03 June 2011

"Sad Swimmer" Morgan trying to do a "Happy Feet"?

NEW ZEALAND - It might not be quite as captivating as Mumbles' dancing in "Happy Feet", but perhaps Morgan the penguin's refusal to swim is his way of alerting people to the impact of the La Nina weather pattern.

(For readers who haven't seen "Happy Feet", Mumbles and his fellow animated penguins dance to alert humans to the consquences of overfishing in Antarctica.)

Morgan, a 16-year-old white-flippered penguin, was found starving and malnourished at Flea Bay, Banks Peninsula, earlier in May and taken to Christchurch's International Antarctic Centre, where his abnormal dislike for water was discovered.

"This is a really unusual penguin. It is the first time we have ever seen a mature penguin that has come in from the wild and simply refuses to swim," centre director Richard Benton told The Press. When Morgan is placed in water, he quickly hauls himself out using his beak and flippers.

His refusal to swim isn't the only unusual aspect of his behaviour - he also likes to flip his water bowl upside down and stand on it. Hopefully this party trick will impress the ladies, or at least one particular lady. Penguin keeper Mallorie Hackett told The Press she hopes that when Morgan is introduced to the centre's main penguin encounter later this month he will pair up with white-flippered female penguin Parnia.

He will join other unique penguins who have made the encounter their home, such as blind Elvis, one-eyed Roxy and one-legged Bagpipes. The penguins at the centre are all birds that have been rescued. Many of them would not have survived in the wild due to physical disabilities.

Morgan made the international press in May when he featured in an AFP article about the impact of La Nina on New Zealand's penguin population. In the article, Morgan (described as "grumpy" and "a reluctant passenger") is being transported in a cat box by conservationist Shirleen Helps, on whose property he was found.

While Morgan was on his way to somewhere with plenty of food, many of the other penguins at the colony on Ms Helps' property haven't been so lucky. She told AFP that hundreds of penguins at the colony have died.

"This year's been a terrible year, we've had big starvation issues at sea," she said.

New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC) said the reason behind the lack of penguin prey is La Nina, a weather pattern characterised by unusually cool ocean temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

This is the most severe La Nina in 25 years and DOC is predicting that thousands of penguins could die this year as the weather pattern reduces the schools of baitfish upon which the birds depend.

In May, necropsies of 18 penguins found washed up on New Zealand shores found none had food in their stomachs and they died from starvation and exposure, DOC said.

He probably doesn't realise it, but Morgan is one lucky little penguin.

Read related posts

The little penguin that wouldn't by Olivia Carville, 27 May 2011, The Press 
Penguins in peril find refuge in New Zealand by Neil Sands, 20 May 2011, AFP 

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