30 May 2020

Researchers go cuckoo: Antarctic penguins release an extreme amount of laughing gas

ANTARCTICA – In a new study, University of Copenhagen researchers showed that penguins in Antarctica give out copious amounts of nitrous oxide via their faeces – so much so, that the researchers went "cuckoo" from being surrounded by penguin poo.
On the Atlantic island of South Georgia, king penguins live in huge colonies. They spend their days eating krill, squid and fish, feeding their chicks and producing guano (poo). Nothing mind-boggling about that, you might say.

But there is something very special about the comings and goings of king penguins. The birds release tremendous amounts of nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas, via their guano, according to the 2019 study.

22 January 2020

New Magellanic penguin colony discovered in Argentina

ARGENTINA – Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researchers have announced the discovery of a new colony of Magellanic penguins on a remote island in Argentina.

A Magellanic penguin on Isla de los Estados.
Credit: Ulises Balza. 
The penguins were found on the eastern side of Isla de los Estados off the eastern tip of Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost end of the South American continent.

Researchers made the discovery while surveying a known colony of rockhopper penguins that they had been tracking by remote cameras for two years.

When the researchers eventually accessed an unexplored area of the rockhopper colony, they discovered the telltale nesting burrows of Magellanic penguins hidden in tall grasses.

15 December 2019

Study reveals whaling and climate change led to 100 years of feast or famine for Antarctic penguins

ANTARCTICA – New research reveals how penguins have dealt with more than a century of human impacts in Antarctica and why some species are winners or losers in this rapidly changing ecosystem.

A chinstrap penguin standing on snow near a
breeding colony along the Antarctic Peninsula.
Credit: Michael Polito © Louisiana State University
Michael Polito, assistant professor in Louisiana State University’s (LSU's) Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences and his co-authors published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Although remote, Antarctica has a long history of human impacts on its ecosystems and animals. By the early to mid-1900s, humans had hunted many of its seals and whales nearly to extinction. Seal and whale populations are now recovering, but decades of climate change and a growing commercial fishing industry have further degraded the environment,” Polito said.

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.