18 April 2011

No pity necessary for Mrs T

UNITED KINGDOM -  She may have lost an eye, but a macaroni penguin at Living Coasts in Devon is doing well.

Mrs T, described as a very laid-back penguin with good manners, was treated last September for a deep ulcer in the corner of her left eye. Unfortunately, the treatment did not work and she lost her sight in that eye. A specialist medical glue was used, but the eye became infected and animal experts decided that the best course of action would be to remove it.

"The eye became infected, the penguin was very subdued due to discomfort so we opted to remove the source of pain," zoo vet Sarah Chapman told the media.

The delicate eye operation was performed at South Devon Referrals by Veterinary Specialist Ophthalmologist Jim Carter and fellow vet Ian Sayers. 

Ms Chapman said, "Jim has the equipment and the experience for this intricate work. Having his specialist knowledge close to hand was invaluable."

The penguin recuperated at Paignton Zoo’s Vet Centre before returning to Living Coasts. Mrs T is very close to her mate, and when she returned "she ran out of her crate to be reunited with Mr T, which was very moving," said Living Coasts Director Elaine Hayes.

Ms Hayes continued, "She has had to learn how to swim and feed with just one eye, and to deal with the crowds of other penguins and the occasional spot of aggression that goes along with life in a busy penguin colony."

"We are confident that she will settle back in and hope she will breed."

A penguin at Living Coasts Aquarium is doing well after losing an eye by Philip Knowling, 15 April 2011, Zoo and Aquarium Visitor
Penguin thrives despite losing an eye, 15 April 2011, Indepedent.ie 

15 April 2011

Wash, rinse, dry and repeat for next penguin on Tristan da Cunha

Bath time! A rockhopper penguin
gets washed.
Photo by Tertius Gous/SANCCOB
TRISTAN DA CUNHA - The evening of Saturday 9 April provided a rewarding moment for Tristan's rehab manager Dereck Rogers as the first five northern rockhopper penguins to be washed at the newly erected wash-bay facility were drying off under infrared lights.

Mr Rogers, who has been closely involved with the care of the penguins from the moment the first oiled birds were brought back to Tristan more than two weeks ago, was elated at being able to hold a cleanly washed penguin.

The whole island worked together to ensure the expert staff from SANCCOB had everything they needed to erect the wash-bay facility, post-wash pens and pools. The island plumbers, electricians and carpenters were all on standby to assist with the operation, as well as plant operators for moving equipment and materials. The three large hot water geysers brought by the SANCCOB team have been installed in the wash-bay to heat the water for washing, as have hundreds of metres of piping and cable to link in to the island’s water and electrical supplies.

On Monday 11 April the washing of oiled penguins got well under way as the first islander washing team received training from SANCCOB's Venessa Strauss and Jennie Bancroft. Washing a penguin is a thirty-minute process involving a de-greaser mist, a warm bath of biodegradable soap and anti-septic solution, and a rinse with a high-pressure showerhead. The cleaned penguins are then tagged and put in a recovery pen under infrared lamps to keep them warm while they dry off. They are later moved to small clean pens which have access to a swimming pool, where there are encouraged to swim.

Sixty-four penguins were washed on Monday but SANCCOB’s vet, Tertius Gous, said they were aiming to wash up to a hundred a day once the washing team are in full swing.

Meanwhile, at the holding pens, the feeding teams are hard at work trying to satisfy the hunger of the many oiled penguins waiting to be washed. Penguins at the village swimming pool and in the outside pens are being fed pilchards to build up their strength before undergoing the washing process.

Some of the more lightly oiled penguins at the swimming pool are being "swum" every day, after which their waterproofing is tested. When these penguins satisfy the release criteria of effective waterproofing and sufficient weight, they will be released.

To date 3662 penguins have been admitted to the centre, of which 1577 have died. The first 69 to be washed will hopefully be able to join the 24 penguins released so far.

On Tuesday 12 April more help for the penguins arrived aboard the Russian research/Antarctic supply vessel Ivan Papanin - the fourth vessel chartered by the owners of the MS Oliva and their insurers since the incident. The Ivan Papanin carried the SANCCOB supplies and oil abatement equipment that were not able to be collected prior to the departure of the Svitzer Singapore. Aboard the Ivan Papanin is also a Bell-212 helicopter, which will greatly improve the deployment of the oil abatement teams and equipment into the oiled gulleys and bays on Alex (or Middle) Island, the focus of the clean-up efforts.

Currently there are 28 international responders on the island, including the SANCCOB team, veterinarians, International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) staff, and oil pollution and salvage response experts. They are working alongside an 80-strong island volunteer force. 

The onset of the southern winter has brought with it gale force winds and rough seas. The adverse weather, while hampering the clean-up response, has broken up the majority of the released oil, although there are still clear signs of pollution around Nightingale. Fortunately the penguins have completed their moult, and the vast majority have left their colonies and gone to sea. They will not return to Tristan until the start of the next breeding season in August.

Read related posts

Wash and dry for rockhoppers at rehab centre, RSPB, 11 April 2011, BirdLife International
Oliva Tristan Diary, Tristan da Cunha Association: accessed 15 April 2011

Great, mate! Eight little penguins successfully released into the wild

AUSTRALIA - Fit and healthy and ready to go - an unusually large batch of little penguins raced back into the ocean at Long Reef after a stay at Taronga Zoo's wildlife hospital in Sydney, NSW.

The eight penguins arrived at the hospital in recent weeks, some malnourished from their annual moult and some suffering injuries, including one which had to have a toe amputated after it became entangled in abandoned fishing line.

"It’s been a very busy season this year and we’ve seen a lot more birds than usual," said Libby Hall, Taronga Wildlife Hospital manager.

"We’re hoping it’s because there are more penguins out there this season, but we can’t be sure."

The zoo is caring for a further four birds, which are still not ready for release. Hospital staff had already rehabilitated three penguins which the NSW National Parks Service returned to the water at the Manly colony earlier this month.

"Most of these birds were brought to us by people who saw them in difficulties and took action. The community’s awareness of little penguins and other wildlife is increasing all the time and by acting, they give us the best chance to help the birds through difficult times," said Ms Hall.

"When they come to us, we can keep them safe and feed them so they can return to the ocean when they have finished moulting and weigh about one kilogram."

The birds were once fairly common in Sydney but urban development and domestic pets have placed them under pressure. The colony at Manly is the last remaining on the NSW mainland, with other colonies now located on islands which offer some protection from pressure from humans and domestic pets.

Taronga release rehabilitated little penguins at Long Reef, 13 April 2011, Taronga Conservation Society Australia

14 April 2011

No "winning" penguin species when it comes to climate change

Adelie penguin colony on icebergs.
Photo: Sue and Wayne Trivelpiece
As global temperatures increase, ice-avoiding species like chinstrap penguins have often been considered one of the likely “winners” of changing conditions such as large-scale ice melting. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), however, shows that the feisty Antarctic birds may actually end up as the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The research, which uses 30 years of field studies and recent surveys of chinstrap and ice-loving Adelie penguins, reveals that fluctuations in penguin populations in the Antarctic are linked more strongly to the availability of their primary food source - krill - than to changes in their habitats.

The populations of both Adelie and chinstrap penguins in the West Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Sea have declined by respective averages of 2.9% and 4.3% per year for at least the last 10 years. Some colonies have decreased by more than 50%.

A previous assessment of krill in the Southern Ocean in Nature suggests that their abundance has declined as much as 80% since the 1970s.

“For penguins and other species, krill is the linchpin in the food web,” said Dr Wayne Trivelpiece, lead author and seabird researcher of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division.

“Regardless of their environmental preferences, we see a connection between climate change and penguin populations through the loss of habitat for their main food source. As warming continues, the loss of krill will have a profound effect throughout the Antarctic ecosystem.”

Lack of an abundant supply of krill has been particularly hard on fledgling penguins that must learn where to locate and how to catch the prey on their own, having never been at sea before. Data from the study suggest that fewer young penguins are surviving this transition to independence today than in previous years when these crustaceans were much more abundant.

Chinstrap penguins avoid feeding in icy habitats, but it is the sea ice that provides the necessary environment for krill to reproduce. Increasing temperatures and reductions in sea ice have made conditions unfavourable to sustain ample populations of this food source. The authors suggest that fishing for krill and increased competition among other predators also have made them less available to penguins.

Adélie penguins, which feed in icy habitats, are also declining due to food shortages and shrinking habitat. They differ from chinstrap penguins, however, in that they have breeding populations outside of the western Antarctic, which makes them comparatively less vulnerable to the rapid warming in the Antarctic Peninsula region.

“Penguins are excellent indicators of changes to the biological and environmental health of the broader ecosystem because they are easily accessible while breeding on land, yet they depend entirely on food resources from the sea,” said Dr Trivelpiece.

“In addition, unlike many other krill-eating top predators in the Antarctic, such as whales and fur seals, they were not hunted by humans. When we see steep declines in populations, as we have been documenting with both chinstrap and Adélie penguins, we know there’s a much larger ecological problem.”

Penguins that shun ice still lose big from a warming climate, 11 April 2011, Lenfest Ocean Program

PNAS citation
Variability in krill biomass links harvesting and climate warming to penguin population changes in Antarctica. Wayne Z. Trivelpiece, Jefferson T. Hinke, Aileen K. Miller, Christian S. Reiss, Susan G. Trivelpiece and
George M. Watters. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 11 April 2011.

11 April 2011

Bonaparte's unrequited love for a Wellington

GERMANY - It seems that Bonaparte the penguin has met his Waterloo - a black-and-white Wellington boot.

Napoleon Bonaparte must be turning in his grave while his namesake, a gentoo penguin from Sea Life Centre in Constance, tries to seduce a rubber boot named after the French emperor's opponent the Duke of Wellington.

Bonaparte's keeper Dennis Kuebler told the German Herald, "He clearly sees sees the boots as a potential female mating partner. He rubs himself against them and gets very excited, showing off and trying to seduce the boot."

Mr Kuebler said that Bonaparte had even attacked another male penguin, Jasper, who got too close to his "rubber lover".

He added that next year the male and female penguins will be put together in the hope that they will breed.

"We will have to keep them away from my boot in the hope that they will turn their attention to the real females - not rubber ones."

The original Bonaparte - something of a romantic if his letters to his wife Joséphine are anything to go by - would approve.

Rubber fetish penguin given the boot, 8 April 2011, German Herald

Rescued penguins become California girls and boys

USA - It's been a long, strange journey for five young Magellanic penguins who started their migration in the southern tip of South America, became stranded on a beach in Brazil, and are now living in California.

The penguins are some of hundreds who were stranded on Brazilian beaches last year. These five rescued birds now have a home at Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

"You don't normally find these penguins much farther north than the Falkland islands," said Dudley Wigdahl, the Aquarium's curator of marine mammals and birds. "The locations of their food sources are changing, perhaps due to climate change, and penguins are having to travel farther in search of food."

After they were rescued, some of the penguins were strong enough to return to the wild while others were deemed unreleasable due to health issues.

"When these penguins stranded in Rio, they were frail and emaciated after such a long swim up the Atlantic coast of South America. We're happy to be able to provide a home and medical care for these unreleasable animals," said Mr Wigdahl.

The new penguins will not be on exhibit until the summer of 2012, when the Aquarium debuts the June Keyes Penguin Habitat. Until then, they will be cared for by the aviculturist team and veterinary staff in the Aquarium’s behind-the-scenes holding area.

"They're adjusting very well and they tell a great story. They are ambassadors for their species," Mr Wigdahl told the Press-Telegram

"They're going to be very important birds, because they are from the wild and they will help with the genetic stock across the zoological groups that breed penguins. In the future these will be important birds."

Read previous post: "Survivor" penguins sent from Brazil to US

Rescued penguins arrive at Aquarium of the Pacific today, 4 April 2011, OC180News
Wild penguin flock lands in Long Beach after Rio trip, 8 April 2011, Press-Telegram

09 April 2011

Assault conviction for penguin warden pusher

AUSTRALIA - In a victory for penguin conservationists, James Oatley has been convicted of assaulting penguin warden Johnyth Burton while she was carrying out her volunteer duties on Manly Cove in NSW on New Years Day.

Mr Oatley, 28, pleaded guilty in Manly Local Court on 7 March to pushing the 73-year-old warden, reported The Manly Daily.

According to an agreed statement tendered in court, Mr Oatley came to shore near Manly Cove on a boat, and a dog that was also onboard jumped out and ran towards one of the little penguins. Ms Burton ran to the penguin's defence. When another penguin warden tried to take photos of the dog, Mr Oatley became aggressive and pushed Ms Burton as she tried to intervene.

Mr Oatley was fined AU$1,500 plus court costs.

Read related posts:

Man convicted of penguin warden assault by Peter Bodkin, 8 April 2011, The Manly Daily

The naked penguin problem

For the last few years, a mysterious feather-loss disorder has been affecting penguin chicks on both sides of the Atlantic. The appearance of these "naked" penguins has scientists puzzled as to what could be causing the condition.

The disorder, which can result in smaller chicks and increased mortality, has been observed in both African and Magellanic penguin chicks. A study on the disorder by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Washington, South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and Centro Nacional Patagónico appeared in a recent edition of the journal Waterbirds.

"Feather-loss disorders are uncommon in most bird species, and we need to conduct further study to determine the cause of the disorder and if this is in fact spreading to other penguin species," said Professor Dee Boersma, who has conducted studies on Magellanic penguins for more than three decades.

The feather-loss disorder first emerged in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2006, when SANCCOB researchers observed it in African penguins in a rehabilitation center. During that year, approximately 59% of the penguin chicks at the facility lost their feathers, followed by 97% of the chicks at the facility in 2007, and 20% of the chicks in 2008. Chicks with feather-loss disorder eventually began to grow new feathers, but it was discovered that they took longer to grow to a size deemed suitable for release into the wild.

On the other side of the South Atlantic, researchers from WCS and the University of Washington observed feather-loss disorder in the chicks of wild Magellanic penguins (closely related to African penguins) for the first time in 2007 in four different study sites along Argentina’s coastline. Researchers also noted that while feathered chicks sought out shade in the hot midday sun, featherless chicks remained in the sun’s glare. Several of the chicks with feather-loss disorder died during the study.

In both instances, penguin chicks with feather-loss disorder grew more slowly and were smaller in size and weight than feathered chicks. The disparities were due to the increased energy spent by the featherless chicks in keeping warm in the absence of an insulating coat of feathers and/or down. So far, the possible causes include pathogens, thyroid disorders, nutrient imbalances or genetics.

"The recent emergence of feather-loss disorder in wild bird populations suggests that the disorder is something new," said Mariana Varese, Acting Director of WCS's Latin America and Caribbean Program. "More study of this malady can help identify the root cause, which in turn will help illuminate possible solutions."

"We need to learn how to stop the spread of feather-loss disorder, as penguins already have problems with oil pollution and climate variation," said Professor Boersma. "It’s important to keep disease from being added to the list of threats they face."

"Naked" penguins baffle experts, 7 April 2011, Wildlife Conservation Society

Camera-penguins' footage now available

JAPAN - Scientists from the National Institute of Polar Research, Japan, have returned from Antarctica and shared with the media some of the footage retrieved from the video cameras they strapped to the backs of 15 Adelie penguins.

The penguins may not win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, but the footage they recorded is fascinating as it gives us humans a glimpse of the birds' underwater lives.

Read related post: Adelie penguins underwater life caught on video

"Penguin-cam" shows birds-eye view of life beneath the ice, 7 April 2011, Reuters

08 April 2011

Positive news for Tristan's oiled penguins

The first treated penguins walk back
to their home. Photo by Katrine Herian/
TRISTAN DA CUNHA - Some good news to report for the penguin rescue operation following the oil spill around Nightingale Island, with the first rehabilitated penguins released back into the wild, the arrival of a team from SANCOBB and vital penguin-cleaning equipment, and the setting up of several funds to help with the emergency.

First Tristan penguins released from rehab

The first 24 northern rockhopper penguins of more than 3,600 admitted to the "rehab centre" on Tristan da Cunha were released back to sea on Sunday 3 April.

"The penguins were selected from the strongest ones, with no visible oil on their outer plumage," said Trevor Glass, Tristan da Cunha Conservation Officer. "Of the many tested to see if they were ready for release, only 24 had perfectly waterproof plumage."

"It was an emotional moment to see these penguins released from captivity and walk into the sea and then swim off among the waves," said Katrine Herian, the RSPB Project Officer on Tristan da Cunha. "The Tristan islanders are putting hundreds of hours of their time into saving the oiled penguins and we hope these are the first of many to be released".

On arrival on Tristan the penguins are stabilised and kept indoors in the rehab shed, after which the fittest ones are moved to an outside pen. From here the cleanest and strongest ones are moved to the island’s swimming pool, which is refilled daily with fresh, unchlorinated water.

So far, 3662 oiled penguins have been admitted to the rehab centre. Since the first batch of 500 were admitted on 23rd March, only 373 have died in rehab, which is a survival rate of 90%. About 25% of the penguins at the centre are currently in the release pool.

SANCCOB team arrives with vital people and equipment

There are still many oiled penguins which require urgent washing. A team from SANCCOB arrived on the tug Singapore on Tuesday 5 April, bringing the specialised equipment and materials needed for cleaning the penguins, as well as vital vitamins and medicines for the rehab centre's intensive care unit and frozen pilchards to feed the penguins. Their arrival had been frustratingly delayed by rough seas.

The SANCCOB team were impressed with the set up at the rehab centre and praised the islanders’ efforts under difficult conditions and with very limited resources. 

The specialist cleaning equipment will be put into the wash-bay facility, which will be housed in two government containers close to the rehab shed. Hot water geysers, to remove the heavy bunker oil, will be installed for the penguin-washing operation, and infrared lights will be installed in a drying room. Outside, large tanks will collect and separate the waste-oil/solids and grey water from the washing process. SANCCOB logistics manager Mariëtte Hopley reported the washing facility would be up and running on Friday, when training would begin for islanders in the washing of penguins.

Funds set up to help the penguins

Thanks largely to the efforts of the Ocean Doctor, Dr David Guggenheim, the penguin rescue operation has been picked up by the US media, including CNN, which interviewed Dr Guggenheim (see below) and ran a story on 3 April. The more attention the media give to their plight, the more help the penguins will get!

There are now several funds set up to help with the rehabilitation of the penguins and other wildlife affected by the oil spill:
I realise these are tough economic times for many of us, but if you can spare even a small amount of money to help the penguins, the people working hard to save them on Tristan da Cunha will certainly appreciate it. 

Read related posts

First Tristan penguins released from 'rehab' by RSPB, 5 April 2011, Birdlife International
MS Oliva oil spill at Tristan da Cunha finally hits the headlines - funding urgently needed for oiled penguin rescue operation, 4 April 2011, The Penguin Lady Blog
Oliva Tristan Diary, Tristan da Cunha Association: accessed 8 April 2011 

07 April 2011

Penguin mothers get better with (middle) age

AUSTRALIA - As I leave my younger years behind, it is encouraging to find out that the middle-aged can do some things better than the young ... even if the researchers were looking at little penguins, not people.

An international research team has found that while middle-aged female penguins spent less time in the water, they were more successful at finding food compared to younger and older generations.

The researchers investigated the relationship of foraging performance with age in female little penguins at Phillip Island, Victoria. They attached tiny computers to the backs of 19 breeding females for one foraging run and monitored aspects of the penguins' diving ability.

Their findings, reported in the journal PloS One, suggest middle-aged penguins forage better than young or old ones because good physical condition and foraging experience could act simultaneously.

Dr Andre Chiaradia of Phillip Island Nature Parks, one of the researchers, said, "Middle-aged females spent less time under the water with less diving effort."

"But while diving, they had better hunting tactics so they were more efficient at finding food for their offspring."

The older penguins had learned to chase prey from the bottom, using their black backs as camouflage, while the younger ones approached the fish from above, exposing their white bellies and alerting the fish to their presence.

Dr Chiaradia added that middle-aged penguins were fortunate because they had similar strength in the younger penguins but the wisdom of the older ones.

"These factors seem to be acting together to make middle-aged penguins better at fishing,” he said.

"This information is especially relevant in years of low resource availability and probably influences the response of penguins to years when food is hard to find.” 

Old birds show young mums a few tricks by Leigh Dayton, 6 April 2011, The Australian
Middle-age penguins topple youth, 8 April 2011, e-Travel Blackboard

PloS One citation
Does foraging performance change with age in female little penguins (Eudyptula minor)? Zimmer, I., Ropert-Coudert, Y., Kato, A., Ancel, A. and Chiaradia, A. PloS One 6(1). 25 January 2011.

Protective wetsuit for bald Belle the penguin

SINGAPORE - Belle the Humboldt penguin can now join the other penguins back in the pool at Jurong Bird Park thanks to her new wetsuit.

The 10-year-old penguin started going bald last year - something went wrong with her moulting cycle and her feathers fell out but new ones did not grow to replace them.

Waterproof feathers are vital for penguins and without hers, poor Belle was unable to go swimming or keep herself warm and dry. She was also being ostracised by the other penguins because of her appearance.

To fix the situation, park staff provided her with very own wetsuit. The first one was made from the leg of a human wetsuit, but she is currently wearing a custom-made version that fits her much better. Staff are hopeful that the protection of the wetsuit will encourage her feathers to grow back normally.

Park veterinarian Melodiya Magno told the Daily Mail it was the first time any of its 96 penguins had been bald for a prolonged period. It is thought that this sort of feather loss in Humboldt penguins can be caused by stress or a hormonal imbalance.

She may be the first for Jurong Bird Park, but Belle is not the first penguin in the world to don a wetsuit. In 2008, 25-year-old African penguin Pierre at the California Academy of Sciences in the USA wore a wetsuit for nearly 8 months until his feathers grew back, and in 2009, 10-year-old Humboldt penguin Ralph from Marwell Wildlife in the UK was given one to protect his skin from the sun and has worn it for two summers in a row.

Penguin's wetsuit puts him back into the swim of things by Michelle Locke, 25 April 2008, Fox News
Pierre the penguin, 31 October 2008, California Academy of Sciences Penguin Blog
Ralph the bald penguin gets a new wetsuit, 11 June 2010, Marwell Wildlife
Water off a penguin's back: Bald bird able to fit in after getting her own special wetsuit, 4 April 2011, The Daily Mail