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.

26 April 2019

"Catastrophic" breeding failure at one of world’s largest emperor penguin colonies

ANTARCTICA – Emperor penguins at the Halley Bay colony in the Weddell Sea have failed to raise chicks for the last three years, scientists have discovered.

Adult emperor penguins with chick on the
sea ice close to Halley Research Station on
the Brunt Ice Shelf. Credit: Richard Burt.
Researchers from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) studied very high resolution satellite imagery to reveal the unusual findings, published on 25 April 2019 in the journal Antarctic Science.

Until recently, the Halley Bay colony was the second largest in the world, with the number of breeding pairs varying each year between 14,000–25,000; around 5–9% of the global emperor penguin population.

The failure to raise chicks for three consecutive years is associated with changes in the local sea-ice conditions. Emperor penguins need stable sea-ice on which to breed, and this icy platform must last from April when the birds arrive, until December when their chicks fledge.

For the last 60 years the sea-ice conditions in the Halley Bay site have been stable and reliable. But in 2016, after a period of abnormally stormy weather, the sea-ice broke up in October, well before any emperor chicks would have fledged.

This pattern was repeated in 2017 and again in 2018 and led to the death of almost all the chicks at the site each season.

01 February 2019

Little blue penguins stolen from nest

NEW ZEALAND – The Department of Conservation (DOC) is concerned about the potential smuggling of little blue penguins in Hawkes Bay, after receiving information about the capture and removal of two birds from a burrow at Perfume Point in Napier.

DOC Hawkes Bay Compliance Officer Rod Hansen said they had received information about the late-night raid which happened on 24 January 2019 at 10.30 pm.

He said a woman was observed holding a torch while two men used a crowbar to capture three of the penguins, one of which died in the raid and was left behind.

Two of the penguins were wrapped in towels and taken away by the group who departed in a small white four door car.

21 January 2019

Emperor penguins' first journey to sea

ANTARCTICA – Emperor penguin chicks hatch into one of Earth’s most inhospitable places – the frozen world of Antarctica. Childhood in this environment is harsh and lasts only about five months, when their formerly doting parents leave the fledglings to fend for themselves.

Photo: Vincent Munier
New research by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and colleagues reveals the previously unknown behaviours of juvenile emperor penguins in their critical early months when they leave their birth colony and first learn how to swim, dive and find food.

The paper, published on 17 January 2019 in Marine Ecology Progress Series, also highlights the unique connection between juvenile diving behaviours and a layer of the ocean known as the thermocline, where warmer surface waters meet cooler deep waters below and where their prey likely gather in groups.

07 January 2019

Female penguins are getting stranded along the South American coast

SOUTH AMERICA – Every year, thousands of Magellanic penguins are stranded along the South American coast – from northern Argentina to southern Brazil – 1000 kilometres away from their breeding ground in northern Patagonia. Now researchers have new evidence to explain why the stranded birds are most often female: female penguins venture farther north than males do, where they are apparently more likely to run into trouble. Their findings were reported on 7 January 2019 in Current Biology.

Magellanic penguins,
Photo credit: Takashi Yamamoto
"Anthropogenic threats have been considered to threaten wintering Magellanic penguins along the coasts of northern Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil," said Takashi Yamamoto of the Institute of Statistical Mathematics in Tokyo.

"These include water pollution caused by oil development and marine transport as well as fishery-associated hazards, such as by-catch and depletion of prey species.

"Our results suggest that the northward spatial expansion likely increases the probability to suffer these risks, and particularly so in females."

02 January 2019

Single male Magellanic penguin numbers rising at Punta Tombo

ARGENTINA – Like most of their stout-bodied, flippered kin, Magellanic penguins spend much of their lives in the ocean. From late autumn through winter and into spring in the Southern Hemisphere, these South American penguins swim off the coast of southern Brazil, Uruguay and northern Argentina in search of anchovies, sardines and squid.

A young male Magellanic penguin.
Photo: Natasha Gownaris
But as spring turns to summer, they swim thousands of miles south and congregate in big coastal colonies. There, males and females pair off, breed and attempt to rear one or two newly hatched chicks. One of the largest breeding colonies for Magellanic penguins is at Punta Tombo in Argentina, where University of Washington (UW) biology professor P. Dee Boersma and her team at the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels have studied the penguins since 1982. They have documented a population decline at Punta Tombo of more than 40 percent since 1987, along with a rising male-to-female ratio, and have spent years trying to pinpoint its cause.

In a paper published on 2 January 2019 in the journal Ecological Applications, Boersma and UW postdoctoral researcher Natasha Gownaris report that juvenile females are more likely to die at sea, which has caused a skewed sex ratio of nearly three males to every female, as well as population decline. Their study incorporated more than 30 years of population data collected by UW researchers – including banding and studying individual penguins – into models of population dynamics.

07 November 2018

After a bad winter in the ocean, female Magellanic penguins suffer most, study shows

ARGENTINA – Every autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, Magellanic penguins leave their coastal nesting sites in South America. For adults, their summer task – breeding, or at least trying to – is complete. Newly fledged chicks and adults gradually head out to sea to spend the winter feeding. They won’t return to land until spring.

Adult Magellanic penguin and chicks
Credit: Dee Boersma/Center for Ecosystem Sentinels
Yet life for these birds when they winter offshore is largely a mystery to the scientists who study Magellanic penguins – and who advocate for their conservation amid declining population numbers.

“The winter period is something of a black box for us in terms of understanding Magellanic penguins,” said Ginger Rebstock, a University of Washington (UW) research scientist.

“We know the least amount about this part of their year.”

But research by Rebstock and P. Dee Boersma, a UW professor of biology and founder of the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, is starting to pry open that black box and discover how Magellanic penguins from one nesting site, Punta Tombo in Argentina, fare during the winter months.