the Year, a first for seabirds in the competition's 14-year history.

For much of the two-week voting period in Forest & Bird's annual competition, the hoiho was neck and neck with the iconic kākāpō, only managing to edge ahead in the final few days.

"It was so close between these two amazing endangered birds, it was impossible to predict a winner for most of the competition," said Forest & Bird spokesperson Megan Hubscher.

12 October 2019

Study recommends special protection of emperor penguins

ANTARCTICA – In a new study published in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers recommends the need for additional measures to protect and conserve one of the most iconic Antarctic species – the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Adult emperor penguins with chick
on the sea ice close to Halley Research
Station on the Brunt Ice Shelf.
Photo credit: British Antarctic Survey
The researchers reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology. Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will negatively impact the sea ice on which emperor penguins breed. Some studies indicate that emperor populations will decrease by more than 50% over the current century.

The researchers therefore recommend that the species be escalated to ‘vulnerable’ from its current status as ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They conclude that improvements in climate change forecasting in relation to impacts on Antarctic wildlife would be beneficial, and recommend that the emperor penguin should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a Specially Protected Species.

14 August 2019

Another monster prehistoric penguin find in New Zealand

NEW ZEALAND – A new species of giant penguin – about 1.6 metres tall – has been identified from fossils found in Waipara, North Canterbury.

The discovery of Crossvallia waiparensis, a monster penguin from the Paleocene Epoch (between 66 and 56 million years ago), adds to the list of gigantic, but extinct, New Zealand fauna. These include the world’s largest parrot, a giant eagle, giant burrowing bat, the moa and other giant penguins.

C. waiparensis is one of the world’s oldest known penguin species and also one of the largest – taller even than today’s 1.2 metre emperor penguin – and weighing up to 70 to 80 kg.

11 August 2019

Plan to reverse precarious position of yellow-eyed penguin

NEW ZEALAND – Government, iwi and a community organisation have banded together to turn around the fortunes of the nationally endangered hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin, which recently suffered a series of poor breeding seasons.

At the annual hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin symposium in Dunedin on 3 August, the Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage announced Te Kaweka Takohaka mō te Hoiho/Yellow-eyed Penguin Recovery Strategy. It is a draft strategy to restore hoiho populations in the face of pressures from human activities, climate change and predators, alongside a supporting action plan.

24 May 2019

African penguin research project begins at Boulders Penguin Colony

SOUTH AFRICA – In the last week of May, a much-anticipated research project will start at Boulders Penguin Colony in Simonstown. The African penguin movement ecology research project will take place over the penguins' breeding season from May to September 2019.

“The study is being led by the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology from the University of Cape Town and SANCCOB. The partnership will see a collaboration between these two organisations and South African National Parks – Cape Research Centre to conduct the study,” said Dr Alison Kock, Marine Biologist: Cape Research Centre.

21 May 2019

Penguins and their chicks’ responses to local fish numbers informs marine conservation

SOUTH AFRICA – How adult penguins fish and the body condition of their chicks are directly linked to local fish abundance, and could potentially inform fishery management, a new study has found.

African penguin adult at the edge of the colony
on Robben Island, South Africa.
Photo credit: R.B. Sherley
The researchers studied an endangered African penguin colony during a rare three-year closure of commercial fisheries around Robben Island, South Africa, and their findings were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Fishing is often considered to be one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss in the ocean. It is so widespread that we lack an understanding of the ‘natural’ relationships between marine predators and their prey, and thus the extent to which predators are disrupted by competition from fisheries.

This is a critical knowledge gap since many marine predators such as penguins are considered indicator species: a species whose success indicates the condition of their habitat.