31 January 2012

Big Bill back where he belongs

NEW ZEALAND - A big little penguin who made a big noise is back in the big wide world.

The Department of Conservation took the moulting Big Bill - a not-so-little penguin - to Picton's EcoWorld Aquarium after he made a noisy nuisance of himself under a local house.

Aquarium director John Reuhman told the Marlborough Express that at 1.3kg, Big Bill was the biggest little penguin the aquarium had ever had.

"He was particularly assertive."

Big Bill was released into the sea off Picton foreshore. Perhaps now he is gone, the remaining two penguins in rehabilitation might be able to learn to swim - Mr Reuhman thought that Big Bill's presence in the tank might have intimidated them.

Shore leave ends for Big Bill, 3 January 2012, The Marlborough Express

30 January 2012

Little penguin population grows a lot

AUSTRALIA - It's full steam ahead for the little penguin population on Middle Island in Warrnambool, Victoria as an estimated 190 birds have arrived for the annual breeding season - the biggest influx since the population was almost wiped out by predators six years ago.

The birds were easy prey for dogs and foxes until 2006 when the Warrnambool City Council and the local Coastcare Landcare group trialled the Maremma sheepdog project. Since then Maremma sheepdogs have returned every year to guard the penguins. This year Eudy and Tula, who graduated from the training programme in early 2011, are back on penguin patrol.

Read related posts

Penguin numbers continue to climb at Warrnambool's Middle Island by Peter Collins, 27 December 2011, The Warrnambool Standard

Antarctic penguins shipped to the USA

Emperor penguins in Antarctica.
Photo by StormPetrel1.
Some rights reserved.
ANTARCTICA - New Zealand conservation groups have condemned the shipping of ten young emperor penguins from Antarctica to SeaWorld in California in November 2011.

Friends of the Earth NZ director Bob Tait told the NZ Herald, "We strongly object to the removal of the penguins from their colony, and subjecting them to the ordeals of lengthy jet travel, and condemning them, for profit-driven reasons, to live out the rest of their lives separated from their real colony in an alien environment at SeaWorld, California."

Cath Wallace of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition said, "Antarctica is a reserve for science and nature, not a place for [taking] things from their homes.''
In response, SeaWorld's communications director David Koontz told the NZ Herald that, while the penguins would go on display at SeaWorld, the marine park co-ordinated their transportation on behalf of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego. The birds will be used in a research project to determine lung and air sac volumes in emperor penguins. Their removal from Antarctica had been approved by the US National Science Foundation.

SeaWorld already has its own emperor penguin breeding programme, but Mr Koontz said most of SeaWorld's penguins were too old to undergo anaesthesia, which would be required as part of the research, which is why the young birds were imported.

Experts slam penguin 'plucking' by Isaac Davison, 24 December 2011, NZ Herald

29 January 2012

Do penguins swim and talk at the same time?

Little penguins at Perth Zoo. Photo credit:
Andy Field (Hubmedia). Some rights reserved.
AUSTRALIA - Penguin colonies are notoriously noisy places. The birds seem to have a lot to say to each other as they return to their burrows, defend their territory and maybe just generally chat about their day. But do they say anything to each other when they're swimming underwater?

Dr Miles Parsons from the Centre for Marine Science and Technology is trying to find the answer to this question by investigating the underwater behaviour of little penguins at Perth Zoo.

And the answer could be important: noise levels in Australian water are rising thanks to things like boat engines, underwater construction and seismic testing. If penguins communicate underwater using sound, the increase in other background noise may reduce their ability to do so effectively. 

To find out, earlier in 2011, Dr Parsons placed a hydrophone (underwater microphone) in the penguin enclosure for one month that recorded all noise for nine out of every 15 minutes. He said initial results were not positive, as few sounds could be heard except the keepers calling to the penguins at feeding time.

But this doesn't neccessarily mean that penguins don't talk to each while they swim.

"Penguins in a zoo situation might have little need to communicate underwater as there are no threats and no point in letting others know where feeding grounds are because everything is provided," Dr Parsons told Perth Zoo.

He planned to rerecord the penguins when the birds moved back to Perth Zoo in late December, after a temporary transfer to Melbourne Zoo while their enclosure was renovated. He is hopeful that as the penguins reacquaint themselves with their environment they might have something to talk about.

Do penguins communicate underwater? by Chris Thomas, 23 December 2011, Science Network Western Australia
Singing penguins, 20 September 2011, Perth Zoo

08 January 2012

Penguins pooh-pooh panda fans

Suffering from "monochrome jealousy"? A rockhopper
penguin at Edinburgh Zoo. Photo credit: purplegrum.
Some rights reserved.

UNITED KINGDOM - The arrival of pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo in December caused great excitement among the city's human inhabitants, but not all the locals seem to be as happy with the zoo's new residents.

The rockhopper penguins' enclosure borders that of the pandas, and visitors queuing to see the black-and-white mammals are being hit by penguin droppings as the inquisitive black-and-white birds watch the goings-on below.

The zoo's director of business operations, Gary Wilson, told the media, "Our rockhopper penguins in particular have been watching the events at the panda enclosure below with great interest, ever since work started on the enclosure.

"Extremely curious birds, they often gather next to the wall to see what's happening below. We're hoping it's not a case of monochrome jealousy, but one or two of our rockhoppers seem to have had surprisingly good aim."

The zoo is now considering installing a glass panel to protect the visitors.

Panda fans hit by penguin droppings, 20 December 2011, Press Association

On the trail of Happy Feet

NEW ZEALAND - The last we heard of emperor penguin Happy Feet was the final signal from his satellite transmitter on 9 September, and experts have said it is likely we will never know what happened to him.

But the man who paid for that transmitter, Gareth Morgan, has announced his intention to change that.

Dr Morgan is joining a group of scientists on a 30-day voyage to Antarctica in February to raise awareness of the importance of the region. He told the NZ Herald that as Happy Feet has a radio-chip embedded in him, "in theory, we could come across a colony of penguins and go out with a radio transmitter trying to find him.

"It might be, 'Ooh, this one is beeping - it must be Happy Feet'. If we see them ... I'll be out there with my radio transmitter trying to find him."

Dr Morgan said that the mission to find Happy Feet is an "add-on" to the Our Far South project, which aims to raise New Zealanders’ awareness of the importance of the area between Foveaux Strait and the South Pole, to highlight the reasons why it is of such value and to outline the threats and opportunities.

Richlister's mission for Happy Feet by Vaimoana Tapaleao, 10 December 2011, NZ Herald

Lazy little penguins get exercise regime

NEW ZEALAND - Little penguins rescued from the Rena oil spill are being made to swim to stop them getting pressure sores on their poor feet.

The Bay of Plenty Times reported that the new exercise regime came about because the birds are spending their time sunning themselves rather than swimming, and the uncommonly small amount of time they're spending in the water is giving them pressure sores on the soles of their feet.

"They don't have to [hunt] here, there's no drive for them to get out there and swim. They're just sunbathing,'' oiled wildlife centre chief Brett Gartrell said.

"[So now] they're having enforced swimming for three hours a day. That takes all the pressure off their feet.''

Sadly, two penguins had to be euthanased after their pressure sores became infected.

The new exercise regime should improve the health of the remaining penguins.

Dr Gartrell said, "We're confident the changes we are making is enough to keep them [the sores] under control. It's going to delay some birds' release but it's not going to stop them going out." 

Penguins fall into bad habits by Sam Boyer, 1 December 2011, Bay of Plenty Times