19 December 2011

It's the beats that count: how emperor penguins decide to surface

Emperor penguins.
Photo credit: sandwichgirl.
Some rights reserved.
ANTARCTICA - When emperor penguins are underwater, how do they decide when to stop feeding and return to the surface to breathe?

According to a study published recently in The Journal of Experimental Biology, when they ascend to the surface is determined by how many times they flap their wings.

Kozue Shiomi and colleagues from the University of Tokyo, Japan, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, analysed the dive profiles of emperor penguins and found that the birds used on average 237 wing beats before embarking on their return.

The scientsts suggest that the penguins' decision to return to the surface was constrained not by how much time they are underwater, but how much power their muscles can produce after every pre-dive breath. 

Penguins time dives by wing beat by Kathryn Knight, Inside JEB, The Journal of Experimental Biology
How penguins "time" a deep dive, 8 December 2011, BBC News

Journal of Experimental Biology citation
Shiomi, K., Sato, K. and Ponganis, P.J. (2012). Point of no return in diving emperor penguins: is decision to return time limited by the number of strokes? J. Exp. Biol. 215, 135-140.

14 December 2011

Buddy and Pedro move on to make moves on the ladies

CANADA - It looks like the "bromance" is over. Buddy and Pedro, the same-sex penguin couple who made headlines worldwide when Toronto Zoo decided to separate them for an African penguin breeding program, have rediscovered females.

The more experienced Buddy, who was in a relationship with a female penguin for over 10 years and has fathered chicks before, obviously remembered what women want. Less than three days after the zoo separated him and Pedro, he had paired up with female Farai.

The younger Pedro, who has yet to be a dad, has been trying to get the attention of Thandiwey, another female, but so far his advances have been rejected.

Tom Mason, the zoo's curator of birds and invertebrates, told the media that both Buddy and Pedro would probably end up settling with females as their relationship had been social rather than sexual.

Read previous post: Caught in a lad romance

Toronto's "gay" penguins split as one mates with female, 13 December 2011, BBC News
Toronto Zoo's "gay" penguins split as Buddy finds a female mate, 13 December 2011, The Metro

Penguins' past may reveal how they will cope with climate change

Adelie penguins.
Photo credit: Mike Martoccia.
Some rights reserved.
ANTARCTICA - Scientists from New Zealand's University of Auckland and Italy's University of Pisa are in Antarctica to search for clues about Adelie penguins' evolutionary past, and what this shows about how they will respond to climate change.

The team will spend a month collecting samples from two penguin rookeries, digging through layers of accumulated bones, eggshells, feathers, nests, and guano to gather DNA from long-dead penguins.

Professor Carlo Baroni, professor of geomorphology at the University of Pisa, told the NZ Herald that penguins lived in the coldest environment on earth and if the temperature warmed, they couldn't migrate to a colder climate.

"If global warming increases and affects the Antarctic regions, penguins have no other place to go, so they must adapt or die," he said.

Auckland University's Yvette Wharton said, "As we are getting climate change occurring there is going to be quite a specific effect on [Adelie penguins'] potential ecological niche. We're squishing them."

She said they would learn of past climatic changes, how the colony sizes had changed, and how the penguins had evolved to meet these new conditions.

Antarctic study digs for clues to penguin past by James Borrowdale, 14 December 2011, NZ Herald

13 December 2011

Same-sex penguin couple given chick to raise

CHINA - A pair of male gentoo penguins at Harbin Polar Land have been given a chick to raise as their own.

Keepers decided to give the same-sex couple, 0310 and 067, the chick after noticing that a penguin mother who had recently hatched twins seemed to be struggling.

As penguin parents equally share in the responsibility of incubating and raising chicks, keepers are confident that two males will do a good job. Penguin males have a natural instinct for parenting. In fact, 0310 and 067 have got into trouble in the past for trying to steal eggs from other couples in order to incubate them.

Read related post: Caught in a lad romance

'Gay' penguins given baby chick to parent in China by Alex Pielak, 5 December 2011, The Metro
Gay penguin pair adopt a baby chick in China by Erin Skarda, 7 December 2011, Time Newsfeed

Emperor penguins need Endangered Species Act protection says wildlife organisation

Emperor penguin (public domain photo)
USA -  The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a legal petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for emperor penguins threatened by global warming. The Center says that emperors are the most ice-dependent of all penguin species, threatened by the loss of their sea-ice habitat as well as declining food availability wrought by the warming ocean off Antarctica. Their populations are declining because of global warming; some colonies have entirely disappeared.

“The sea-ice habitat that emperor penguins need to survive is melting beneath their feet,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “It’s great to see movies like Happy Feet Two bringing the plight of emperor penguins to people around the world. But in reality, there’s no happy Hollywood ending for these penguins unless we take real action to address the global climate crisis.” 

Emperor penguins need sea ice for breeding and foraging. The petition highlights the serious problems of melting sea ice and other warming-driven changes in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Areas of Antarctica are experiencing dramatic warming, leading to loss of sea ice as well as the collapse of ice sheets.

In 2006, the Center filed a petition to list 12 penguin species as threatened or endangered. The US Department of the Interior conducted status reviews for 10 of those species. After delays and ultimately a court order, the agency protected seven species but denied protection for the remaining ones, including the emperor. This petition presents new scientific information demonstrating that emperor penguins are imperiled.

“Emperor penguins are icons of wild Antarctica,” said Sakashita. “And protecting them under the Endangered Species Act is essential to their survival.”

Listing under the Endangered Species Act would provide broad protection to these penguins, including a requirement that federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorised or funded by the U.S. government will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of the penguin species. For example, if penguins are listed, future approval of fishing permits for US-flagged vessels operating on the high seas would require analysis and minimisation of impacts on the listed penguins. The Act also has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas pollution by compelling federal agencies to look at the impact of the emissions generated by their activities on listed species.

Read previous post: Endangered Species Act protection for southern rockhoppers 

Endangered Species Act protection sought for emperor penguins, 28 November 2011, Center for Biological Diversity

12 December 2011

High praise for wildlife response team as penguins released

The first batch of cleaned penguins is released back
into the wild at Mt Maunganui.
Photo credit: Maritime New Zealand.
NEW ZEALAND - Over 100 clean little blue penguins rescued from the Rena oil spill have been returned to their normal nesting grounds in a series of staged releases by the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team (NOWRT).

The first 49 penguins were released on 22 November, in what was described by Maritime New Zealand as a "major milestone" in the ongoing oil spill response to the Rena grounding.

At the time of their release, Environment Minister Nick Smith said, "It is a heart-warming experience after the devastating scene of oiled and dead birds to see these healthy penguins returning to their natural habitat."

"The wildlife response to this disaster has been first class ... Their efforts have saved hundreds of birds from an ugly death and ensured we have the base breeding stock for the populations of penguins, shags, petrels and dotterels to recover.

"I want to acknowledge the efforts of Maritime New Zealand, Department of Conservation, iwi, New Zealand Defence Force, and the thousands of volunteers who recovered oiled birds and cleaned up the beaches and coast to enable these birds to return to their natural habitat."

Director of Maritime New Zealand, Catherine Taylor, praised the NOWRT for their contribution to the overall oil spill response.

Ms Taylor said the NOWRT, which is trained, managed and coordinated by specialists at Massey University and includes other wildlife specialists and coordinators from the regions, had mobilised within hours of Rena grounding on 5 October.

The team had very quickly established a facility for treating and housing the animals and Ms Taylor said that they had been "working tirelessly" since then to collect and care for the animals affected by this spill.

Ms Taylor also said a large number of other agencies and individuals, such as Department of Conservation personnel, had been integral to the overall effectiveness of the response and the team has also been supported by wildlife specialists from around New Zealand and Australia, as well as US-based specialists from the conservation group International Bird Rescue and Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

NOWRT coordinator Kerri Morgan echoed Ms Taylor’s gratitude for the support the team had received.

“This has truly been a team effort. We have had support from all over the country, and from our international colleagues. We have had an outstanding level of support from the local community. We’ve had so many people give up their time to help us care for the animals.

“Also, beyond the wildlife team, it’s important to recognise that every person who has contributed to the oil spill response has also played a part in the release today.

“The oil spill response teams have been working for weeks now to get the beaches to a standard safe to return the animals into – we also have to thank the salvors, the volunteers and the New Zealand Defence Force.”

Miss Morgan said the released birds had been microchipped and would be monitored to see whether the spill affects their long-term health.

For future research, the NOWRT had searched the local area and checked and microchipped the unoiled penguins they found so they can also be monitored. The birds provide an opportunity to study two populations of penguins over the next few years – those that have been rehabilitated and released, and those unaffected by oil.

“We will be able to follow them to see what happens to breeding patterns and other factors.”

As of 9 December, there were 190 penguins still being housed at the Wildlife Centre, as well as 12 dotterels. The NOWRT will continue to release the birds in stages over the coming weeks as their habitats are cleaned up and after they pass pre-release assessments.

Rena update #129, 9 December 2011, Maritime New Zealand
Rena update #116, 28 November 2011, Maritime New Zealand
Rena update #107, 22 November 2011, Maritime New Zealand
Penguin release milestone in Rena recovery, 22 November 2011, Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment

05 December 2011

Rescued penguins find new home in San Francisco

USA - The adventure isn't over for six Magellanic penguins who washed up weak and malnourished on the Brazilian coast.

In February, twenty rescued birds who were deemed too weak to survive in the wild were sent to the USA to Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Now six of those penguins have been donated to San Francisco Zoo, where they bring the number of penguins to 51 - the largest collection of Magellanic penguins at any zoo or aquarium in the world.

Read previous posts:
Rescued penguins to join flock at San Francisco Zoo by Stephanie Lee, 2 November 2011, SF Gate
San Francisco Zoo receives six Magellanic penguins (photos) by Carly Schwartz, 11 November 2011, The Huffington Post

22 November 2011

The mystery of the Mystery Bay penguin head

AUSTRALIA - The somewhat gruesome discovery of a severed, decayed penguin head on a beach at, fittingly, Mystery Bay in Narooma, New South Wales, has led to a ... well, mystery.

After Christina Potts and Mandy Anderson found the crested penguin head, the two Coastcare volunteers turned detective to try to find out which species of penguin it belongs to and how it ended up in Mystery Bay.

Each of the experts they have contacted so far has tentatively identified the head as that of a Fiordland penguin, a species that lives on New Zealand's South Island and Stewart Island. These penguins are rare visitors to Australia; if they do make the trans-Tasman trip, it's usually because of a severe weather event.

Another possibility is that it is a Snares penguin, a species which is endemic to the Snares Islands, a subantarctic island group off the coast of New Zealand.

Investigations continue, but the ultimate plan is for the penguin's remains to join the avian collection at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

A penguin mystery for Mystery Bay at Narooma, Narooma News, 16 November 2011

Penguins rescued from Rena to be released

NEW ZEALAND - Maritime New Zealand has announced that some of the cleaned little penguins and other birds rescued from Rena oil spill will be returned home in a staged release starting this week.

National Oiled Wildlife Response Team Coordinator Kerri Morgan said birds would only be released after assessment of both the individual animals and their habitats.

Each individual bird would undergo blood tests and other veterinarian checks to ensure it was ready for release.

All penguins would also have to pass the “six hour test” where they swim for six hours without a break before being assessed to ensure their waterproofing was returned.

“The oil coats the birds’ feathers, which are designed to act as a waterproof coat. After the birds are washed, they preen themselves and that helps the feathers regain their waterproofing,” Miss Morgan said.

Birds that have been given the clean bill of health for release also have to be re-introduced to salt water.
The pools the birds had been swimming in were fresh water, but to get the animals ready to return to the sea, salt was introduced into their pools over several days until they were swimming in water with the same salinity as the sea.

The habitats that the birds are released into have been carefully checked to ensure they are ready to receive wildlife. Penguins and dotterels are territorial and will return to the habitat they came from.

“It’s important that we’ve removed as much oil as possible from their habitats before they are released.

“Each bird has been micro-chipped and the location they were found in noted – we will be releasing all the birds back to the habitat they came from,” Miss Morgan said.

“We have been going out with the oil spill response teams for the past week or so to check that the places we want to return them to are ready.”

Miss Morgan said although the risk of a further spill of the residual oil on board Rena was still there, this risk had to be balanced against the risk of keeping the birds in captivity for too long.

“These are wild animals and they belong in the wild. We know there is still a chance that more oil may spill from Rena – but we don’t know when and we don’t know where that might wash up.

“We can’t keep wild birds in captivity for an indefinite period of time without running the risk of disease or injury.”

Miss Morgan said the first 60 penguins would be released tomorrow and it was hoped more would be released later in the week.

“We still have birds that need to finish waterproofing, so the release programme will take a while yet.”
The wildlife facility at Te Maunga would slowly be dismantled as the cleaned birds moved through the washing, re-waterproofing and salt water process and became ready for release.

“We will maintain a few permanent structures there until Rena is off the reef and there is no longer any risk of an oil spill from the wreck,” Miss Morgan said.

“That way, we will be ready to rebuild the facility and mount a response if needed.”

Rena update #105, 21 November 2011, Maritime New Zealand

Wildlife ICU keeps penguins in top shape

NEW ZEALAND - Most of the more than 400 birds rescued from the Rena oil spill and being looked after at the oiled wildlife facility in Te Maunga are now in good health, but a small number require ongoing veterinary care in the intensive care unit.

Massey University wildlife veterinarian Micah Jensen said there are eight little blue penguins in the unit that have a range of ailments.

“There are birds that have picked up respiratory infections, one with a cloacal prolapse, another has a corneal ulcer,” Ms Jensen said.

Birds in the unit are monitored closely. “We give them all checks every morning and evening,” she said. “They get excellent intensive care, as we are around the patients all day long.”

Ms Jensen, who is one of four wildlife veterinarians in Massey’s resident programme, said the experience at the facility is invaluable.

“As a wildlife vet resident it is intensely rewarding to do this kind of work,” she said.

“The penguins are adorable, they are very full of character and are really nice to work with. Each one is quite individual and they are really personable, spirited and vocal. They let you know if you’re doing something they don’t like, there’s no grey area.”

The vast majority of birds in the ICU are getting better, she said.

“We are picking up problems at the beginning so are able to treat them early, which really helps. These birds are lucky to have skilled, observant people around them.

“It’s a great feeling when a penguin is well enough to graduate to the outdoor aviaries.”

Wildlife ICU keeps penguins in top shape, 14 November 2011, Massey University

21 November 2011

Caught in a lad romance

African penguins at Toronto Zoo.
Photo credit: William Pitcher
Some rights reserved
CANADA - Toronto Zoo's answer to Central Park Zoo's Roy and Silo may cause just as much controversy as the famous New York penguin couple.

Male African penguins Buddy and Pedro are part of Toronto Zoo's 12-strong penguin exhibit that opened in May this year. They caused a media stir when the zoo announced this month that they were showing signs of a "pair bonding" relationship - that is, courtship and mating behaviour like a male-female pair - but would have to be separated for breeding purposes.

Toronto Zoo is part of the Species Survival Plan for the endangered African penguin, so Buddy and Pedro are supposed to mate with females - not each other - and make penguin chicks.

Pedro is 10 years old; Buddy is 20 and has previously mated with a female. Being two of the zoo's six male penguins, both are considered important breeding material.

The zoo may have thought its plan to separate the birds sounded quite sensible - but the public outcry was immediate. Online petitions and surveys all had the same message: Don't split up Buddy and Pedro!

In response, the zoo's curator of invertebrates and birds, Tom Mason, told PinkNews.co.uk that although it would be "necessary" to separate the penguin pair if they showed no signs of mating with females, it will be "only temporary".

“There will be a limited time of separation but it will not be permanent. No matter what happens all the penguins will be re-united by spring," Mr Mason said.

“If Pedro and Buddy wish to get back together, they will be welcome to do so.”

Meanwhile in the Southern Hemisphere an Aussie same-sex penguin couple is out, proud and allowed to live together.

Little penguins Brendan and Andy at Pet Porpoise Pool in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales have been sharing the same burrow for the past 12 months.

Marketing managing Angela Van den Bosch told The Coffs Coast Advocate, "The team is very supportive of their wish to live together as they are genuinely caring of each other."

"Brendan has taken on the responsibility of building the nest and renovating their hutch to make it a home. While Andy is the provider, and in the past fathered chicks with a few of the females, it is apparent he has now decided that he prefers the company of Brendan."

Perhaps this time next year, Buddy and Pedro may have the same love story to tell.

Toronto Zoo says it will reunite "gay" penguins in the spring by Kathleen Jercich, 16 November 2011, Care2.com
Canada's gay penguins to be "reunited by spring" by Stephen Gray, 11 November 2011, PinkNews.co.uk
Same-sex penguin pair fascinates zookeepers by Donovan Vincent, 4 November 2011, Toronto Star
The perfect pair of penguins, 28 October 2011, The Coffs Coast Advocate

19 November 2011

Life's looking up for penguins Split, Apple and Rock

NEW ZEALAND - A little penguin family who lost their dad to a dog attack is doing well thanks to dedicated humans and a dedicated penguin mum.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry veterinarian Mana Stratton and her mother Frances have been looking after the three penguins after a dog attack at Split Apple, near Kaiteriteri on the South Island, robbed the chicks of a parent and the female adult of a critical mate in October, the Nelson Mail reported.

The chicks and their dead father were found by a family, who reported the attack to the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Tasman District Council. Once the mother returned to the nest, the penguins were brought to DOC, who took them to Ms Stratton. Penguin chicks need both parents to raise them, so the mother needed help if the chicks were to survive.

The family who rescued the penguins have visited them and the children named the birds Split, Apple and Rock.

"Rock is the adult penguin as she is the 'rock' in the chick's life," Miss Stratton told the Nelson Mail.

Ms Stratton's aim has been to give Rock enough food that she can feed Split and Apple normally by regurgitation. Rock has been such a good mum that the chicks now weight more than her, and Ms Stratton said she will need to gain more weight before she is released.

The Tasman District Council has since identified the dogs responsible for the attack. Regulatory manager Adrian Humphries told the Nelson Mail that steps had been taken to ensure it didn't happen again. The dogs' owner was horrified and had given a donation to a penguin welfare fund.

Rescued penguins blossom by Tracy Neal, Nelson Mail, 16 November 2011
Vet battles for penguins' survival by Tracy Neal, Nelson Mail, 27 October 2011

07 November 2011

Lucky finds Halloween a perfect fit

Lucky wearing a custom-made
shoe. Photo credit: Sheri Horiszny/
Santa Barbara Zoo
USA - Just in time for Halloween, Lucky the Humboldt penguin from Santa Barbara Zoo has been given new, spooky, shoes.

Sporting orange and black color schemes, his new shoes feature a spooky jack-o’-lantern face inside shoe manufacturer Teva’s distinctive “hand” logo.

Lucky has an impaired foot and was given custom-made shoes designed by the adventure footwear company in May to help him get around.

“We couldn’t be happier to watch as Lucky adjusts to his healthier and happier life with his new shoe,” Teva public relations manager Jaime Eschette said.

“It’s only fitting to celebrate with his first Halloween shoe to get him in the spirit for the holidays.”
Eschette said that Thanksgiving and other holiday shoes are also on the drawing board at Teva.

“These shoes may have saved Lucky’s life,” zoo CEO Rich Block said. “Now he can, jump and swim like any other penguin, albeit a very stylish one. He’s become a favorite of our guests and our staff."

Santa Barbara Zoo's Lucky the penguin fitted with Halloween shoe by Julia McHugh for the Santa Barbara Zoo, 31 October 2011, Noozhawk

Read related article: There was a young penguin who needed a shoe

Eco the dog: penguin protection weapon

AUSTRALIA - The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is unleashing a new secret weapon that will assist in monitoring and protecting the last remaining little penguin colony on mainland NSW: an English springer spaniel named Eco.

NPWS Regional Manager Gary Dunnett said Eco is the first dedicated penguin, fox and cat sniffer dog in Australia. At the end of October she started working at Sydney’s North Head.

“One of the challenging things about monitoring the little penguin population is determining the exact size of the colony and most importantly the breeding pairs,” Mr Dunnett explained.

He said Eco will be helping NPWS Rangers to search out hidden and remote penguin burrows so they can monitor the colony’s breeding population and where they are nesting.

“This will allow us to monitor the chicks, get a better handle on whether the population is stable and help us plan the most effective pest programs like fox and dog controls.

“Little penguins are notoriously secretive - leaving for their fishing expeditions on night fall and returning in the pre-dawn light."

Mr Dunnett said that Eco will be used to try to find nests not previously known about, allowing the NPWS to monitor any adults and chicks and also to map where they are nesting against where the currently protected areas are.

One of the greatest threats facing Manly's little penguin colony are foxes and domestic dogs. Eco has been given hours of rigorous testing to ensure she will not harm the penguins once she locates them.

“All dogs have certain natural instincts that make them dangerous to wildlife and it takes long and arduous training to ensure they are suitable for this type of work in just the same way that guide dogs or police dogs are meticulously trained,” Mr Dunnett said.

“When Eco is working in national parks she wears a high-visibility coat that identifies her as having special permission to be there and that she is working for conservation purposes,” he said.

Monitoring the Manly colony is only possible during the breeding season and at the site of their nests, as once in the water outside of the breeding season the penguins can travel incredible distances.

Eco is also a trained fox and cat detection dog so with a word from her owner and handler Lisa O’Neill, she can swap from sniffing out penguins to tracking down one of their main predators.

Eco was trained by Steve Austin, whose detection dogs have been used with great success in the past couple of years to detect foxes at North Head to protect the little penguins and the long-nosed bandicoots.

“Eco is happiest when she is working – the hardest part is getting her to rest,” Mr Austin said.

“She can cover a stretch of a kilometre in about 40 minutes when looking for penguins, and about 500m2 an hour when looking for foxes. This is, of course, governed by the terrain.

Mr Austin rates Eco as one of the best dogs he has ever trained in terms of her ability and enthusiasm.

“In one hour, she can cover an area that would take 10 people four hours to cover,” he said.

Secret weapon unleashed at North Head for penguin protection, NPWS, 31 October 2011

03 November 2011

Gentoo pops in for a brief NZ break

NEW ZEALAND - Happy Feet must be spreading the word around Antarctica that New Zealand is a good place to visit.

A gentoo penguin, usually found on the subantarctic islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, recently turned up on a North Otago beach. To the delight of locals, the bird didn't seem bothered by humans.

However, unlike Happy Feet, the gentoo left the beach the same day it arrived (and, I assume, didn't eat any sand).

According to bird watcher Paul Mutch, whose wife first spotted this penguin, a gentoo was sighted on the Otago coast at Warrington about 40 years ago, only the fifth sighting since 1905.

Rare penguin appearance quite something by Rebecca Fox, Otago Daily Times, 27 October 2011

Penguins used to monitor ocean health

AUSTRALIA - A colony of little penguins on Mistaken Island near Albany, Western Australia, is being used to monitor the health of the ocean in light of a substantial dredging program that is due to commence in Albany Harbour early next year.

The citizen science project, led by the WA Conservation Council, gathered some initial data in mid-October and will continue through the before, during and after phases of the dredging program.

Penguins to help monitor health of King George Sound by Andrew Collins, ABC News, 19 October 2011

Penguin counting on the peninsula

NEW ZEALAND - Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust staff and volunteers have spent the past week searching for nesting penguins in the Trust's reserves on the Otago Peninsula.

Knowing where the penguins were nesting enabled the trust to monitor the health of the population.

Playing hide and seek with yellow-eyed penguins by Rebecca Fox, Otago Daily Times, 15 October 2011

Crowd control for St Kilda's penguins

AUSTRALIA - Little penguins at St Kilda Pier will get extra protection this summer with a new gate that will help control visitor numbers.

Kept open during the day, the gate will be used only at dusk to muster the crowds so they are allowed on to the breakwater in smaller numbers.

Earthcare St Kilda president Kim Cowie said minimising the impact of visitors on the penguin colony was crucial as each year the crowds get bigger.

New gate to protect penguins without pier at St Kilda by Sally Spalding, Port Phillip Leader, 5 October 2011

Little penguin colony very little indeed

AUSTRALIA - Manly's penguin wardens say that only one breeding pair of little penguins remain in Manly Cove West from the colony that moved there 20 years ago. The good news is that Mr Stickybeak and his partner do have a nest of eggs.

Dogs and boats have taken their toll, say the penguin wardens. Conservationists tried to get dogs banned from the area but a lobby by dog walkers meant they could still use the area with leashes.  

The Stickybeaks are believed to be among some 60 pairs in the wider Manly area, the only mainland population in NSW. 

Unhappy feet: is the harbour a fairytale ending? by Tim Barlass, Launceston Times, 25 September 2011

Volunteers need to educate penguin seekers

NEW ZEALAND - Waitaki Tourism Association is calling for volunteers to help educate visitors about how to treat little penguins and other wildlife around Oamaru Harbour.

The initiative follows increasing feedback from visitors to the Oamaru Penguin Colony who, as they leave the colony, see other people outside who are chasing or blocking birds trying to reach their nests.

Penguin-minders to educate visitors by David Bruce, Otago Daily Times, 17 September 2011

Penguin chicks found mauled to death

AUSTRALIA - Fifteen dead little penguin chicks have been found near the Kingscote breeding colony on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

The Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board (KINRMB) said that as penguins only fledge between two to four chicks per year, this will have a devastating impact on this section of Kingscote’s colony.

It is thought the chicks were mauled by a dog or a cat. There was a similar attack in the same area just over a year ago.

Motion cameras set up in some of Kingcote's colonies as part of a project aimed at identifying some of the management issues associated with colonies in Gulf St Vincent have detected feral and domestic cats and several dogs sniffing around penguin burrows. On at least two occasions the cameras have captured footage of a domestic cat attacking penguin chicks.

The Natural Resources Management Board said it will continue to investigate and  hopefully identify the culprit responsible for these latest deaths.

A little penguin census will be underway soon, with counting of the birds being done at four locations on the island.

Catastrophe for chicks, The Kangaroo Islander, 6 October 2011
Penguin chicks killed on Kangaroo Island, ABC News, 7 October 2011

Penguin parents abandon bald chick

CHINA - An emperor penguin chick born without feathers at the LHT Pole Aquarium was abandoned by its parents just days after its birth. But thanks to the efforts of keepers at the aquarium in the Lianoning Province, it has been accepted back into the family. The keepers decided that the chick's lack of feathers and weak condition were due to difficulties digesting food and absorbing nutrition. After a month of round-the-clock care, the chick was much stronger and grew feathers, and was then reintroduced to the family group.

Bald baby penguin abandoned by parents, AOL Travel, 21 September 2011

One of Manly's penguins killed by dog

AUSTRALIA - Hidden cameras will be placed at North Head in Manly, New South Wales, after a dog killed a little penguin in late August. A Taronga Zoo autopsy showed a small dog killed the penguin. The tagged 13-year-old male was was part of a breeding pair at North Head.

Penguin killed by a dog at North Head, Manly Dail, 2 September 2011 

Penguin decides to cruise

NEW ZEALAND - Tour company Real Journeys tells passengers on their Doubtful Sound cruise there is a chance they might catch a glimpse of a rare Fiordland penguin, but I bet they didn't expect to see one of the actual boat!

The unusual tourist, nicknamed Larry (as in "happy as ..."), was spotted by a passenger aboard the Navigator, waiting at the top of the steps to be let through the gates onto the cruise boat.

A Real Journeys spokeswoman said that the Navigator crew had seen 23 Fiordland penguins on Seymour Island, showing that predator control is working.

Penguin hitches a ride, Otago Daily Times, 28 October 2011

26 October 2011

Builders racing to finish housing for hundreds of rescued penguins

NEW ZEALAND - A new enclosure for little blue penguins at the Wildlife Response Centre at Te Maunga is well on its way to completion. It was planned that three of the 10 planned aviaries would be complete by the afternoon of 25 October.

Each aviary can house up to approximately 25 penguins, and has an indoor pool and communal areas for the penguins to preen, feed and swim.

Oiled Wildlife Response Manager Kerri Morgan said it was important to monitor the penguin’s health and condition, especially at feeding times.

“Correct feeding is a critical part of the rehabilitation process and our staff take great care when feeding the penguins.

“We use either sprats or anchovies and need to ensure that none of the natural oils from the fish get on the birds’ feathers as this can damage their natural waterproofing. The penguins are all doing really well and have a great fighting spirit,” said Ms Morgan.

“We have 314 penguins in our care and the enclosures will be able to house them more comfortably long term. It is too early at the moment to say when they can be released, but we want to ensure all the penguins are healthy and well nourished before this takes place.”

The penguins get fed twice a day and eat five to seven fish per feeding. They also have one swim a day. This lets them condition and preen their feathers, which is crucial to their re-waterproofing.

In total the centre now has 379 live birds in its care, including 108 oiled penguins and 206 clean penguins. There are also New Zealand dotterels, pied shags, a shearwater and a tern, which are also clean.

The total number of dead birds as at 6pm 24 October is 1,370. Post-mortems are being carried out on the birds to determine if oiling is the cause of death.

Rena update #51, 25 October 2011, Maritime NZ

Littlest of little blue penguins at greatest risk

NEW ZEALAND - There is no 'good' time for an oil spill to happen. But for the little blue penguins of Mount Maunganui this is breeding season, and the timing of the Rena oil spill in the Bay of Plenty could not have been much worse.

Locals put the number of breeding pairs of little blue penguins in this area at around 200 to 300; and the population now has the full attention of a team from Maritime New Zealand's National Oiled Wildlife Recovery unit, monitoring their burrows daily to help the birds survive this environmental disaster.

Whilst these nocturnal penguins may not appreciate such close attention as they incubate their eggs, the monitoring is critical. The penguins come ashore during the evening to find their burrows, and many are becoming oiled crossing rocks covered in thick tar-like oil.

"If a penguin becomes oiled and tries to preen itself, it can swallow the oil and become very sick. If we find a bird that is heavily oiled, we collect it and take it back to the wildlife recovery centre to be cleaned and rehabilitated," explained WWF-New Zealand Marine Programme Manager Rebecca Bird, one of 140 field staff working as part of Maritime New Zealand's oiled wildlife recovery efforts.

Around 120 little blue penguins have been rescued from the mount so far, and their chances of survival are comparatively good - penguins are some of the most resilient birds in recovering from oil spills. But Rebecca and the team are facing a tough choice - removing an oiled bird will give it a chance of survival, but its clutch is unlikely to survive.

"We checked on the pair of little blue penguins in the 'window nest' a couple of nights ago, and the mate was oiled so we had to take him away to the recovery centre to be looked after. Then the next night we found the other penguin was oiled and had to take her away. We hope that the birds we recover will be rehabilitated successfully, but it's heartbreaking to know that saving them means their clutch won't be reared," said Rebecca.

In an effort to save the clutch, the team placed the eggs with another pair of penguins, but sadly the adoptive pair rejected the eggs.

"We evaluate them if they're not bad, if they've got no oil on them and the area they're coming in has got no oil around, then we twink them and mark them and let them go and check on them the next night and if they are covered in oil we call a team in and they get taken back to the base to get cleaned up and looked after," said Julia, a little blue penguin researcher and part of the penguin recovery team.

Local conservation volunteer Dave Richards, who has worked tirelessly leading one of the oiled wildlife response unit's penguin recovery teams, said some of the penguins who had lost their mate were abandoning their nests.

"They stay on their nests until they figure out their mate isn't coming back and eventually they'll go and feed."

Speaking on Friday 21 October from Rabbit Island, one of the offshore islands where the penguins nest, Dave said they had been 'inundated with oiled penguins' last night. It was the first time the team has been out to the island: "We were expecting the worst and we found 24 oiled penguins, seven dead, just in the landing bay. It's not so good out here. We're staying here for another day and night, and we're expecting two more team members which will be good.

"I never thought - it's a relatively small amount of oil - and it's already had such a devastating impact on the penguins." said Dave. "It's just heartbreaking."

It's a phrase that has been uttered by field staff countless times since the Rena ploughed into the Astrolabe Reef over two weeks ago - the numbers of dead birds are continuing to climb, 268 live birds are being cared for at the National Oiled Wildlife Recovery Unit, and the total dead will never be known.

But 'heartening' is another word that also comes to mind at the efforts of people like Dave, Rebecca and Julia, saving animals affected by this disaster.

"We can all see this year's crop of youngsters is going to be much lower," said Dave. "But, the good thing is that mum and dad are being saved and they'll be released when it's safe for them and they can get back to doing what penguins do, having more babies."

Littlest of little blue penguins at greatest risk: WWF field report, 21 October 2011, WWF

01 October 2011

Smell you later, cousin

Humboldt penguins at Brookfield Zoo.
Photo credit: Jim Schulz/Chicago
Zoological SocietU
USA - They may all smell the same to us humans – stinky – but “groundbreaking” research has shown that for penguins, other penguins’ odours are a distinguishing feature, and that the birds may use smell to determine if they are related to a potential mate.

Research by the University of Chicago and the ChicagoZoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, shows how related Humboldt penguins are able to recognise each other. The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, could help conservationists design programs to help preserve endangered species. 

“Smell is likely the primary mechanism for kin recognition to avoid inbreeding within the colony,” said Heather Coffin, lead author of the paper.

Coffin conducted the research while a graduate student at the university. Co-authors of the paper are Jill Mateo, associate professor in Comparative Human Development, and Jason Watters, director of animal behaviour research for the Chicago Zoological Society.

“This is the first study to provide evidence for odour-based kin discrimination in birds,” said Mateo, who is a specialist on kin recognition.

Experts said the work offers important insights into how birds use smell to guide behaviour.

Mark E. Hauber, professor of psychology at Hunter College and a specialist on bird social recognition said that the research group’s work was “truly groundbreaking” in that it shows for the first time ever in birds how the captive penguins’ sense of smell “is both informative and functional in a behaviourally critical context: namely the recognition of friends from foes in general, and relatives from non-relatives in particular.”

Penguins are ideal subjects because they typically live in colonies made up of thousands of birds. They live in monogamous pairs, an arrangement that helps them raise their chicks, since parents frequently take turns leaving the nest to gather food. Despite the size of the community, mates are able to find each other after travelling for days foraging for food in the ocean.

Research on other sea birds has shown that smell helps guide birds to their home territory and helps them forage for food. Other research has shown that birds could use sound and sight to recognise each other, but no other studies have shown that smell might be used in connection with kin recognition, Mateo said.

In the study conducted at Brookfield Zoo, which has extensive records on which penguins are related and have been housed together, researchers first sought to determine if the penguins were able to recognise familiar individuals by smell. They constructed an experiment using a dozen penguins, from a group that included breeding pairs, their offspring and non-breeding individuals. The Humboldt penguins were from groups either on exhibit or off exhibit.

Researchers took odour samples from glands near the penguins’ tails, where an oil that the birds use for preening is secreted. They put the oil on cotton swabs and rubbed the odour inside dog kennels, similar to the enclosures penguins at a zoo use for their nests. They also put the odour on paper coffee filters and placed them under mats inside the kennels.

When the penguins were released to the area containing the kennels, the researchers found that penguins spent more time in the kennels with familiar odours. The penguins were able to distinguish between the odours of birds they spent time with and the odours of unfamiliar penguins.

“It’s important for birds that live in large groups in the wild, like penguins, to know who their neighbours are so that they can find their nesting areas and also, through experience, know how to get along with the birds nearby,” Watters said.

Because offspring usually return to the same colony for nesting, siblings have the potential of becoming mates – something that can be avoided by their smell mechanism, the new research shows.

Researchers also found that when the birds were exposed to the odours of unfamiliar relatives and unfamiliar non-relatives, they spent more time in the kennels with odours of unfamiliar non-relatives. 

This indicates they were probably able to determine by smell which animals they were related to and were more curious about the novel odours. Researchers said that being able to make the distinction may help the penguins avoid mating with kin.

The discovery also could assist zoos in managing their breeding programs – and may relieve some zoo staff of one of their duties. “It could also be true that birds do a better job determining who potential mates are than do people in zoos, who spend a great deal of time lining up the appropriate matches,” Watters said.

The ability of birds to be able to recognise familiar scents and thus be guided to their home territory also has potential value to naturalists, he added. “You could imagine that if you were trying to reintroduce birds to an area, you could first treat the area with an odour the birds were familiar with. That would make them more likely to stay.”

Bryan D. Neff, professor and associate chair of biology, University of Western Ontario and an expert on kin recognition, said, “What I found particularly notable about the study was that the authors identified the oil secreted from the penguins’ preen gland, which is rubbed on the feathers to make them water repellent, as the odour source used in recognition.

“Oils are used in kin recognition by species of other animals, most notably a variety of insect species, including bees and wasps, which when considered with the penguin data provide a wonderful example of convergent evolution.”

Convergent evolution describes the process of unrelated species having acquired the same biological trait.

Smells may help birds identify their relatives by William Harms, 21 September 2011, UChicago News

PLoS One citation
Odor-based recognition of familiar and related conspecifics: a first test conducted on captive Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti). Coffin HR, Watters JV, Mateo JM (2011) PLoS ONE 6(9): e25002. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025002