19 December 2011

It's the beats that count: how emperor penguins decide to surface

Emperor penguins.
Photo credit: sandwichgirl.
Some rights reserved.
ANTARCTICA - When emperor penguins are underwater, how do they decide when to stop feeding and return to the surface to breathe?

According to a study published recently in The Journal of Experimental Biology, when they ascend to the surface is determined by how many times they flap their wings.

Kozue Shiomi and colleagues from the University of Tokyo, Japan, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, analysed the dive profiles of emperor penguins and found that the birds used on average 237 wing beats before embarking on their return.

The scientsts suggest that the penguins' decision to return to the surface was constrained not by how much time they are underwater, but how much power their muscles can produce after every pre-dive breath. 

Penguins time dives by wing beat by Kathryn Knight, Inside JEB, The Journal of Experimental Biology
How penguins "time" a deep dive, 8 December 2011, BBC News

Journal of Experimental Biology citation
Shiomi, K., Sato, K. and Ponganis, P.J. (2012). Point of no return in diving emperor penguins: is decision to return time limited by the number of strokes? J. Exp. Biol. 215, 135-140.

14 December 2011

Buddy and Pedro move on to make moves on the ladies

CANADA - It looks like the "bromance" is over. Buddy and Pedro, the same-sex penguin couple who made headlines worldwide when Toronto Zoo decided to separate them for an African penguin breeding program, have rediscovered females.

The more experienced Buddy, who was in a relationship with a female penguin for over 10 years and has fathered chicks before, obviously remembered what women want. Less than three days after the zoo separated him and Pedro, he had paired up with female Farai.

The younger Pedro, who has yet to be a dad, has been trying to get the attention of Thandiwey, another female, but so far his advances have been rejected.

Tom Mason, the zoo's curator of birds and invertebrates, told the media that both Buddy and Pedro would probably end up settling with females as their relationship had been social rather than sexual.

Read previous post: Caught in a lad romance

Toronto's "gay" penguins split as one mates with female, 13 December 2011, BBC News
Toronto Zoo's "gay" penguins split as Buddy finds a female mate, 13 December 2011, The Metro

Penguins' past may reveal how they will cope with climate change

Adelie penguins.
Photo credit: Mike Martoccia.
Some rights reserved.
ANTARCTICA - Scientists from New Zealand's University of Auckland and Italy's University of Pisa are in Antarctica to search for clues about Adelie penguins' evolutionary past, and what this shows about how they will respond to climate change.

The team will spend a month collecting samples from two penguin rookeries, digging through layers of accumulated bones, eggshells, feathers, nests, and guano to gather DNA from long-dead penguins.

Professor Carlo Baroni, professor of geomorphology at the University of Pisa, told the NZ Herald that penguins lived in the coldest environment on earth and if the temperature warmed, they couldn't migrate to a colder climate.

"If global warming increases and affects the Antarctic regions, penguins have no other place to go, so they must adapt or die," he said.

Auckland University's Yvette Wharton said, "As we are getting climate change occurring there is going to be quite a specific effect on [Adelie penguins'] potential ecological niche. We're squishing them."

She said they would learn of past climatic changes, how the colony sizes had changed, and how the penguins had evolved to meet these new conditions.

Antarctic study digs for clues to penguin past by James Borrowdale, 14 December 2011, NZ Herald

13 December 2011

Same-sex penguin couple given chick to raise

CHINA - A pair of male gentoo penguins at Harbin Polar Land have been given a chick to raise as their own.

Keepers decided to give the same-sex couple, 0310 and 067, the chick after noticing that a penguin mother who had recently hatched twins seemed to be struggling.

As penguin parents equally share in the responsibility of incubating and raising chicks, keepers are confident that two males will do a good job. Penguin males have a natural instinct for parenting. In fact, 0310 and 067 have got into trouble in the past for trying to steal eggs from other couples in order to incubate them.

Read related post: Caught in a lad romance

'Gay' penguins given baby chick to parent in China by Alex Pielak, 5 December 2011, The Metro
Gay penguin pair adopt a baby chick in China by Erin Skarda, 7 December 2011, Time Newsfeed

Emperor penguins need Endangered Species Act protection says wildlife organisation

Emperor penguin (public domain photo)
USA -  The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a legal petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for emperor penguins threatened by global warming. The Center says that emperors are the most ice-dependent of all penguin species, threatened by the loss of their sea-ice habitat as well as declining food availability wrought by the warming ocean off Antarctica. Their populations are declining because of global warming; some colonies have entirely disappeared.

“The sea-ice habitat that emperor penguins need to survive is melting beneath their feet,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “It’s great to see movies like Happy Feet Two bringing the plight of emperor penguins to people around the world. But in reality, there’s no happy Hollywood ending for these penguins unless we take real action to address the global climate crisis.” 

Emperor penguins need sea ice for breeding and foraging. The petition highlights the serious problems of melting sea ice and other warming-driven changes in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Areas of Antarctica are experiencing dramatic warming, leading to loss of sea ice as well as the collapse of ice sheets.

In 2006, the Center filed a petition to list 12 penguin species as threatened or endangered. The US Department of the Interior conducted status reviews for 10 of those species. After delays and ultimately a court order, the agency protected seven species but denied protection for the remaining ones, including the emperor. This petition presents new scientific information demonstrating that emperor penguins are imperiled.

“Emperor penguins are icons of wild Antarctica,” said Sakashita. “And protecting them under the Endangered Species Act is essential to their survival.”

Listing under the Endangered Species Act would provide broad protection to these penguins, including a requirement that federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorised or funded by the U.S. government will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of the penguin species. For example, if penguins are listed, future approval of fishing permits for US-flagged vessels operating on the high seas would require analysis and minimisation of impacts on the listed penguins. The Act also has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas pollution by compelling federal agencies to look at the impact of the emissions generated by their activities on listed species.

Read previous post: Endangered Species Act protection for southern rockhoppers 

Endangered Species Act protection sought for emperor penguins, 28 November 2011, Center for Biological Diversity

12 December 2011

High praise for wildlife response team as penguins released

The first batch of cleaned penguins is released back
into the wild at Mt Maunganui.
Photo credit: Maritime New Zealand.
NEW ZEALAND - Over 100 clean little blue penguins rescued from the Rena oil spill have been returned to their normal nesting grounds in a series of staged releases by the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team (NOWRT).

The first 49 penguins were released on 22 November, in what was described by Maritime New Zealand as a "major milestone" in the ongoing oil spill response to the Rena grounding.

At the time of their release, Environment Minister Nick Smith said, "It is a heart-warming experience after the devastating scene of oiled and dead birds to see these healthy penguins returning to their natural habitat."

"The wildlife response to this disaster has been first class ... Their efforts have saved hundreds of birds from an ugly death and ensured we have the base breeding stock for the populations of penguins, shags, petrels and dotterels to recover.

"I want to acknowledge the efforts of Maritime New Zealand, Department of Conservation, iwi, New Zealand Defence Force, and the thousands of volunteers who recovered oiled birds and cleaned up the beaches and coast to enable these birds to return to their natural habitat."

Director of Maritime New Zealand, Catherine Taylor, praised the NOWRT for their contribution to the overall oil spill response.

Ms Taylor said the NOWRT, which is trained, managed and coordinated by specialists at Massey University and includes other wildlife specialists and coordinators from the regions, had mobilised within hours of Rena grounding on 5 October.

The team had very quickly established a facility for treating and housing the animals and Ms Taylor said that they had been "working tirelessly" since then to collect and care for the animals affected by this spill.

Ms Taylor also said a large number of other agencies and individuals, such as Department of Conservation personnel, had been integral to the overall effectiveness of the response and the team has also been supported by wildlife specialists from around New Zealand and Australia, as well as US-based specialists from the conservation group International Bird Rescue and Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

NOWRT coordinator Kerri Morgan echoed Ms Taylor’s gratitude for the support the team had received.

“This has truly been a team effort. We have had support from all over the country, and from our international colleagues. We have had an outstanding level of support from the local community. We’ve had so many people give up their time to help us care for the animals.

“Also, beyond the wildlife team, it’s important to recognise that every person who has contributed to the oil spill response has also played a part in the release today.

“The oil spill response teams have been working for weeks now to get the beaches to a standard safe to return the animals into – we also have to thank the salvors, the volunteers and the New Zealand Defence Force.”

Miss Morgan said the released birds had been microchipped and would be monitored to see whether the spill affects their long-term health.

For future research, the NOWRT had searched the local area and checked and microchipped the unoiled penguins they found so they can also be monitored. The birds provide an opportunity to study two populations of penguins over the next few years – those that have been rehabilitated and released, and those unaffected by oil.

“We will be able to follow them to see what happens to breeding patterns and other factors.”

As of 9 December, there were 190 penguins still being housed at the Wildlife Centre, as well as 12 dotterels. The NOWRT will continue to release the birds in stages over the coming weeks as their habitats are cleaned up and after they pass pre-release assessments.

Rena update #129, 9 December 2011, Maritime New Zealand
Rena update #116, 28 November 2011, Maritime New Zealand
Rena update #107, 22 November 2011, Maritime New Zealand
Penguin release milestone in Rena recovery, 22 November 2011, Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment

05 December 2011

Rescued penguins find new home in San Francisco

USA - The adventure isn't over for six Magellanic penguins who washed up weak and malnourished on the Brazilian coast.

In February, twenty rescued birds who were deemed too weak to survive in the wild were sent to the USA to Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Now six of those penguins have been donated to San Francisco Zoo, where they bring the number of penguins to 51 - the largest collection of Magellanic penguins at any zoo or aquarium in the world.

Read previous posts:
Rescued penguins to join flock at San Francisco Zoo by Stephanie Lee, 2 November 2011, SF Gate
San Francisco Zoo receives six Magellanic penguins (photos) by Carly Schwartz, 11 November 2011, The Huffington Post