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