27 February 2011

Has Sandy the penguin finally found the one that she wants?

GERMANY - As it was for Sandy from the musical Grease, the road to love has been a rocky one for Münster Zoo's 14-year-old African penguin Sandy. Now zoo staff are hoping she has finally found her real Danny Zuko.

Her first crush was destined for failure when at a young age she fell for her human zookeeper Peter Vollbracht. Despite their species differences, she stayed faithful to him for 10 years, following him around and completely ignoring the zoo's other penguins.

"There was nothing we could do about it. I didn't choose her; she chose me," Vollbracht told Spiegel Online. "She didn't care about anyone else. I was just her big penguin."

But in 2006, Vollbracht got sick and had to stay away from work for six weeks, leading the lonely Sandy to move on to Tom, a much younger male penguin. In 2008, after a few unsuccessful mating seasons, they had two chicks together. Then, sadly, in 2009, Tom died of a bacterial infection. Sandy was unable to raise the chicks by herself so the zoo put them in foster nests.

After Tom died, widow Sandy returned to her first love, Vollbract. "I came back to work from vacation, and it was like she'd flipped a switch. She was looking for someone, and I was there," the zookeeper told Spiegel Online at the time. "It's nice for the zoo and to be followed around again, but I can't stay her partner forever. We can't find her a partner. She chooses, and it's her decision or nothing."

And now, it looks like she has made that decision, this time choosing sticking with her own species. Hermann is an older penguin who may bring some maturity to the relationship. Zoo staff are also hoping that Sandy won't get distracted by another younger penguin, and that Hermann will stay alive for a while longer yet.

"Up to now, she’s hasn’t really had that much luck with men," zoo spokesperson Ilone Zühlke told The Local.

She may have not had much luck, but at least she's hopelessly devoted to love.

Picky penguin gets her man back by Josh Ward, 3 November 2009, Spiegel Online
Sandy the penguin finds love among her own kind, 14 February 2011, The Local

Dog attacks on penguins "disappointing"

New Zealand - The Department of Conservation (DOC) has received two reports within a week of little penguins being attacked by dogs on Taranaki beaches.

"These attacks are really disappointing," DOC marine ranger Callum Lilley told Taranaki Daily News.

"They're so preventable. All people have to do is keep their dogs on a leash or at the very least watch and control them closely. If they chase seagulls they'll catch a penguin. They're easy game."

The latest penguin victim was taken to a local veterinarian where its wounds were cleaned and bandaged, and then transported to Massey University's wildlife centre to recover.

Penguins hounded again on the beaches, 12 February 2011, Taranaki Daily News

Researchers see the light about what makes little penguins blue

False-coloured scanning electron
micrograph of arrays of nanofibres
found in barbs of little penguin
feathers. Photo by Liliana D'Alba.
USA - Have you ever wondered what makes little penguins look blue? By examining the feathers of little penguins, researchers from the University of Akron, Ohio, and their colleagues have discovered a new way blue is created in feathers. Their finding is published in the 9 February issue of Biology Letters.

The researchers used light and electron microscopes to examine wing and back feathers of little penguins and found they contained massive numbers of fibres that were nanometres in diameter and arranged side-by-side. The neat, organised parallel alignment and tiny scale of the fibres cause light scattering in such a way that creates a blue hue.

While the light scattering of nanofibres is responsible for the blue colour of the skin of some birds and other animals such as mandrills, this is the first time is has been found as the source of the colour blue in feathers.

Dr Matthew Shawkey, one of the researchers, said, "For 30 years it has been thought that blue colours in feathers are only produced by cells of feather barbs in spongy layers, or matrices of keratin with nanometre-scaled pores in them. These results show that we should never stop looking just because we 'know' how something is made."

UA researchers solve colour mystery of blue-feathered penguins, 9 February 2011, The University of Akron News

Biology Letters citation
Colour-producing β-keratin nanofibres in blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) feathers. Liliana D'Alba, Vinodkumar Saranathan, Julia A. Clarke, Jakob A. Vinther, Richard O. Prum and Matthew D. Shawkey. Biology Letters. 9 February 2011.

20 February 2011

Portly penguins with "guilty conscience" avoid the scales

Humboldt penguins at the National
Seal Sanctuary.
Photo by MortimerCat2010.
Some rights reserved.
UK - I certainly avoid getting on the scales post-Christmas and New Year (especially this year after a week of American-style breakfasts in New York), and it seems the podgy Humboldt penguins at the National Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, Cornwall, feel the same way.

Since the six penguins arrived at the sanctuary last April they have been piling on the pounds, so the penguin team would like to record their weights and use this information to control their food intake. But even though the scales are camouflaged under the sandy floor of the birds' enclosure, it is proving difficult to trick the clever birds to get onto them.

Jenna Blacow, penguin expert at the sanctuary, said, "Penguins are sensitive birds and very skittish, so it would be far too stressful for them for us to chase them about and catch them by hand in order to weigh them."

"We have trained the seals to come out of the pool and sit on specially designed scales, and we are hoping we will be able to train our penguins to do the same, but so far it seems they have a guilty conscience about getting on the scales!"

"The penguins are smarter than we gave them credit for. They know we have hidden the scales and are stretching out their necks over them to grab the fish from our hands."

The penguin team will persevere, however, said Ms Blacow.

"Wild creatures are often wary when they are faced with something new, so if we keep trying hopefully we will succeed in getting them on the scales when they realise there is nothing to be afraid of."

In the meantime, the penguins will be hand fed and monitored carefully, and kept active with enrichment activities such as "penguin football".

Podgy penguins on New Year diet, 8 February 2011, Gweek Seal Sanctuary

19 February 2011

Nothing says "I love you" like a penguin painting

African penguins at Mystic Aquarium.
Photo by bunnygoth. Some rights reserved.
USA - Described by Mystic Aquarium as "the ultimate tribute to Valentines Day", two pairs of the Connecticut aquarium's African penguins have created 50 original paintings. At US$124.99 each, a penguin painting could be just the Valentines gift you've been looking for that hard-to-buy-for special someone in your life. (Considering the price, perhaps a VERY special someone.)

The artists are Green-Blue and Green-Black, who have raised several chicks together, and Gray-Silver and Yellow-Red, who have been together for an enviable 17 years and appeared on both local and national TV.

Painting is a form of enrichment for the aquarium's penguins. A trainer dabs paint onto the penguin's feet and then sets the bird down on a canvas on the floor. The penguin wanders across the canvas and - voilà - a work of art! You can watch a video of a penguin painting here.

The original paintings, as well as reproduction posters and prints, are available from the Mystic Aquarium Online Store.  A portion from the proceeds of each sale will go towards the aquarium's penguin conservation efforts.

African penguins spread the love for Valentine's Day, 4 February 2011, Mystic Aquarium

14 February 2011

DOC relocates vulnerable Fiordland penguins

Fiordland Crested-Penguin
A Fiordland penguin. Photo by 57Andrew
Some rights reserved.

NEW ZEALAND - The Department of Conservation (DOC) has had to relocate two vulnerable Fiordland penguins recently.

One was found in New Plymouth on the North Island's west coast, quite far from the species' usual habitat along the southern coast of the South Island and Stewart Island.

Bryan Williams of DOC's marine team told the Taranaki Daily News, "It's only the second sighting [in the Taranaki region] in 20 years."

The poor penguin was looking a bit worse for wear after being battered by the rough weather so DOC took it into protective custody overnight. The next day the penguin was put on tug boat going south to be released in the ocean closer to home.

The other Fiordland penguin was found on a beach on the Otago coastline, south of Dunedin, where they are a much more common sighting. DOC biodiversity assets programme manager David Agnew told the Otago Daily Times that Fiordland penguins were the next most common penguins seen on Otago beaches after yellow-eyed and little penguins.

Since this penguin was just beginning its moult, it wouldn't be able to go back into the water for several weeks, and on this particular beach would have been at risk of dog attacks.

DOC moved the penguin to a safer place on Sandfly Bay on the Otago Peninsula, where it could moult in peace.

DOC praised the person who had notified them about the penguin's presence on the beach, and hoped that more people would act the same way if they saw vulnerable penguins during moulting season.

Doc pleased vulnerable penguin reported by Rebecca Fox, 2 February 2011, Otago Daily Times
Tug gets visitor on route, 1 February 2011, Taranaki Daily News

12 February 2011

Canine graduates ready to protect penguins

AUSTRALIA - Congratulations to Eula and Tula, the latest Maremma sheepdogs to graduate from the training programme that teaches them to protect the little penguins on Middle Island from stray dogs and foxes.

The two-year-old sheepdogs will now spend up to four nights on the island, which is off the coast of Warrnambool, Victoria, without a handler.

The penguins' breeding season is from July to March so right now the sheepdogs' presence on the island is vital;  their scent deters foxes and other dogs.

Middle Island's Maremma patrol programme has been running since 2005, when there were only 10 penguins on the island. Now there are 180.

Coastcare facilitator Marty Gent told the Herald Sun "they've saved the colony".

Guarding animals is in the Maremmas' blood. In Italy, where they originate from, the dogs were used to protect sheep and goats from wolves and bears. 

Hands off my new penguin mate, says sheepdog Eudy by Kate Jones, 28 January 2011, Herald Sun

Penguin lost in the big city gets police protection

PERU - Parents often advise their children that if they get lost, they should find a police officer. And that's what a young Humboldt penguin lost in Lima did. Or rather, the police found him, then looked after him until he could be returned to his natural habitat.

The penguin, nicknamed Tomas after the cook at the police headquarters (because they walk with the same gait), must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. He ended up in Peru's capital city on Agua Dulce beach, miles from his home on one of Lima's offshore islands.

Tomas was rescued by police lifeguards and taken to the local police station, where he was examined by a veterinarian. He became quite a celebrity, with beachgoers and police alike keen to get their photo taken with him.

In the Reuters video Tomas appears almost tame, keeping calm while people hold him and during his veterinary examination. Somewhat worryingly, it is this "good temperament", the veterinarian who examined Tomas told Reuters, which means that when someone finds a Humboldt penguin they want to take it home. Indeed one of the threats to these birds, which are classified as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List, is that they are sought after as pets; another is that they are poached for their meat.

Luckily for Tomas his destiny does not lie in a Peruvian household - either as a pet or on the dinner table - but back in his natural habit. His police rescuers took him on a three-hour boat ride to a penguin colony on San Lorenzo island, where he was released into the ocean and hopefully fulfilled the veterinarian's prediction that he would rejoin his community without any problems.

Photographer Mariana Bazo accompanied Tomas on his journey home and felt "privileged" by the experience. On Reuters Photographers Blog she said, "As a photographer one always has the chance to be a front row observer of others' lives, be close to celebrities and presidents. This time I was deeply touched by someone very important - Tomas the penguin."

One can only speculate about what Tomas himself thought of his brief time within the long - but in this case, caring - arm of the law.

A penguin's trip home by Mariana Bazo, 8 February 2011, Reuters
Humboldt penguin Tomas returned to wild by lifeguards by Rich Shulman, 26 January 2011, msnbc.com (includes Reuters photos by Mariana Bazo and Today Show video)
Penguin taken into police custody by Gemma Haines, 26 January 2011, Reuters (video)

01 February 2011

Gentoo penguins make a pit stop at the seaside

Gentoo penguins at Edinburgh Zoo.
Photo by Peter Corbett.
Some rights reserved
UK - Ten gentoo penguins from Edinburgh Zoo are enjoying a seaside holiday in Weymouth until their new home at London Sea Life Aquarium is ready.

The penguins were put in dog kennels in a chilled van and made a 14-hour journey to Weymouth Sea Life Park, where they met their new roommates - the park's Humboldt penguins.

In the wild, the two species would never meet; gentoos live in the subantarctic and Humboldts in the sunnier clime of South America.

But their keepers don't seem too worried about the two species getting along. Curator and marine expert Fiona Smith told View Online, "In spite of their very different styles of behaviour the Humboldts and the gentoo will make perfect companions during their stay together."

Sarah Moseley, who looks after the park's penguin population, told BBC Dorset, "The gentoos are quite a bit bigger than ours. Hopefully they will gradually intermingle."

The keepers will keep an eye on the penguins' feeding patterns to make sure they are settling in. So far, things seem to be going well. Ms Smith told BBC Dorset that the gentoos were showing signs of liking their new surroundings.

"They are very relaxed and intrigued."

The gentoos will move on to their specially designed digs in London at Easter. Until then, the keepers hope they will keep their amorous actions at a superficial level. While the Sea Life network hopes to have the breeding success with the gentoos that they have had with the Humboldts, Ms Smith said, "We want get them moved to London first."

New penguins arrive at Weymouth by Zoe Kleinman, 20 January 2011, BBC Dorset
Weymouth: p-p-pick up a penguin! 27 January 2011, View Online