25 August 2011

Grim census results for Granite Island's penguins

AUSTRALIA - The results are in for the annual little penguin census on South Australia's Granite Island - and things are not looking good.

ABC News reported the count found only 102 penguins - 30% fewer than 2010. The figures are even more worrying when compared to the 1,600 recorded 10 years ago.

According to conservationist Natalie Gilbert of Granite Island Nature Park, there may be no penguins on the island by 2020 if this trend persists.

"That's why we're putting so much effort now into trying to find out if there's a way to make them feel safer and make it more appealing for them and give them a better environment and work out what exactly is the main issues," she told ABC News.

Read related posts

Granite Island penguins could be gone by 2020, 24 August 2011, ABC News

It's a cold life being a king penguin chick

King penguin chicks on the Crozet Islands.
Photo by StormPetrel1. Some rights reserved.
SUBANTARCTIC - They may look warm and fuzzy, but scientists have shown that king penguin chicks are able to get very, very cold - and this ability probably helps them to survive through the lean, mean winter.

Scientists from the University of Strasbourg, France, studied heterothermy - the ability to survive despite large drops in body temperature - in king penguin chicks on the subantarctic Crozet Islands.

They did this, New Scientist reported, by inserting temperature sensors into several organs of 10 chicks (hmm ... I don't want to think about how they did that). The penguins were then left to go about their daily lives for about seven months. The scientists' findings were published on 16 August in the journal Nature Communications and show that parts of the chicks' bodies dropped by up to 15.7°C when they were inactive, local temperatures fell or when they were fed cold meals.

By allowing their body temperature to drop, the chicks appear to be able to conserve energy when they need to. The scientists said that king penguin chicks are able to fast for up to five months in winter, and during this period they show marked heterothermy.

The scientists also said that the heterothermy they had observed the penguins, who can weigh 10kg before fasting, is "remarkable" for a bird of their size and "may account for its unrivalled fasting capacity among birds".

Penguins don't freeze, but they do get very, very cold, 19 August 2011, New Scientist

Nature Communications citation
Heterothermy in growing penguins. Götz Eichhorn, René Groscolas, Gaële Le Glaunec, Camille Parisel, Laurent Arnold, Patrice Medina and Yves Handrich. Nature Communications, 16 August 2011.

18 August 2011

Date set for Happy Feet's return home

Happy Feet on Peka Peka Beach,
where it all began ...
Photo credit: Beverley Shore
Bennett. Some rights reserved.
NEW ZEALAND - Happy Feet the adventurous emperor penguin is set to return home to the subantarctic onboard Tangaroa, NIWA's largest research vessel.

Tangaroa is due to depart Wellington on 29 August for a month-long fisheries survey on Campbell Island southern blue whiting. Happy Feet will be released from the ship on the way, approximately four days out to sea, at about 53 degrees south.

Dr Lisa Argilla, Manager Veterinary Science at Wellington Zoo, will accompany the penguin on his journey home. She will be assisted by two NIWA staff who are on the vessel for the fisheries survey. They will be trained to help Dr Argilla feed and care for the penguin before the voyage departs.

Happy Feet will be housed in a specially designed travel crate constructed by Wellington Zoo staff, designed to keep him cold and comfortable during the voyage.

NIWA General Manager of Research, Dr Rob Murdoch, said, “The NIWA team are looking forward to having this extra special guest onboard the vessel with us for the journey."

"Happy Feet has captured the hearts of New Zealanders and people across the world, and we’re pleased to be able to help safely return him to the Southern Ocean.”

“We are really pleased that NIWA will be releasing the emperor penguin,” said Wellington Zoo Chief Executive Karen Fifield.

“This is an excellent result for everyone involved, and for the penguin, and is a great example of organisations working together for the best outcome.”

“It is a fantastic coincidence that the Tangaroa’s journey takes it to 53 degrees south, which is within the natural range of juvenile emperor penguins – they are often spotted on Campbell Island which lies at the same latitude.”

Before the boat departs, Happy Feet will be fitted with a GPS tracker, thanks to the generous support of Gareth Morgan and Sirtrack. Fans will be able to follow his progress on both the Sirtrack website and the Our Far South website. At Our Far South you can also sign Happy Feet's farewell card!

Bluebird Foods is generously funding the veterinary costs required to care for the penguin on the trip.

I hope the pampered penguin won't find it too cold out there in the Southern Ocean. The recent polar blast felt all over New Zealand (snow in Wellington?!?) meant it's been cold enough for Happy Feet to take a few dips in his saltwater pool. But while Zoo staff left the door open for him to access the pool as he pleased, the Dominion Post reported that on Monday Happy Feet wasn't so keen to brave the cold - he had to be pushed into the water by vet Mikah Jensen, and then he only swam around for about 20 seconds before returning indoors!

Zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker said that his swimming showed he was making excellent progress. "Because he's swimming it shows that he's got excellent waterproofing," she told NZ Herald.

Support Happy Feet's return to the wild by donating online at Wellington Zoo's website.

Read related posts

Happy Feet heading home in style onboard NIWA's largest research vessel, 17 August 2011, Wellington Zoo
It's even too chilly for Happy Feet by Michelle Duff, 16 August 2011,  The Dominion Post (includes video)
'Perky' Happy Feet set to swim home by Hayley Hannan, 16 August 2011, NZ Herald

New rehab centre for Phillip Island's little penguins

AUSTRALIA - Phillip Island's little penguins can look forward to world-class care in the island's new wildlife rehabilitation centre.

The new centre was developed by Phillip Island Nature Parks in conjunction with the Penguin Foundation. It was opened on 11 August by Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith, who said he was "thrilled" to do so.

"Victoria has one of the largest little penguin colonies in the world so we must do our best to ensure these little creatures are cared for and protected," he said.

The new rehabilitation centre has the capacity to care for up to 1,500 little penguins in the event of an oil spill. It is also equipped to care for other injured Phillip Island wildlife.

“The centre will provide an outstanding level of support for the Philip Island little penguin colony and is a credit to the hard work of the local community and staff at the Philip Island Nature Park,” Minister Smith said.

Wildlife Victoria said the new centre was a "fantastic result": "We certainly hope that the centre will not need to be used at its full capacity; however we find comfort in knowing such a facility now exists in Victoria should the terrible need arise."

Phillip Island Nature Parks open world class wildlife rehabilitation centre, 11 August 2011, Liberal Victoria
New wildlife centre at Phillip Island, 11 August 2011, Wildlife Victoria

Rockhoppers rock in at no. 1 in the Falkland Islands

The swagger of a champion: Falkland
Islands rockhopper penguin.
Photo credit: Liam Q.
Some rights reserved.
FALKLAND ISLANDS - The spiky-feathered rockhopper has been crowned the Falklands' most-loved penguin species according to a recent Facebook poll conducted by the Falkland Islands Tourist Board.

Almost half the voters chose the rockhopper as their favourite, followed by the king penguin (30%) and the gentoo (16%). There are two other penguin species on the islands: Magellanic and macaroni.

The poll was conducted among the Tourist Board's Facebook fans over a two-week period and received 1,467 votes from around the world.

The majority of those who participated - 73% - said that wildlife was the Falklands' biggest draw. Given this result, it is no surprise that 63% said that birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts would be the type of traveller likely to enjoy the Falklands the most.

“Wildlife clearly is high on people’s travel agenda," said Paul Trowell, general manager for the Falkland Islands Tourist Board. "Visitors to the Falklands are guaranteed a personal, one-on-one experience with wildlife, and at times be surrounded by more penguins than people!"  Clearly a draw for any penguin lover!

Nature lovers love the Falklands, 8 August 2011, Falkland Islands Tourist Board
@FITBTourism on Twitter, accessed at 6:38 PM on 17 August 2011 (UK time)

Seal cull not neccesarily way to protect South Australia's penguins

AUSTRALIA - The South Australian Department of Environment has confirmed it has been lobbied for a New Zealand fur seal cull or relocation program as a possible way to halt the decline of the little penguin population on Kangaroo Island.

While the number of penguins in the Victor Harbor/Kangaroo Island region has plummeted, the seal population is now up to 30,000.

John Ayliffe, manager of Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre told The Advertiser that there were about 40 seals specialising on hunting penguins on or near the island.

"There are significant numbers of people who are speculating on [a cull] to maintain a balanced ecosystem," he said, adding that it was not for him to advocate culling as it was a political decision, but it was worth trying to relocate some seals.

The Government's response has been to wait for more research before making a decision. A spokesman for the Department of Environment said that no option could be ruled out until an expert report was obtained in September.

On a local level, the Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board held an Overabundant Species Workshop in June in response the community's concerns. Experts at the workshop strongly advised the Board against any direct action towards New Zealand fur seals at this stage. Presiding Board Member Richard Trethewey told The Advertiser the Board wanted better research before identifying if a solution were needed but would not rule out any action, including a cull or relocation programme.

Meanwhile, penguin experts do not see a seal cull as a solution for the declining penguin population on nearby Granite Island, which is undergoing a census this month.

Researchers predict that this year's census will show a continuation of the devastating downward trend which has seen the island's penguin population drop from 1548 to 146 in the past decade, but say it has not been proven that fur seals are the cause of the decline.

Natalie Gilbert of Granite Island Nature Park told the Sunday Mail, "We need to investigate all possibilities. We shouldn't be making such important decisions [on culling seals] without being completely knowledgeable on the subject. We haven't been able to pinpoint the problem."

"Some colonies in South Australia have got seals close by - lots of them - and are doing fine. Others don't seem to have as many and seem to be suffering a lot more," she told ABC News.

Penguin ecologist Annelise Wiebkin told the Sunday Mail there was not not enough information to prove that culling the fur seals would work, and that the best way of dealing with the problem was managing things on the land.

"If land predators like cats, rats and dogs are an issue - which have been in other colonies in Australia - if we can address that and improve habitat, that might counteract things happening out at sea," she said.

To find out what is behind the Granite Island penguin population decline, researchers but have implemented measures such as motion sensors cameras to capture footage of predators in the penguin colonies, microchipping penguins for future identification, and a program encouraging people to bring in any dead penguins they discover for autopsy.

Vegetation on the island is also closely monitored to ensure it meets the penguins' needs and in July, students and volunteers installed 35 nesting boxes to encourage the birds to breed.

Read related posts:
Penguin houses installed to improve penguin numbers
NZ fur seal population boom could spell doom for Kangaroo Island's little penguins

Experts predict little penguin on brink of extinction by Kim Robertson, 16 August 2011, ABC News
Granite Island penguins are on the brink of being wiped out by Sarah Mennie, 13 August 2011, Sunday Mail
Calls to cull fur seals off Kangaroo Island by Miles Kemp, 8 August 2011, The Advertiser
Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board Meeting Minutes, 27 June 2011

11 August 2011

Famous flightless bird meets famous Fry

NEW ZEALAND - Two creatures with very high social media profiles met this morning when British actor Stephen Fry visited Wellington Zoo and was allowed into celebrity emperor penguin Happy Feet's room.

Mr Fry, who has almost 3 million followers on Twitter, posted a photo of himself with Happy Feet on his Twitter account.

Happy Feet has quite a few followers of his own - the Associated Press reported that more than 120,000 unique visitors have logged onto the live webcam set up by TV3 in his room, and he is a popular topic on Facebook and Twitter.

According to the Dominion Post, the lucky Mr Fry was at the Zoo filming with chimpanzees as part of a BBC programme on language when zoo staff suggested he might like to meet the adventurous penguin.

The price of fame

But Happy Feet is certainly not a free bird. Wellington Zoo spokesperson Kate Baker told NZPA it has cost around NZ$10,000 to keep Happy Feet at the Zoo and it will cost around $30,000 to return him to the wild. This estimate includes his refrigerated transport from Wellington to Bluff and a fishing boat to take him to a point past Stewart Island for release.

So far the Zoo has raised $18,000, which has covered his upkeep, and the additional $8,000 will go towards his trip home. Ms Baker said the Zoo will continue fundraising to hopefully raise the remaining $22,000.

Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell told the Sunday Star Times that $30,000 may seen like a lot to spend on one bird, particularly at a time when the Department of Conservation has had its budget cut and announced staff redundancies, but the publicity around Happy Feet had heightened people's awareness of birds and wildlife in New Zealand in general.

"I wouldn't begrudge Happy Feet his $30,000 because it has created an opportunity to talk," he said. "It might make people think about the wildlife that's around us all the time rather than what turns up once a century."

Read related posts

Stephen Fry meets Happy Feet, 11 August 2011, The Dominion Post
NZ penguin eats, sleeps, waddles to delight of web by Nick Perry, 5 August 2011, Associated Press
$30k bill to get Happy Feet back home, NZPA, 31 July 2011, NZ Herald
Happy Feet rated priceless publicity despite costs by Sarah Harvey and Michael Field, 31 July 2011, The Sunday Star Times