19 September 2011

Screen stardom no pipe dream for little penguins

NEW ZEALAND - Little penguins nesting near Chaddy's Charters in New Plymouth have become screen stars thanks to funding from the George Mason Charitable Trust and Nga Motu Marine Reserve Society.

Chartered lifeboat owner Dave Chadfield told the Taranaki Daily News that the penguins settled in some old pipes near his shop 21 years ago.

Now, the funding has paid for a camera which is filming one nest with a live feed back to a screen in Chaddy's Charters shop.

Mr Chadfield said that the penguins' activeness was fascinating, and he finds himself wandering downstairs to his shop at all hours to see what they're up to.

"It's all part of eco-tourism really and it's great for people to get to know more about how penguins live. They're fascinating little things," he told the Taranaki Daily News.

Penguins make their screen debut by Jo Moir, 3 September 2011, Taranaki Daily News

13 September 2011

The case of the missing penguin

SOUTHERN OCEAN - Transmission over. We may never know what happened to  emperor penguin Happy Feet as his satellite transmitter has stopped transmitting.

Sirtrack, who provided the transmitter, have confirmed that a signal has not been received since 9 September, NZ time. This lack of signal means that the transmitter has not broken the surface of the water since that time.

The transmitter had been working as expected up until its last transmission, so there are two possibilities: either the transmitter has fallen off (my preference!) or something (or someone) has prevented Happy Feet from surfacing.

Although Sirtrack said that Happy Feet's transmitter was fitted according to proven methods - so it was expected to stay attached to him until he moults in the New Year - in any wildlife research project it is accepted that a satellite transmitter may detach from the animal prematurely.

Our Far South, the company helping to use the tracking data to come up with Happy Feet's location, see this as the most likely scenario: "After all it was only glued on and would have had to survive extreme conditions."

Kevin Lay, a wildlife telemetry consultant at Sirtrack, told The Dominion Post, "The other possibility that no one wants to think about is that something in the food chain bigger than Happy Feet had him for a meal. That's what makes the world go round."

However, a penguin expert from Massey University told Stuff that is was highly likely Happy Feet was still alive.

Associate Professor John Cockrem from the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences said, "Of the natural predators, leopard seals would be far further south, around the Antarctic continent, at this time. I also think the chances of meeting an orca are pretty small."

And Happy Feet's defenders are saying that, even if he did end up in the belly of that something bigger, it was worth the money spent on him.

Wellington Zoo spokesperson said the extra cost of caring for the penguin at The Nest - Te Kohanga was just under NZ$30,000. This had been covered entirely by donations from the public and generous support from Bluebird Foods and Gareth Morgan.

Department of Conservation Kapiti biodiversity programme manager Peter Simpson, who was on the penguin advisory committee, told The Dominion Post that the emperor penguin had helped raise public awareness about wildlife. He stood by the decision that had been made to remove Happy Feet from Peka Peka beach and said that releasing him had been the right thing to do.

I hope Happy Feet is alive and well, gradually making his way south to his Antarctic home, but it is unlikely we will ever know.

As Te Papa’s curator of terrestrial vertebrates Dr Colin Miskelly, who was also a member of the advisory committee, wrote on Te Papa's Blog, "... it is time to harden up to the reality that the penguin has returned to the anonymity from which he emerged on 20 June."

He does, however, offer a small ray of hope that "maybe, just maybe, he will surprise us all by turning up at a monitored emperor penguin colony, where the transponder inserted under the skin on his thigh will remind us all that once upon a time, a long time ago, he was more than just another penguin." 

Hope yet for Happy Feet fans by Kirsty Johnston, 13 September 2011, Stuff
$30k spent on Happy Feet 'worthwhile' by Kiran Chug, 13 September 2011, The Dominion Post
The global penguin - part 10. It's only a game by Colin Miskelly, 12 September 2011, Te Papa's Blog
Track Happy Feet Update, 12 September 2011, Our Far South
Happy Feet transmissions cease, 12 September 2011, Sirtrack
Wellington Zoo farewells Happy Feet, 30 August 2011, Wellington Zoo

12 September 2011

Little penguins put Manly Wharf work on hold

AUSTRALIA - Little penguins nesting under Manly Wharf have put on hold Manly Council's excavation work there. A council spokesman said that work will not resume again until the penguin breeding season ends in February.

The Manly Daily reported that council staff and contractors had removed sand and begun stormwater works near the wharf, but the work was called off after volunteer penguin protectors alerted the council about the nests they had spotted.

Stephen Clements, the council’s deputy general manager, said its staff were educated in identifying penguin nests and had not found any in the area.

But penguin protector Angelika Treichler told the The Manly Daily that she had seen two penguins nesting under the wharf the night before. She was not sure how many penguins used the wharf as their nesting area.

Anne McGloghry, another penguin protector, also asked the council to fill in a trench that had been dug as a little penguin had fallen in earlier that week and needed the penguin protectors' assistance to get out.

Penguins halt flood mitigation at Manly Wharf by John Morcombe, 31 August 2011, The Manly Daily

Good news for Troubridge Island's penguins

AUSTRALIA - A recent little penguin census on Troubridge Island has found about 2600 pairs - making it one of the largest populations of little penguins in South Australia and the largest in the region.

Penguin ecologist Annelise Wiebkin, who has been studying penguins on Troubridge since 2004, told Yorke Peninsula Country Times that she believes the island's penguin population is stable.

She said that in 1980s and 1990s the estimated number of penguin pairs on the island fluctuated between 2000-4000, in 2004 it was 2528 and in 2009 it was 3010.

The stability of the population suggests food is readily available near the island and the adult survival rate is relatively high.

Troubridge's penguin census results are in stark contrast to those on Granite Island, where the population is small and decreasing.

Read related post: Grim census results for Granite Island's penguins

Penguin population stable on Troubridge by Karina Natt, 30 August 2011, Yorke Peninsula Country Times 

Risky operation for "greedy" penguin

UK - It looks like Happy Feet isn't the only penguin eating things that penguins shouldn't. Two-year-old Humboldt penguin Lola at the National Seal Sanctuary in Gweek had to undergo a risky operation after swallowing a hair grip that had fallen into her enclosure.

The Falmouth Packet reported that Sanctuary staff were alerted to the problem when Lola, who is renowned for her greedy appetite, refused to eat her fish. An X-ray at the vet's revealed a metal object in Lola's stomach, and meant staff had to make a tough decision about whether the vets should operate to remove it - a complicated procedure.

Tamara, head of the Sanctuary's animal care team, told The Falmouth Packet that staff were worried about how Lola would cope without her fellow penguins, but the bird's confident and gregarious nature gave them confidence that she would recover quickly.

"If there was ever a bird that would survive this sort of operation, we knew it would be Lola," she said.

And their confidence was well placed. After the operation and an overnight stay at the vet's, Lola returned to the Sanctuary where she was put in quarantine and received further treatment from the animal care team. Now she's back in the pool with her penguin pals, much to the delight of staff.

Attraction manager Sarah told The Falmouth Packet, “Lola was ecstatic to be back with the other penguins. They all flapped their wings and brayed loudly.”

Emergency operation for greedy penguin at seal sanctuary, 29 August 2011, Falmouth Packet

11 September 2011

Little penguins take break from parenting duties

AUSTRALIA - A joint study between Australian and French scientists, to be published in Ecology, has discovered a sophisticated feeding strategy for little penguins, enabling them to take regular breaks from raising their chicks.

“We found little penguins alternate between two consecutive long trips and several short foraging trips while rearing their offspring,” said Claire Saraux, a French student from the University of Strasbourg conducting her PhD project in Australia.

“That strategy is almost never observed in inshore marine birds that forage close to land.”

Life history theory predicts long-lived species such as penguins favour their own survival over breeding and the survival of their offspring. Little penguins, however, have developed a fine foraging plan that balances the demands of chick rearing and parental survival.

“Short foraging trips yield larger meals and allow for regular provisioning of chicks.

But adults can deplete their energy reserves during these trips and ultimately risk their own survival,” Ms Saraux said.

To improve their body condition, breeding adults switch to longer foraging trips when they reach a low threshold mass.

“The two consecutive long trips therefore enable little penguin parents to rebuild their reserves before another round of short trips.”

Dr André Chiaradia, joint author and penguin biologist with Phillip Island Nature Parks, noted researchers previously thought little penguins making longer foraging trips were struggling to feed their chicks, or had abandoned them altogether.

“Food can be patchy where little penguins forage. But this pattern of alternating short and long trips is repeated every year, regardless whether the feeding conditions are good or bad,” he said.

“Finding foraging patterns in animals is crucial, as it contributes to us understanding how animals are resilient to changes in their environment,” Dr Chiaradia concluded.

The study was conducted using eight years of data. The data was collected with the aid of an automatic penguin weigh bridge located on a penguin pathway at Phillip Island's Penguin Parade.

Little penguins take a break from raising their offspring, 18 August 2011, Phillip Island Nature Parks

Happy trails, Happy Feet!

NEW ZEALAND -  It was one small slide for a penguin, one giant slide for penguin-kind as Happy Feet, a strong contender for World's Most Adventurous Penguin, became the first emperor freed into the wild with a tracking device.

Watch the video of Happy Feet's release at Stuff.co.nz

The wayward penguin, who found his way onto a New Zealand beach and into people's hearts worldwide, was released from NIWA's vessel Tangaroa into the Southern Ocean at 10:30 am on 4 September, 49 miles due north of Campbell Island, at a depth of 285 metres.

Wellington Zoo's manager of veterinary science, Dr Lisa Argilla, had to give her patient a friendly nudge to send him on his way down the purpose-made hydro-slide off the stern ramp of the vessel. Other release options, including using an inflatable boat, could not be used because of the rough seas.

“Happy Feet needed some gentle encouragement to leave the safety of his crate that has been his home for six days," Dr Argilla said.

"He slid down his specially designed penguin slide backwards but once he hit the water he spared no time in diving off away from the boat and all those ‘aliens’ who have been looking after him for so long.”

“It's an indescribable feeling to see a patient finally set free!" she said. "It’s definitely the best part of the job.”

The NIWA team onboard were all out on deck to farewell their special passenger, glad that he has been returned to his natural environment.

Voyage leader Dr Richard O'Driscoll said it had been a pleasure to have Happy Feet onboard.

“He’s been a well-behaved passenger, except when our team have helped to feed him, and he’s shown them who the boss is with a peck or two. We are just happy to help him on his journey home.”

On 29 August, a day after his penguin-themed farewell party, Happy Feet left Wellington Zoo – his home for the last two months since being found exhausted and hungry on Peka Peka beach on the Kapiti Coast – in a travel crate specially designed to keep him cold and comfortable during the voyage.

As the Tangaroa's Very Important Penguin, Happy Feet was treated to hoki for his meals and ‘room service’ with fresh ice put in his crate each day. It has been a very rough journey, but it seemed that Happy Feet coped with the rollercoaster seas better than his caretaker.

"Mr HF was, as per usual, stroppy!" Dr Argilla wrote on The Nest blog on 2 September. "I was slipping and sliding around the crate this morning while trying to hold his mouth open for fish, and he took advantage of the fact that Dan [from NIWA] and I were struggling ... little fiend ... He is still doing so well, I still can't believe how he just stands in his crate while I'm holding onto whatever I can find for dear life for fear of being swept overboard!"

The team onboard Tangaroa will now continue their voyage on a month-long fisheries survey on Campbell Island southern blue whiting stocks. Dr Argilla is still writing her blog, although things are much quieter without her Mr HF.

The day after his release she wrote, "It was a little sad not having to check up on him first thing and have him tell me off with is characteristic little head nod. I couldn't help but get a little (ok, a lot!) attached to him after 2 months. Ah well, I am still ecstatic that he is free, and I bet he is too!" 

Dr Argilla is filling in her time by working on her thesis and fighting seasickness, as well as following the penguin's progress.

"Part of the routine now is to get daily updates as to HF's position as the crew (and me of course) are all VERY interested in what he is up to. We're pretty happy he is cruising steadily South. There is a lot of fish around so he is likely having a great time munching on them as he passes," she wrote on 8 September.

Happy Feet has been fitted with a Sirtrack satellite tracker and a microchip, thanks to the generous support of Gareth Morgan, so fans are able to follow his travels at www.nzemperor.com.

The Dominion Post reported that even New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key had something to say about the penguin's successful release: "I am glad an orca whale didn't eat him; we wish him the best."

I hope all goes well for our feathered friend. To quote Dr Argilla, "Good luck Mr HF, keep safe, swim home SOUTH please, find some mates, and please stay away from those orcas and leopard seals!"

I would also add a reminder that SAND IS NOT SNOW.

Read related posts

Happy Feet travel blog number 9 by Dr Lisa Argilla, 2 September 2011, Wellington Zoo's Nest blog
Happy Feet has been successfully released, 4 September 2011, Wellington Zoo
Happy Feet travel blog number 13 by Dr Lisa Argilla, 4 September 2011, Wellington Zoo's Nest blog
Happy Feet released in Southern Ocean by Kate Newton, 4 September 2011, The Dominion Post
Dr Lisa Argilla travel blog number 1 by Dr Lisa Argilla, 5 September 2011, Wellington Zoo's Nest blog
Hard to tell if Happy Feet is heading in the right direction by Kiran Chug, 6 September 2011, The Dominion Post
Dr Lisa Argilla travel blog number 2 by Dr Lisa Argilla, 8 September 2011, Wellington Zoo's Nest blog