13 March 2011

Adelie penguins' underwater life caught on video

Adelie penguins. Photo by Martha de
. Some rights reserved.
ANTARCTICA - Back in 2004, the emperor penguins at "Penguin Ranch" on McMurdo Sound became underwater reporters when, with cameras strapped to their backs, they revealed for the first time a penguin's-eye view of their watery world. Now Adelie penguins are sharing their secret life under the ice as part of a scientific investigation conducted by the National Institute of Polar Research, Japan.

An institute spokesman, Hiroyasu Kumagae, told Reuters, "Fundamentally, Adelie penguins spend much of their lives during the summer under the sea ice, so it's hard for humans to observe them in their natural habitat. ... So the researchers got the idea of putting cameras on the penguins and getting them to act as 'cameramen'."

The Japanese researchers attached tiny (21mm x 80mm) video cameras to the backs of 15 Adelie penguins with special tape. The cameras were set to automatically switch on when the penguins entered the water. Video footage was successfully retrieved from 10 of the "penguin-cams" and it is believed that the footage, which will be available when the researchers return to Japan later in March, will be a world first.

The institute said the images of life under the ice were captured with surprising clarity.

Kumagae assured Reuters that the cameras did not harm the birds. "I think they probably didn't like having the cameras attached very much, though course I don't know how a penguin thinks. It would have felt that it was carrying something but otherwise there was no stress on its body, and its movements were unlimited." 

"Penguin-cam" reveals secrets of life below the ice by Elaine Lies, 8 March 2011, Reuters
"Penguin Ranch" reveals hunting, swimming secrets by James Owen, 30 January 2004, National Geographic News


  1. I love the thought of finding out what penguins truly get up to under the water. But there is bound to be a cost on their behaviour and how they move through the water. Having the camera on their back is surely going to increase drag..... isn't it?

  2. I agree that the cameras probably hinder the penguins, at least a little bit. The cameras only took 90 mins of footage, but the article doesn't say how long the cameras were actually strapped to the penguins for. It's like a human wearing a backpack - you can still move around but not as fast as when you aren't wearing it. I suppose, as with banding, there's always going to be disagreement as to whether the benefits to science outweigh the detriments to penguins ... I'd still like to see the videos though!