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