16 August 2012

Luxury beachfront accommodation for penguins

Chris Hishon (front) and
Richard Heyward with their
purpose-built nest boxes for
the Fiordland penguin.
Credit: Real Journeys
NEW ZEALAND - The proactive and DIY attitude of two Real Journeys staff, combined with support from the Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation, has led to the creation of luxury beachfront accommodation for rare Fiordland penguins at Milford Sound’s Harrison Cove.

Chris Hishon, skipper of the overnight Milford Sound cruise boat, the Milford Mariner, and nature guide Richard Heyward have constructed purpose-built nest boxes for the penguins in a bid to provide them with a safe breeding haven, particularly for their susceptible chicks.

From physicsworld.com: How do you recognise a penguin in a crowd?

In less than 100 seconds, Peter Barham explains how penguins possess unique coats.

How do you recognise a penguin in a crowd? by Peter Barham, 14 August 2012, physicsworld.com

31 July 2012

Another Fiordland penguin turns up across the ditch

AUSTRALIA - Another Fiordland penguin has made its way from New Zealand to Australian shores, this time to a beach in Denmark, Western Australia, The West Australian reported.

The young bird, estimated to be about 10 months old, was found on 15 July. Veterinarian David Edmonds told The West Australian that the penguin would have left New Zealand's South Island in November, meaning it would have been travelling for six months - over half its life! - and covered a distance of 3,500 km.

28 July 2012

Beanbags proposed to protect penguins from seals

AUSTRALIA - Another suggestion from the Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre in South Australia to reduce the number of New Zealand fur seals in the area has received no support from the SA Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), ABC News reported.

The island's New Zealand fur seal population was almost eradicated by commercial sealing in the 1800s, but their numbers are now about 25,000. While this is good news for the seals, some Kangaroo Island residents believe these predators are responsible for the decline of the local little penguin population, which is a major tourist attraction.

27 July 2012

Masters of the earth - so let's take responsibility

As many Pertinent Penguin posts show, penguins face a lot of threats. But their biggest threat may be the world's exploding human population. Because of our behaviour, we lose thousands of species to extinction every year. It is estimated that by 2100, 1 in 10 species will be extinct.

This thought-provoking infographic from OnlineMastersDegree.com illustrates not just the terrifying scope of our destruction, but three simple changes we as individuals can make to our routine to reduce our collective footprint.

17 July 2012

Puzzling penguin deaths in Brazil under investigation

BRAZIL - Autopsies are being conducted after 512 dead Magellanic penguins were found on beaches in Brazil's southern Rio Grande do Sul state, AFP reports.

The Center of Coastal and Marine Studies (Ceclimar) said that around 30 samples from the penguins were being analysed by veterinarians at Porto Alegre University and results were to be released within a month.

The large number of dead penguins and the fact that the birds appear to be well fed, not exhausted, uninjured and untainted by oil has veterinarians puzzled, Celclimar said.

In its coverage of the event, BBC News said that similar incidents in the past have been blamed on shifting ocean currents and colder temperatures.

Magellanic penguins breed in southern Argentina and Chile. Their annual migration, between March and September, takes them north along the Rio Grande do Sul coast up to Sao Paulo.

Read related article

500 penguins found dead on Brazil beaches, 14 July 2012, AFP
Brazil biologists investigate penguin deaths, 14 July 2012, BBC News

The penguin formerly known as No.337 formally named Sazanami

JAPAN - Although the media waves he created were anything but small, Tokyo Sea Life Park's penguin No.337 has been named "Sazanami", which translates as "small waves", AFP reports.

Sazamami sounds similar to how "337" is pronounced in Japanese, the aquarium said in a statement, and also he "... came back to the aquarium just as waves ebb and flow, which was another reason for the name".

The competition to name the Humboldt penguin, who spent 82 days at large after escaping from his enclosure, attracted 6,400 entries.

Read previous posts  

Runaway penguin in Japan gets new name, 11 July 2012, AFP

13 July 2012

Rats threaten Humboldt penguins, study finds

CHILE – Research has shown that invading rats can be added to the list of threats to the declining Humboldt penguin population on Chile’s coastal islands, the Associated Press reports. Unless the rodents are eradicated, they could push these vulnerable birds towards extinction.

Rats have had devastating impacts on numerous seabird populations, but few studies have been done to show their impact on penguins. This study, published in the Journal of Ornithology in March, shows quantifiably for the first time that rats are important alien predators of eggs at Humboldt penguin colonies.

To look at the effects of rat predation, the researchers placed boiled chicken eggs in empty penguin nests (simulating unattended clutches) in colonies on Pájaros Island in north Chile and Algarrobo Island in central Chile. They found that in both colonies, the eggs were primarily predated by rats; on Pájaros, black rats ate 70% of the eggs, and on Algarrobo, brown (Norway) rats ate 53%. Kelp gulls took 10% of the eggs on Pájaros and 16% on Algarrobo. Significantly more eggs were predated at night, and rates of predation were highest within the first 12 hours.

Humboldt penguins, who face many other dangers such as fishing nets, changing sea currents and their nests being collapsed by nesting pelicans, are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Study author Alejandro Simeone, director of Andres Bello University’s Ecology and Biodiversity Department, told the Associated Press that the Humboldt population has fallen from hundreds of thousands decades ago to below 45,000.

While the biggest threat to the Humboldts is getting caught in fishing nets, changing sea currents mean that adult penguins are having to travel further to find food, leaving their chicks alone at the nest for longer periods of time. Simeone and co-author Guillermo Luna-Jorquera suggest that the rat presence at Humboldt penguin colonies coupled with this and other events that can cause temporary nest abandonment may impact on the penguins’ breeding success. So to improve the nesting habitat and of the penguins and other seabirds, the rats should be eradicated.

But getting rid of the rats is easier said than done. Simeone said that using toxic bait that is harmless to birds, as has been done in other countries, would be complex and costly in Chile. And while the island in central Chile is one of several penguin sanctuaries established by the Chilean government, there is no budget dedicated to protecting them from rats.

The study was supported by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee, which has provided more than US$200,000 towards Humboldt penguin conservation and research since 1994, including annual population surveys and the building of artificial burrows.

Roberta Wallace, the lead veterinarian at the Milwaukee Zoo, told the Associated Press that eliminating the rats would be a huge logistical challenge, because you would have to pay someone to go to the islands frequently to put out poison in order to break the rodents' reproductive cycle.

"It's not like putting out poison once and everything dies. You'd have to keep at it, because they breed like crazy, and you'd have to make sure you don't do damage to other species,” she said. 

It's rats vs. penguins on contested Chilean island by Eva Vergara, 12 July 2012, Associated Press
Estimating rat predation on Humboldt Penguin colonies in north-central Chile (Abstract). Alejandro Simeone and Guillermo Luna-Jorquera, Journal of Ornithology, 19 March 2012, DOI: 10.1007/s10336-012-0837-z

12 July 2012

Do not disturb? King penguins stressed by human presence

King penguin.
Credit: V.Viblanc/IPE
Research has shown that king penguins can get used to some, but not all, human interference. The study, published in the journal BMC Ecology, looked at how a king penguin colony on the protected Possession Island in the subantarctic Crozet Islands has adjusted to over 50 years of constant human disturbance.

A team of researchers from the University of Strasbourg, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the University of Lausanne compared 15 king penguins breeding in areas disturbed daily by humans and 18 penguins breeding in undisturbed areas. The penguins in the study were all brooding a chick aged from 2 days to 1 month.

Using heart rate to indicate the stress level of each penguin, they compared the stress response of penguins from the different areas to three stressors. Two low intensity stressors, a human approach to 10 metres and a loud noise, mimicked the actions of tourists, researchers, and noises from machines when operating on the outskirts of the colony. One high intensity stressor, a capture, simulated researchers taking measurements.

Compared with penguins from undisturbed areas, penguins from areas of high human disturbance were less stressed by noise and approaching humans. However, following capture, the maximum relative heart rate of the penguins who were used to humans increased 42% higher than it did for undisturbed birds, although the human-acclimated penguins then recovered faster. Therefore, penguins seem to be getting used to human observers, but they do not habituate to being captured.

“Our findings report a case of physiological adjustment to human presence in a long-studied king penguin colony, and emphasise the importance of considering potential effects of human presence in ecological studies,” said lead author Vincent Viblanc.

While penguins getting used to people may be beneficial to scientific research and tourist management, this study also raises the question of the potential influence of human activities on the selection of specific phenotypes (traits). For example, could human disturbance cause those individual animals who are more stress-sensitive to progressively leave the disturbed areas? For scientists studying animals in their native habitat, it also underlines the importance of physiological studies in interpreting results before conservation measures are implemented.

Evaluating the impact of humans on protected wildlife such as king penguins is particularly important given the rise in popularity of Antarctic tour groups. Dr Viblanc said that a central question for ecologists is the extent to which anthropogenic (i.e. human) disturbances such as tourism might impact wildlife and affect the systems under study.

"One of the major pitfalls of such research is in forgetting that, from the perspective of the wildlife studied, tourism and scientific research are not two worlds apart," he said. 

Not so happy: king penguins stressed by human presence, 11 July 2012, BioMed Central  

BMC Ecology citation
Coping with continuous human disturbance in the wild: insights from penguin heart rate response to various stressors. Vincent A Viblanc, Andrew D Smith, Benoit Gineste and René Groscolas, BMC Ecology 2012, 12:10 doi:10.1186/1472-6785-12-10

08 July 2012

Magellanic penguins stranded in Brazil

BRAZIL - In the past few weeks dozens of Magellanic penguins have turned up on beaches in Rio de Janeiro, far further north than the cooler Argentine waters where they should be swimming.

I can think of worse places to be stranded, but the tropical waters are not very suitable for the unlucky birds.

Many of the penguins, in poor health after their unexpectedly long journey, have been taken to a rehabilitation centre and will be transferred back to their natural habitat.

It is common for juvenile Magellanic penguins to get lost while searching for food, experts say. Hundreds of penguins turn up in Brazil every winter, especially in the country's southern states.

Last year, twenty penguins rescued from Rio de Janeiro in 2010 were sent to zoos in the United States after they were deemed too weak to survive in the wild.

Read related posts 

Stranded penguins end up off Rio beach, 4 July 2012, Sky News
'Lost' penguins turn up on Rio's beaches, 6 July 2012, BBC News
Penguins spotted in waters off a Rio beach, 4 July 2012, ITN

Ancient penguin poo provides nutrients for Antarctic moss

ANTARCTICA - Scientists have discovered that Antarctic moss grows thanks to Adelie penguin poo that is thousands of years old, BBC Nature reported.

Professor Sharon Robinson from Australia's University of Wollongong and her team analysed the chemicals that made up an Antarctic moss plant and found that it contained nitrogen that had passed through a marine predator.

"Nitrogen that's gone through algae, krill and fish and then penguins has a characteristic 'seabird signature'," Prof Robinson told BBC Nature.

But no penguins live on the lakeside site in East Antarctica where the moss beds are located, so the scientists realised that they must be growing on the site of an ancient penguin colony.

Prof Robinson said the Adelie penguins used to live on the site between 3000 and 8000 years ago, and that this is supported by fossil evidence and the fact that there is still penguin poo.

"And because Antarctica is so cold, those nutrients have just stayed frozen in the soil; they're now feeding this moss," she said.

The findings were presented in Salzburg, Austria at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology.

Antarctic moss lives on ancient penguin poo by Victoria Gill, 5 July 2012, BBC Nature

Another crested penguin in AMWRRO care

AUSTRALIA - What is it about South Australia that crested penguins find so attractive? The Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation (AMWRRO) is hoping to release Katrina the Fiordland penguin within a month, but they now have another crested penguin - Kym the rockhopper - to take care of.

Six-month-old Kym was found on 1 July in Beachport, very sick and underweight. She was held overnight and then flown to AMWRRO in Adelaide for treatment. Originally thought to be a Fiordland, erect-crested or Snares, penguin expert Ken Simpson confirmed the bird is a northern rockhopper (or Moseley) penguin.

Northern rockhoppers breed on St. Paul and Amsterdam Islands in the Indian Ocean. Although it is not unusual for adults to swim to Australia in late June or early July to moult, Kym is the only recorded juvenile to arrive on South Australian shores since 2000.

There is no record of any juvenile penguins as young as Kym being successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild, but AMWRRO are hopeful they will be the first to do.

Meanwhile, Fiordland penguin Katrina, who was found on a South Australian beach in early May after travelling 3000km from New Zealand, is making a remarkable recovery from emergency abdominal surgery. AMWRRO hope she could be ready for release within a month.

"She has got over her surgery and doubled in weight, which is what we wanted to see," AMWRRO manager Aaron Machado told Portside Messenger.

Katrina has had little human contact through her rehabilitation, with volunteers only venturing into her enclosure to feed her. If the feathers on her abdomen that had to be removed during surgery grow back and prove to be waterproof, she will be released into the wild.

Mr Machado said he was going to discuss with the New Zealand government whether Katrina would be released in New Zealand or Australia.

Read previous post

Kiwi penguin Katrina almost ready for release by Daniela Abbracciavento, 3 July 2012, Portside Messenger
Confirmation of species - Moseley rockhopper penguin! 3 July 2012, AMWRRO
Juvenile crested penguin found in the lower south east - again! 2 July 2012, AMWRRO

02 July 2012

Penguin colony destroyed by roaming dogs

DOC ranger Nicky Armstrong with
five of the dead penguins.
Photo credit: DOC

NEW ZEALAND - The West Coast Blue Penguin Trust is devastated after dogs killed 15 little blue penguins in a matter of days, effectively wiping out a colony in Westport.

The dead penguins were found by members of the public and the Trust’s ranger at the lighthouse end of the Cape Foulwind track. The deaths are being investigated by the NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) and local dog control officers.

The bodies were discovered only a kilometre away from a site where the Trust is trying to set up a public viewing area, where people will be able to watch the birds coming to their nests at dusk.

West Coast Blue Penguin Trust Ranger Reuben Lane says the first five penguins were taken to a local vet to confirm the cause of death.

“They all had classic puncture wounds to the head, neck, and upper body and the overwhelming conclusion was that they had died from crushing bites from a dog. Going from the information about where they were found it is almost certain a dog, or two, were roaming at night hunting penguins, giving a killing chomp and running on to the next,” he said.

West Coast Blue Penguin Trust Chair Kerry-Jayne Wilson said she is devastated.

“We have worked so hard to build up the Cape Foulwind population and early signs suggested things were looking good with prospecting birds already having visited nest boxes in the potential viewing colony.

"Out of control dogs have undone so much of our hard work, work that was recently recognised nationally with a Green Ribbon Environmental award.  This could set our Cape Foulwind project back years,” she said.

“Almost all penguins killed at this time of year will be breeding birds preparing for the breeding season that is about to begin.  These would be healthy birds in breeding condition and are the individuals that we can least afford to lose, it is these birds that have the greatest affect on the populations ability to grow.”

Authorities have had reports from the public about dogs roaming free in the area. Under the Dog Control Act the owner of a dog that attacks or kills wildlife can be fined up to NZ$3,000 and the dog can be destroyed.

The darkest colony - wiped out by dogs, 27 June 2012, The Blue Penguin Trust

28 June 2012

No.337 to be more than just a number

JAPAN - His daring escape and subsequent recapture made headlines around the world, and now the Humboldt penguin known only as No.337 will be given a name, reports AFP.

Tokyo Sea Life Park officials, who discovered that No.337 was male during a medical check upon his return to the aquarium (they also found out he had conjunctivitus), have launched a competition for visitors to name the intrepid bird. Entrants are also asked to provide the reason behind their suggested name and are encouraged to watch the penguin first.

"This is a special treatment to express our gratitude to the public for providing information on the bird, and also for cooperating with us by listening to our call not to try to capture him," park official Takashi Sugino said.

The "most appropriate name" for the penguin, who was at large for 82 days, will be picked by a committee comprising the aquarium director, vice director and keepers after nominations close on 1 July.

Read previous posts 

Runaway penguin 'No 337' to be named in Japan, AFP, 25 June 2012
Japan's runaway penguin suffering from pink-eye, AFP, 27 May 2012

24 June 2012

Melting sea ice threatens emperor penguins, study finds

Three emperor penguins stand on
the sea ice off the coast of Dumont
d'Urville in Terre Adélie, Antarctica.

Photo credit: Ted Scambos, National
Snow and Ice Data Center
ANTARCTICA - More dire news from the South Pole: if global temperatures continue to rise, the emperor penguins in Terre Adélie, in East Antarctica may eventually disappear, according to a new study.

The study, led by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), was published in the journal Global Change Biology.

“Over the last century, we have already observed the disappearance of the Dion Islets penguin colony, close to the West Antarctic Peninsula,” said Stephanie Jenouvrier, WHOI biologist and lead author of the study.

“In 1948 and the 1970s, scientists recorded more than 150 breeding pairs there. By 1999, the population was down to just 20 pairs, and in 2009, it had vanished entirely.”

Like in Terre Adélie, Jenouvrier thinks the decline of those penguins might be connected to a simultaneous decline in Antarctic sea ice due to warming temperatures in the region.

Unlike other sea birds, emperor penguins breed and raise their young almost exclusively on sea ice. If that ice breaks up and disappears early in the breeding season, massive breeding failure may occur, said Jenouvrier.

“As it is, there's a huge mortality rate just at the breeding stages, because only 50 percent of chicks survive to the end of the breeding season, and then only half of those fledglings survive until the next year,” she said.

Disappearing sea ice may also affect the penguins’ food source. The birds feed primarily on fish, squid, and krill, a shrimplike animal, which in turn feeds on zooplankton and phytoplankton, tiny organisms that grow on the underside of the ice. If the ice goes, Jenouvrier says, so too will the plankton, causing a ripple effect through the food web that may starve the various species that penguins rely on as prey.

To project how penguin populations may fare in the future, Jenouvrier’s team used data from several different sources, including climate models, sea ice forecasts, and a demographic model that Jenouvrier created of the emperor penguin population at Terre Adélie, a coastal region of Antarctica where French scientists have conducted penguin observations for more than 50 years.

Combining this type of long-term population data with information on climate was key to the study, said Hal Caswell, a WHOI senior mathematical biologist and collaborator on the paper.

“If you want to study the effects of climate on a particular species, there are three pieces that you have to put together,” he said.

“The first is a description of the entire life cycle of the organism, and how individuals move through that life cycle. The second piece is how the cycle is affected by climate variables. And the crucial third piece is a prediction of what those variables may look like in the future, which involves collaboration with climate scientists.”

Marika Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research is one such scientist. She specialises in studying the relationship between sea ice and global climate, and helped the team identify climate models for use in the study.

Working with Julienne Stroeve, another sea ice specialist from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Holland ultimately recommended five distinct models.

“We picked the models based on how well they calculated the sea ice cover for the 20th century,” she said. “If a model predicted an outcome that matched what was actually observed, we felt it was likely that its projections of sea ice change in the future could be trusted.”

Jenouvrier used the output from these various climate models to determine how changes in temperature and sea ice might affect the emperor penguin population at Terre Adélie. She found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at levels similar to today - causing temperatures to rise and Antarctic sea ice to shrink - penguin population numbers will diminish slowly until about 2040, after which they would decline at a much steeper rate as sea ice coverage drops below a usable threshold.

“Our best projections show roughly 500 to 600 breeding pairs remaining by the year 2100. Today, the population size is around 3000 breeding pairs,” said Jenouvrier.

The effect of rising temperature in the Antarctic isn’t just a penguin problem, according to Caswell. As sea ice coverage continues to shrink, the resulting changes in the Antarctic marine environment will affect other species, and may affect humans as well.

“We rely on the functioning of those ecosystems. We eat fish that come from the Antarctic. We rely on nutrient cycles that involve species in the oceans all over the world,” he said.

“Understanding the effects of climate change on predators at the top of marine food chains - like Emperor penguins - is in our best interest, because it helps us understand ecosystems that provide important services to us."

Also collaborating on the study were Christophe Barbraud and Henri Weimerskirch of the Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, in France, and Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the United States.

Global Change Biology citation
Effects of climate change on an emperor penguin population: analysis of coupled demographic and climate models, Stephanie Jenouvrier, Marika Holland, Julienne Stroeve, Christophe Barbraud, Henri Weimerskirch, Mark Serreze, Hal Caswell,  Global Change Biology, 20 June 2012.

Melting sea ice threatens emperor penguins, study finds, 20 June 2012, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Study: Global climate trend threaten Antarctic penguins, 20 June 2012, National Snow and Ice Data Center

Chinstraps disappear from Deception Island

ANTARCTICA – It appears that global warming has struck again, with new research finding that a colony of chinstrap penguins on Deception Island has declined more than one-third in the past 20 years.

The study by Andres Barbosa of the National Museum ofNatural Sciences in Madrid and his colleagues was published online in the journal Polar Biology.

The researchers carried out censuses of chinstrap penguin in the Vapour Col colony of Deception Island, one of the South Shetlands Islands, from 1991-92 and 2008-09. Nest counts were taken from photographs that were recorded from a standard location, mainly in December around the time of peak hatching. They found that the population had declined by 36% between 1991 and 2008. The strongest decline occurred since 2000.

After considering and ruling out research activity and tourism as the reason behind the chinstrap’s decline, the researchers point to global warming as the likely culprit because of its effect on the extent of Antarctic sea ice.

The chinstrap’s main prey is krill, which depend on the algae that grow under the sea ice. As rising temperatures cause the ice to melt, the krill population is declining, having a knock-on effect on the chinstrap population.

This idea is supported by the fact that the region’s krill-eating Adélie penguin population is also declining, but the population of gentoo penguins, which have a more variable diet, is not.

Barbosa told LiveScience that in the 1990s it was thought that climate change would favour the chinstrap penguin, which prefers ice-free waters, over the Adélie penguin, which prefer an icy environment.  At the time, chinstrap numbers seemed to be increasing. However, the decline in sea ice is now at the point it is impacting the abundance of krill, and consequently chinstrap penguin population.

"This is an example of how the human activity far from the poles can affect the life at thousands of kilometres far from our homes," Barbosa said.

He pointed out ways can help Antarctica's penguins. People need to use energy and fossil fuels responsibly to preserve the planet and, by extension, Antarctica, and also need to reduce overfishing, tourism and research activity in Antarctica to protect the organisms that live there.

Polar Biology citation
Population decline of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) on Deception Island, South Shetlands, Antarctica. Barbosa, A., Benzal, J., De León, A. and Moreno, J. Polar Biology, 22 May 2012, DOI: 10.1007/s00300-012-1196-1

36% of chinstrap penguins missing from Antarctic Island by Jeanna Bryner, 19 June 2012, LiveScience

13 June 2012

Scientists set to spy on rockhopper penguins

Rockhopper penguins at Campbell Island.
Credit: Paul Sagar, NIWA.
NEW ZEALAND - Scientists are poised to solve a mystery: where do rockhopper penguins breeding in New Zealand's sub-Antarctic go during the winter?

NIWA scientists have successfully secured a grant from National Geographic in the United States which will enable a research team to embark on a dedicated trip to Campbell Island, where the penguins breed and moult. There the scientists will deploy 88 miniaturised tracking tags on the penguins' legs before the birds depart in April for the winter.

The tracking tags will be retrieved at the start of the following breeding season in October 2013.

The data obtained from the tags will, for the first time, shed light on the winter movements, distribution and habitat use of rockhopper penguins in New Zealand's sub-Antarctic.

"We don't know where the penguins go during winter," said NIWA scientist Dr David Thompson.

"It could be a crucial stage in the breeding cycle for them. To successfully raise chicks, they need to come back to Campbell Island at the start of the breeding season in good condition. If they have a bad winter, they will come back to Campbell Island in poor condition.

"This stage of the annual cycle of the birds is likely to be very significant. To know nothing about where this stage takes place is a crucial gap in our understanding of the factors affecting the penguin populations."

So where might the penguins go? Dr Thompson doesn't think it will be too far.

"I suspect they don't go too far south, nor are they likely to go too far north. They probably stay at the same latitude, but disperse away from the island, spending that time feeding and regaining condition."

Between 1942 and 1985, the rockhopper penguin population at Campbell Island declined by about 94%, from approximately 800,000 breeding pairs to just 51,000 pairs. The decline has continued since the mid-1980s.

"They are unlikely to become extinct, in the near future, but this represents a massive decline," said Dr Thompson.

One theory is that the population crash is the result of changes in the penguin's diet, but Dr Thompson doesn't think this is the case.

"We don't think that they have changed their diet. We think there is just less food ... They have quite a broad diet.

"It's thought that fluctuations in sea temperatures may have led to a reduction in the abundance or availability of their prey," he said.

Scientists set to spy on rockhopper penguins, 12 June 2012, NIWA

12 June 2012

Scoop of the (last) century - penguins' shocking sex habits revealed!

ANTARCTICA - Necrophilia, sexual coercion, chick abuse, sex for pleasure and homosexual behaviour: penguins' sex lives were too much for Dr George Levick, who wrote a four-page pamphlet 'The Sexual Habits of the Adélie Penguins' in 1915 but decided not to publish it with other research because it was too explicit.

The pamphlet was recently rediscovered by Douglas Russell, bird curator at the Natural History Museum at Tring, who said, "Levick's notes were decades ahead of their time."

Levick, a surgeon and the medical officer on Captain Scott's famous 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition, Terra Nova, studied the colony at Cape Adare, which has the largest Adélie penguin colony in the world.

Clearly shocked by the behaviour of the penguins hanging out on the fringes of the colony (described as "hooligans"), Levick even wrote in Greek to disguise the information. He noted, "There seems to be no crime too low for these penguins ... The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness."

The Edwardian scientist's notes have been republished and reinterpreted by Russell, Prof William Sladen of John Hopkins Medical Institutions and penguin researcher David Ainley in the journal Polar Record.

Whereas Levick interpreted the penguins' behaviour in human moral terms, there is now greater understanding of animal behaviour.

"Over the course of the last 50 years there has gradually been more freedom and willingness to objectively interpret sexual behaviours in animals," said Russell.

For example, necrophilia is not seen as a penguin being sexually aroused by a dead bird, but being chemically wired to respond to a seemingly compliant female.

Levick's original unbound pamphlet is kept at the Natural History Museum at Tring in the ornithological collections. His notes and Adélie penguin specimens he collected from Cape Adare are on display in the Scott’s Last Expedition exhibition at the Museum in London. 

Polar Record citation
Dr. George Murray Levick (1876–1956): unpublished notes on the sexual habits of the Adélie penguin. Douglas G.D. Russell, William J.L. Sladen and David G. Ainley, Polar Record, January 2012.

Penguin sex habits rediscovered at Museum, 9 June 2012, Natural History Museum

11 June 2012

Penguins stolen from Granite Island rehab centre

AUSTRALIA - There seems to be a disturbing trend in penguin thievery. First poor Dirk was stolen from his Sea World enclosure in Queensland in April, and now little penguins Alice and Kennie have been taken from Penguin Centre on Granite Island, South Australia.

The penguins were stolen between 11.30pm on 30 May and 4.30pm on 1 June.

The centre's owner/operator Dorothy Longden told the Victor Harbor Times that what had happened was "absolutely terrible" and that the penguins should have been safe at the centre. She said Alice and Kennie will not survive in the wild and need to be returned or taken to a vet.

Five-year-old Alice has a condition called bumblefoot that makes her limp and requires ongoing specialist care. Two-year-old Kennie was taken to the centre at just five weeks old after being abandoned by his parents and is too humanised to be suitable for release. Both are permanent residents at the centre, which rehabilitates sick and injured penguins from the Granite Island colony.

Police have asked for assistance to locate the penguins; anyone with any information should call BankSA Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or report online at www.sa.crimestoppers.com.au.

Two penguins stolen from Granite Island, 6 June 2012, Victor Harbor Times

28 May 2012

The secret lives of penguins

ANTARCTICA - A year in the life of Antarctic penguins has been caught on camera.

Sixteen “hidden” cameras planted by scientists have survived some of the planet’s harshest winter conditions to capture the annual activities of penguin colonies in Antarctica. Researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) journeyed over 9,000 miles south to set up 16 cameras around Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia.

Penguin research normally takes place in the summer, when scientists can get to the colonies, but they often miss the start of breeding. Now, time-lapse cameras have allowed researchers to record parts of the penguin life cycle which normally go unseen, when humans are not there.

The footage captured gentoo penguins at Brown Bluff on the Antarctic Peninsula and king penguins huddling over winter at Salisbury Plain on South Georgia. The camera at Brown Bluff was covered by a snow drift for part of the winter, but continued to take photos throughout.

ZSL researcher Dr Ben Collen said, “Antarctica is one of the world’s least explored regions, making it all the more important for us to collect worthwhile data on wildlife. New information is vital for making informed conservation decisions, so we are able to best manage species under pressure and deal with the wider global implications of climate change.”

Environmental issues, expansion of fisheries and the danger of disease all pose new threats to penguins, making monitoring them essential. Cheap technology could expand monitoring even when science budgets are tight. The cameras were placed in a variety of positions overlooking colonies in Antarctica, and captured a number of images a day showing the movements of penguins, including their time of arrival, breeding and fledging of young chicks.

Penguinologist Dr Tom Hart added, "Antarctica is larger than Europe, but only a handful of penguin colonies are carefully observed. Using cameras that cost less than £500 each could revolutionise the way we study Antarctic wildlife.”

Scientists from ZSL and the University of Oxford continue the development of a new monitoring system for the southern polar region. They will help to design protected areas in the Antarctic, and answer questions about the response of penguins to their changing world.

The secret lives of penguins, 11 April 2012, Zoological Society of London

Male penguin pair given their own egg

SPAIN - Following in the flipper-steps of New York's Roy and Silo and China's 0310 and 067, male gentoo penguins Inca and Rayas at Faunia nature park in Madrid have been given an egg to incubate.

The Telegraph reports that the penguin pair have built nests together for the last six breeding seasons but of course have had no chick to occupy them.

Yolanda Martin, who cares for the penguins, said, "We wanted them to have something to stay together for - so we got an egg. Otherwise they might have become depressed."

They have taken to their parental role like penguins to water, with Inca incubating the egg and Rayas guarding the nest.

Although Inca and Rayas have been inseparable since they met at Faunia, Martin says that the penguins are not gay, just best friends.

And the penguin pair aren't just raising an egg - their story has become a media sensation, raising Spain's spirits as the country battles its economic difficulties.

'Gay' penguin couple given egg of their own by Nick Collins, 22 May 2012, The Telegraph

Heroic family save yellow-eyed penguin

Titahi the injured penguin.
Photo credit: Department
of Conservation.
NEW ZEALAND - A family who protected an injured yellow-eyed penguin from further dog attacks on a Christchurch beach have been described as heroes by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

DOC ranger Anita Spencer was called out to South Shore last month to find a family standing guard in a circle around the juvenile penguin to prevent unattended dogs getting closer.

"They had kept watch for at least 40 minutes before I arrived - they are heroes in my book," said Spencer.

The penguin, named Titahi, was taken to the Hornby Veterinary Centre and then sent to the Wildlife Health Centre at Massey University for an operation to pin its broken leg.

The surgery was successful, but Titahi now faces several months of rehabilitation before it can be released back into the wild.

Spencer said, "The vets agree that the penguin was attacked by a dog - most likely picked up by its back leg and shaken. It had injuries on its back as well."

The attack on Titahi has prompted a call for dog owners to be more responsible on beaches.

Yellow-eyed penguins nest in small numbers on Banks Peninsula, where local schools, landowners and the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust, Christchurch City Council and DOC are doing predator-trapping to protect them.

"There are a lot of people working really hard to get penguin chicks to fledge, as the first stage of their life is usually the most dangerous time," said Spencer.

"They spend their first few years after fledging exploring the wild, feeding and coming ashore to rest before they settle down to breed. To have this juvenile mauled by a dog on its first journey into the world is really disappointing and completely avoidable."

Christchurch City Council Animal Control Team Leader Mark Vincent said that dog owners must keep their pets on leads, especially in protected areas where vulnerable wildlife is concentrated.

"It's a serious offence for a dog to harass protected wildlife, with penalties including imprisonment for the owner and fines of up to [NZ]$20,000 if wildlife is killed," he said.

Family save mauled yellow-eyed penguin, 10 May 2012, Department of Conservation

26 May 2012

NZ penguin causes trans-Tasman trouble

AUSTRALIA - If New Zealand's Olympic swimmers have the endurance of our penguins, then we're looking good for gold at London 2012.

A Fiordland penguin, named Katrina after her rescuer, was found, starving and injured, on a beach near Mount Gambier, South Australia on 4 May. She would have swum an amazing 3,000km from her New Zealand home.

But her presence across the Tasman caused controversy as wildlife rescuers and authorities argued about her future.

South Australia's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) requested that she be moved immediately to a zoo to become a permanent exhibit animal.

The Australian Marine Wildlife Research & Rescue Organisation (AMWRRO), which is caring for Katrina, wanted to rehabilitate her and give her another chance in the wild - by either flying her back to New Zealand or releasing her to swim back by herself.

AMWRRO contacted the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) for advice and offered to pay for Katrina's airfare. However, Michelle Gutsell, leader of the DOC Te Anau office species recovery team, told the NZ Herald that a flight was unnecessary as Katrina's homing instinct gave her a good chance of making it on her own.

"These birds spend a lot of time in the water, they are sea-goers, that's what they do. She will be fine," she said.

In a victory for the AMWRRO, the DENR changed its original decision to move Katrina to a zoo and granted the rescue organisation permission to keep rehabilitating her.

Katrina recently underwent a successful 2.5 hour operation to close up her large abdominal wound. Now all the "grumpy" penguin has to do is heal, grow back her waterproof feathers and regain weight.

Then she'll be ready for the long swim home.

Penguin carer told to let Katrina swim back by Cherie Howie, 20 May 2012, NZ Herald
Katrina's surgery success, 18 May 2012, AMWRRO
New Zealand penguin making waves in Australia by Chloe Johnson, 13 May 2012, NZ Herald
Katrina is not going anywhere, 9 May 2012, AMWRRO
The AMWRRO battle to keep Katrina wild!, 8 May 2012, AMWRRO

Penguin No.337 back inside

JAPAN - It had a good run, but No.337's life on the lam is over.

AFP reported that the fugitive Humboldt penguin was captured on Thursday 24 May. It escaped from Tokyo Sea Life Park in early March.

Park staff caught the penguin on the bank of the Ego-gawa river, only 8 km from its home.

During its time on the run (swim?) the young bird had been sighted at least 30 times, and earlier this month even managed to elude the coastguard, which followed it for about an hour before losing sight of it.

Takashi Sugino, the park's spokesman, said that the penguin was uninjured and appeared to be healthy. It will undergo medical checks and spend time in quarantine before being returned to the (currently) 134-strong colony.

To prevent future escapes, the park has fortified the edges of the penguin enclosure with more rocks and sandbags. But will such measures be enough to contain the intrepid No.337?

Read previous posts

Japan's AWOL penguin back in captivity, 25 May 2012, AFP

21 May 2012

No.337 spotted alive and well

JAPAN - Fugitive penguin No.337 has been sighted in Tokyo Bay two months after escaping from Tokyo Sea Life Park.

Video footage taken by Japan's Coast Guard earlier in May shows the apparently healthy Humboldt penguin frolicking in the water.

Kazuhiro Sakamoto, the park's deputy director, identified the penguin on the video as No.337.  

"You can see it's got the same ring around its flipper and identical facial patterns," he told Reuters. 

Although if it wasn't No.337 then one might wonder how many escaped penguins there are in Tokyo ...

Sakamoto said that the adventurous penguin didn't look like it had lost any weight. "So it looks as if it's been living quite happily in the middle of Tokyo Bay."

Although the park had received hundreds of reports of sightings of No.337 after its escape, only about 30 of the reports were thought to be genuine.

Read previous posts

Fugitive penguin 337 spotted alive in Tokyo Bay, Reuters, 16 May 2012

12 May 2012

Penguin deaths at Phillip Island

AUSTRALIA - Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) is investigating the death of 27 little penguins at the Phillip Island Nature Park.

The little penguins were found at Cat Bay, Shelly Beach and the Penguin Parade Car Park yesterday. Two dead water rats were also found.

DSE Wildlife Officers are investigating the cause of death however preliminary observations of the injuries are consistent with a dog attack.

Little penguins and water rats are protected in Victoria.

If a dog attacks wildlife on public land, the owner could face fines of up to AU$3000 under the Wildlife Act 1975.

Penguin deaths at Phillip Island, 10 May 2012, Department of Sustainability and Environment

30 April 2012

Alleged penguin-nappers face criminal charges

AUSTRALIA - Dirk the little penguin is recovering after a night of drunken adventures - not that he was the one doing the drinking.

The seven-year-old penguin was taken from his enclosure after three Welsh men had a few too many and broke into Sea World on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

Police allege the three men broke into Sea World on Saturday 14 April, swam in the dolphin enclosure and then stole Dirk on their way out. They have been charged with trespassing, stealing and unlawfully keeping a protected animal.

In what sounds like a scene from The Hangover, the men woke up on Sunday morning to find a live penguin in their living room. After making a video of themselves interacting with the bird, they took him to a canal and left him there.

In the meantime, Sea World staff had realised the penguin was missing and put out a plea for his return. Luckily for Dirk, a couple spotted him in an estuary, put two and two together and contacted the marine park. Sea World staff came out to rescue the "extremely dishevelled" and "exhausted" bird, who was hiding under the concrete of the Southport pier, and took him back to the park on Sunday night.

Trevor Long, Sea World's director of marine science, told the press that it would have been a traumatic experience for the captive-bred penguin. He said the couple saw Dirk being chased out of the water, possibly by a shark, and then chased back in by a dog.

"It's totally foreign to this animal and it's very, very cruel," he told ABC Radio. "He wouldn't have survived in the wild, not at all."

After a check by the vet, Dirk was returned to his enclosure on Monday and reunited with his partner, Peaches.

A concerned friend tipped off the police about the alleged criminals after one of the men boasted about taking the penguin on his Facebook page.

One of the trio, Rhys Jones, told 7News that they were all sorry for what happened. They accept they deserve to punished, but want people to know that it was a prank that got out of hand.

Penguin thieves panic, face charges after Facebook post by Andrew Chow, 22 April 2012, Reuters
Dirk the penguin thieves sorry, 19 April 2012, Yahoo!7
Trio accused of stealing penguin from theme park by Francis Tapim and Russell Varley, 16 April 2012, ABC News
Trio charged with stealing Sea World penguin, 16 April 2012, Brisbane Times
Kidnapped penguin 'Dirk' rescued from sharks, dog, 15 April 2012, AFP

21 April 2012

Satellites provide first ever census for emperor penguins

Emperor penguins on the sea ice
close to Halley Research Station.
Photo credit: British Antarctic Survey
ANTARCTICA – A new study using satellite mapping technology reveals there are twice as many emperor penguins in Antarctica than was previously thought.

The results provide an important benchmark for monitoring the impact of environmental change on the population of this iconic bird. Emperor penguins breed in areas that are very difficult to study because they are remote and often inaccessible with temperatures as low as −50°C (−58°F).

Reporting in the journal PLoS ONE, an international team of scientists describe how they used Very High Resolution satellite images to estimate the number of penguins at each colony around the coastline of Antarctica.

Using a technique known as pan-sharpening to increase the resolution of the satellite imagery, the science teams were able to differentiate between birds, ice, shadow and penguin guano. They then used ground counts and aerial photography to calibrate the analysis.

Lead author and geographer Peter Fretwell at British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which is funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council, explains, “We are delighted to be able to locate and identify such a large number of emperor penguins. We counted 595,000 birds, which is almost double the previous estimates of 270,000–350,000 birds. This is the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space.”

On the ice, emperor penguins with their black and white plumage stand out against the snow and colonies are clearly visible on satellite imagery. This allowed the team to analyse 46 emperor penguin colonies around the coast of Antarctica, including seven that were previously unknown.

“The methods we used are an enormous step forward in Antarctic ecology because we can conduct research safely and efficiently with little environmental impact, and determine estimates of an entire penguin population, said co-author Michelle LaRue from the University of Minnesota and funded by the US National Science Foundation.

“The implications of this study are far-reaching: we now have a cost-effective way to apply our methods to other poorly-understood species in the Antarctic, to strengthen ongoing field research, and to provide accurate information for international conservation efforts.”

BAS biologist and co-author Dr Phil Trathan noted, “Current research suggests that emperor penguin colonies will be seriously affected by climate change. An accurate continent-wide census that can be easily repeated on a regular basis will help us monitor more accurately the impacts of future change on this iconic species.”

Scientists are concerned that in some regions of Antarctica, earlier spring warming is leading to loss of sea ice habitat for emperor penguins, making their northerly colonies more vulnerable to further climate change.

Dr Trathan continued, “Whilst current research leads us to expect important declines in the number of emperor penguins over the next century, the effects of warming around Antarctica are regional and uneven. In the future we anticipate that the more southerly colonies should remain, making these important sites for further research and protection.”

The research is a collaboration between British Antarctic Survey, University of Minnesota/National Science Foundation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Australian Antarctic Division.

PloS ONE citation
An emperor penguin population estimate: the first global, synoptic survey of a species from space, Fretwell PT, LaRue MA, Morin P, Kooyman GL, Wienecke B, et al. (2012). PLoS ONE 7(4): e33751. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033751

Scientists count penguins from space, 13 April 2012, British Antarctic Survey
Scientists determined first-ever census for emperor penguin, 13 April 2012, National Science Foundation

19 April 2012

Zoo seeks penguin egg rescuer

One lucky bird: The penguin who hatched
from the rescued egg.
Photo credit: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
USA - Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo is seeking a young hero whose keen eyes helped rescue a Humboldt penguin egg.

On 3 April a boy visiting the penguin enclosure alerted keeper Celine Pardo that he could see an egg on a cliff in the exhibit. Pardo immediately followed the boy’s instructions, scooped up the egg, rushed it indoors and relocated it under a pair of foster parents. It hatched on 5 April.

Unfortunately, by the time Pardo rescued the egg and returned to thank the boy, he had already left the exhibit. The boy is described as 7 or 8 years old with blonde, curly hair; he was wearing a white t-shirt and was extremely polite.

“We are so grateful to this little boy for helping us save this precious bird. If a crow or seagull had scooped up the egg, it would have been a goner,” said Pardo.

“We’d like to find him and extend an invitation to go behind the scenes to meet the chick and help name it. This story of this chick shows how visitors of all ages can help support the care of animals at the zoo and, in this case, help save an endangered animal.”

If anyone knows who this young hero is, contact the zoo at woodlandparkzoopr@zoo.org.

The chick and its sibling, who was hatching when the boy spotted the rejected egg, will remain off-exhibit until mid-summer.

Zoo seeks boy who helped rescue rejected penguin egg, 13 April 2012, Woodland Park Zoo

Search for No.337 called off

JAPAN - Tokyo Sea Life Park has called off the search for No. 337, the Humboldt penguin who escaped from its enclosure in early March.

Park spokesperson Takashi Sugino told AFP that they believe the penguin is "doing okay somewhere in a river near Tokyo Bay" but after a month of daily searches of the riverbanks they don't know what else to do.

He said, "We hope to get fresh sightings in August, when the bird moults and its adult black-and-white feathers emerge because it will be easier for ordinary people to recognise it as a penguin."

Read previous post

Japan keepers stand down penguin hunt, AFP, 12 April 2012, Yahoo! News

01 April 2012

Penguin “emissions” acidify air over Antarctic site - GeoSpace - AGU Blogosphere

ANTARCTICA - After some scientific sleuthing, researchers have tracked down the cause of a mysterious spike in atmospheric acidity over an Antarctic site made famous by the documentary March of the Penguins. The culprit? Penguin poop. It turns out penguins who live in the area could be responsible for acidity levels in December 2010 that were four times higher than levels observed during Southern Hemisphere summers back to 1997.
Read more: Penguin “emissions” acidify air over Antarctic site - GeoSpace - AGU Blogosphere

Stay-at-home penguins have advantage as temperatures rise

Gentoo penguin feeding its chick
by Liam Q, on Flickr.
Some rights reserved.
ANTARCTICA - Three penguin species that share the Western Antarctic Peninsula for breeding grounds have been affected in different ways by the higher temperatures brought on by global warming, according to Stony Brook University Ecology and Evolution Assistant Professor Heather Lynch and colleagues. The work by Lynch and her team is contained in three papers that have been published online in Polar Biology, Ecology and Marine Ecology Progress Series.

Lynch and her colleagues used a combination of field work and, increasingly, satellite imagery to track colonies of three penguin species – Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo. The Adélie and chinstrap migrate to the peninsula to breed, while the gentoo are year-round residents.

The Antarctic is considered one of the world’s most rapidly warming regions. Warmer temperatures move up the breeding cycle, causing the penguins to lay their eggs earlier. The resident gentoo population is able to adapt more quickly and advance their “clutch initiation” by almost twice as much as the other species. Lynch believes this may allow them to better compete for the best nesting space. The Adélie and chinstrap are unaware of the local conditions until they arrive to breed and have not been able to advance their breeding cycles as rapidly.

In addition, the gentoo prefer areas with less sea ice, and have been able to migrate further south into the Antarctic as the sea ice shrinks. The chinstrap and Adélie species rely more heavily on the abundance of Antarctic krill, which require sea ice for their lifecycle.

The result – the gentoo numbers are increasing while the other two species have noticeably dwindling populations on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The scientists have uploaded their satellite imagery of penguins and other species that live or breed in the polar regions to Google Earth. Lynch said the use of Google Earth has helped to “democratise the science” in that anyone can view the images.

Satellite imagery has advanced the science of tracking penguin populations, drastically reducing the time needed to do a census and even helping to find previously unknown colonies. What took weeks to accomplish through field work can now be done in hours through the use of satellites.

The three online papers are:
Spatially integrated assessment reveals widespread changes in penguin populations on the Antarctic Peninsula, Lynch, Heather J., Ron Naveen, Philip N. Trathan, and William F. Fagan. In press, Ecology. 
Differential advancement of breeding phenology in response to climate may alter staggered breeding among sympatric pygoscelid penguins, Heather J. Lynch, William F. Fagan, Ron Naveen, Susan G. Trivelpiece, Wayne Z. Trivelpiece, Marine Biology Progress Series.
Detection, differentiation, and abundance estimation of penguin species by high-resolution satellite imagery, Heather J. Lynch, Richard White, Andrew D. Black and Ron Naveen, Polar Biology.

SBU professor tracks Antarctic penguin breeding cycles, Stony Brook News, 21 March 2012

19 March 2012

Boasting little penguins build their reputations

NEW ZEALAND - Take that, loser! By showing off after they win a fight, male little penguins make it less likely that other males will challenge them, a study by University of Waikato scientists has found.

The study, published in Animal Behaviour, used an innovative method to look at the effect of 'triumph displays' on nearby little penguins - 'social eavesdroppers' - at Flea Bay in New Zealand.

The researchers edited audio recordings of fights among two sets of little penguins (who don't live at the colony) into two 'fights', each ending with a triumph call. First, they played the recordings to penguins nesting in their burrows through speakers set up 5 metres away. Then, 5 minutes after the 'fight' was over, they played either the winner's triumph call or a call from the loser from speakers set up 2.5 metres away from a burrow - making the burrow's inhabitants think the winner or the loser was coming closer.

Cleverly, the nesting penguins' stress levels were measured by using an infrared egg, temporarily switched for their real egg, that monitored the penguins' heart rate.

Both male and female penguins were stressed (had increased heart rates) while listening to the fights, with females similarly stressed regardless of whether a winner or loser approached their burrows. Males, however, were more stressed if a winner, rather than a loser, approached their burrows, and were also less likely to challenge an approaching winner by calling. Females stayed silent no matter whether the winner or loser approached.

The findings suggest that by advertising their victories, i.e. boasting, male penguins may establish a ‘reputation’ for winning fights within the colony, potentially reducing the likelihood of being challenged in the future.

Animal Behaviour citation
Triumph displays inform eavesdropping little blue penguins of new dominance asymmetries, Solveig C. Mouterdea, David M. Duganzichb, Laura E. Mollesc, Shireen Helpsd, Francis Helpsd, Joseph R. Waas, Animal Behaviour, Volume 83, Issue 3, March 2012, pp.605–611

How to say 'in your face' like a penguin by Jane J. Lee, 9 March 2012, ScienceNOW
Why little penguins 'show off' (photo gallery), 8 March 2012, BBC Nature News

12 March 2012

No. 337: Penguin at large

JAPAN - A Humboldt penguin known only at No. 337 is still on the loose after escaping from Tokyo Sea Life Park at least five days ago.

Keepers were not even aware the one-year-old penguin was missing until they received a photo of it swimming in Tokyo Bay last weekend.

No. 337 had to scale a rock wall and a squeeze through a fence to break out of the penguin enclosure. The height of the rock wall varies between 1.2m and 4m - quite a big leap for Humboldt penguins, which grow to 56-70cm long.

Park staff have speculated that something may have startled the bird, leading it to climb over the wall.

The park has asked Tokyo residents, birdwatchers in particular, for help in finding the bird, and are regularly patrolling the shoreline with binoculars. Humboldts generally stay close to shore, although I don't know if this will apply to No. 337, as this penguin has already proven itself to be quite the adventurer.

Satoshi Toda of the Sea Life Park told AFP that park staff are hopeful the fugitive is still alive after receiving information that it had caught and eaten some fish.

Fugitive penguin no. 337 flips Tokyo park the bird by Ruairidh Villar, 7 March 2012, Reuters
Japan widens hunt for escaped penguin, Sapa-AFP, 9 March 2012, Times Live

07 March 2012

Grim reaper cuts swathes through the little penguins of Perth

For whom the bell tolls: a little penguin.  
Photo credit: Belinda Cannell
By Belinda Cannell, Research Associate at Murdoch University

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article

AUSTRALIA – Little penguins off the coast of Perth are being found dead – starved, battered, and in some cases almost completely beheaded – as elements both natural and manmade conspire against them.

Penguin Island, 50 km south of Perth and just 600 m offshore from a rapidly growing urban area, is home for a very special colony of little penguins, which are the smallest of the penguins with an average height of 33 cm. Penguin Island is not only the largest colony in Western Australia, but it also has the highest conservation status of all major colonies in Australia. In addition, there are no little penguin colonies further west in the world.

In the Perth region, a smaller colony is also found on Garden Island, just seven kilometres north. It lies at the western edge of Cockburn Sound, the busiest bay in Western Australia. The two colonies together are regarded as one “metapopulation”.

This metapopulation of little penguins is the most northern in WA. It is facing an increasing range of natural, anthropogenic and climate-change threats.

From August-December 2011, the number of penguins found dead increased four-fold. Forty-nine penguin corpses were found on the foreshore between Safety Bay and the mouth of the Donnelly River, some 400 km around the coast from Penguin Island, as well as on Penguin Island. The penguins were mostly banded or microchipped, so I know that most of them came from Penguin Island.

With the support of the Department of Environment and Conservation, autopsies were performed on many of the penguins, and the major cause of death was starvation. This is most likely to be linked to high sea surface temperatures and other oceanographic changes associated with a strong La Nina and a very strong Leeuwin Current (a warm current that flows south along the WA coast).

This “marine heat wave”, as it has been labelled by the Department of Fisheries, is suspected of causing a decline in stocks of fish that the little penguins rely on for food. Indeed, sandy sprat, usually their major prey item while raising chicks, were not found in the penguins’ diet in 2011. The species of fish the penguins were feeding on was determined by analysing the DNA in their faeces.

The penguins also had the worst breeding season since monitoring of this colony began in 1986, with many fewer penguins even attempting to breed. The penguins must remain close to the colony while raising chicks, so they can return each night or two to feed them, so it is likely that the nearby fish resources were much less abundant than normal.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the lack of fish has most likely contributed to more penguins being found dead during their annual two-week moult. Penguins cannot go to sea and catch fish while they are moulting, so they must build up enough fat and protein before moulting to “feed” this very energetically demanding process of making new feathers. If the fish are less abundant, and the penguins have to travel further to catch them, then they can’t build up enough reserves to last the fasting stage of moult.
It tolls for thee: little penguin found with a
broken wing and dead.
Photo credit: Belinda Cannell

Sadly, we have also found quite a few penguins with injuries from watercraft. These injuries include deep cuts across their backs or feet, bleeding under the skin with no external wounds, broken necks and even completely severed necks.

A boat ramp has recently been constructed seven kilometres south of the colony. We don’t yet know if a potential increase in watercraft used in the area has caused this increase in deaths from injuries. The penguins could be weaker due to starvation and unable to get out of the way of the watercraft, or it could be a combination of both. We need to know more about the seasonality of dead penguins, where they are found and their causes of death, to know what effect the boat ramp is having.
Perth has just experienced its hottest summer on record. This also contributed to a number of deaths, particularly in moulting penguins. They are unable to leave the island until their new feathers have become waterproof, so some penguins died from overheating.

It was probably lucky that there were very few chicks that hatched this year. Otherwise they could have died from overheating too, as I have witnessed in past years. The predictions for the changes associated with climate change – warming temperatures and less rain in the south-west of Australia – do not bode well for this colony of penguins.

It’s hard to know how the mortality and low breeding observed in 2011 will affect the overall survival of the colony. Certainly, a population estimate I undertook in 2011 showed that there were fewer adults on the island compared to the estimate of 2369 penguins in 2007. However, this is likely to be an indication that there were fewer penguins breeding, as was certainly identified from the monitoring of nest sites.
Seabirds are long lived, the adults usually have a high survival rate, and young penguins don’t join the breeding population until they are two to three years old. Therefore, marked changes in the population are likely to occur over the macro-scale.

However, it is likely that the survival rate of the adults in 2011 was much lower than normal. Also, very few chicks were raised, and those that did leave the nest would have a slim chance of surviving if fish weren’t available close by.

It is likely that we will see a real decline in the population over a shorter time scale, especially if La Nina conditions continue.

But all is not lost for the Perth penguins; not yet, anyway. The colony on Garden Island did not appear to fare so badly. Their breeding participation and success was much better than that at Penguin Island – it usually is. This is probably because they feed in Cockburn Sound: just a short trip out the back door for these penguins. And for whatever reasons still to be identified, the fish stocks the penguins feed on in Cockburn Sound were apparently not affected by these high sea temperatures.

These penguins also nest in lovely cool limestone, unlike the penguins on Penguin Island who nest under bushes or in nesting boxes. So they are unlikely to be affected to the same extent by high air temperatures.

So this colony of penguins might be the saviour for penguin presence in Perth if we are unable to manage all the threats the penguins on Penguin Island are exposed to. We just need to maintain all the things that are responsible for them doing so well. We just don’t know what all of those are yet!

Watch a video about the little penguins.

05 March 2012

Study predicts climate change will shift penguins' food sources

King penguins in the Crozet Islands.
Photo by ¡WOUW!. Some rights reserved.
SUBANTARCTIC - King penguins' main food sources will move south as climate change warms the sea surface, a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows.

Scientists from CNRS in France used a long-term tracking dataset of king penguins breeding on the subantarctic Crozet Islands to understand and model where adult penguins forage while they are incubating and brooding chicks, and to predict how the warming of the southern oceans would affect their foraging distribution.

The models predict that the penguins' optimum feeding zones (associated with the polar front) will shift south by about 400 km by 2100. This means that the distance the penguins will have to travel to reach their main food sources would double.

This is bad news - unless the birds develop alternative foraging strategies or move to new breeding sites, such a shift in their foraging range would have a negative effect on the Crozet population in the long term. 

Penguins' food goes south, 3 March 2012, Birdwatch

Proceedings of the Royal Society B citation
Péron, C, Weimerskirch, H and Bost, C-A. 2012. Projected poleward shift of king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) foraging range at the Crozet Islands, southern Indian Ocean. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.2705.