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.

11 June 2017

Finding new homes won't help emperor penguins cope with climate change

ANTARCTICA – If projections for melting Antarctic sea ice through 2100 are correct, the vanishing landscape will strip emperor penguins of their breeding and feeding grounds and put populations at risk. But like other species that migrate to escape the wrath of climate change, can these iconic animals be spared simply by moving to new locations?

Stephanie Jenouvrier with young emperor penguins.
Photo credit: Stephanie Jenouvrier,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
According to new research led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), they cannot. Scientists report that dispersal may help sustain global emperor penguin populations for a limited time, but, as sea ice conditions continue to deteriorate, the 54 colonies that exist today will face devastating declines by the end of this century. They say the emperor penguin should be listed as an endangered species. The study was recently published in the journal Biological Conservation.

“We know from previous studies that sea ice is a key environmental driver of the life history of emperor penguins, and that the fifty-percent declines we’ve seen in Pointe Géologie populations along the Antarctic coast since the 1950s coincide with warmer climate and sea ice decline,” said Stephanie Jenouvrier, WHOI biologist and lead author of the study.

23 May 2017

Researchers say mainland yellow-eyed penguins face extinction unless urgent action taken

NEW ZEALAND – In a newly published study in the international journal PeerJ, scientists have modelled factors driving mainland yellow-eyed penguin population decline and are calling for action to reduce regional threats.

Photo credit: Dr Thomas Mattern
According to the researchers' prediction models, breeding success of the penguins will continue to decline to extinction by 2060 largely due to rising ocean temperatures. But these predictions also point to where our conservation efforts could be most effective in building penguins' resilience against climate change.

The yellow-eyed penguin, classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is a key attraction for New Zealand tourism. Yet, the chances of seeing the penguins in the wild are quietly slipping away, the new research suggests.

Lead study author Dr Thomas Mattern of the University of Otago said his team's predictions are conservative estimates and do not include additional adult die-off events such as the one seen in 2013 in which more than 60 penguins died.