30 December 2015

Penguin protection measures working in Simon's Town

SOUTH AFRICA - The City of Cape Town has released a statement thanking members of the public for their cooperation in ensuring its measures to protect endangered African penguins in Simon's Town are working.

No more penguins have been killed along the identified Simon’s Town hotspots since the measures were introduced on 1 November. They include mandatory leash areas for dog walkers, camera traps to monitor penguin attacks, and penguin monitors to ensure the birds are not harassed by visiting members of the public.

18 December 2015

Penguin cam captures hunt for prey

Penguins foraging as a group.
Photo credit: John Arnould, Deakin University
AUSTRALIA - "Penguin cams" attached to little penguins while they foraged showed they were more likely to work together to hunt schooling prey than solitary prey. The findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Grace Sutton from Deakin University and colleagues.

Group foraging has advantages for cooperative predators. But the benefits of group foraging are not as clear for less cooperative predators like little penguins, because of the potential for competition. The authors of this study attached cameras to 21 little penguins from two breeding colonies in south-eastern Australia to determine their prey types, hunting strategies and success.

16 December 2015

New protected areas for Argentina's Magellanic penguins

Adult Magellanic penguin and two chicks begging for food.
Photo credit: Dee Boersma
ARGENTINA – They live far from the North Pole, but Christmas came early for the stout-bodied, black and white Magellanic penguins of Patagonia's Punta Tombo region. On 3 December, the legislature for Chubut province established a new marine protected area off Punta Tombo, which would help preserve the feeding grounds for about 500,000 Magellanic penguins that make their home along this rocky stretch of Argentine coast.

"This is really exciting. We've long wanted to see the waters around Punta Tombo protected," said University of Washington (UW) biology professor Dee Boersma, who has been studying the Magellanic penguins there for more than 30 years.

15 December 2015

Little penguin wardens thanked for their six month vigil

AUSTRALIA - The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) were joined by environmentalist Ian Kiernan AO at a special ceremony to thank the Manly little penguin wardens for their incredible dedication to protecting the little penguin colony at North Head through a tough breeding season.

Acting Head of NPWS Tom Bagnat said, despite the losses by fox attack early on, NPWS and the community successfully kept the remaining colony of little penguins safe for the rest of the breeding season.

“The community has been invaluable in helping parks’ staff to protect the little penguin colony over the past six months including assisting in the nightly vigil to keep the breeding birds safe from fox predation at their most vulnerable times,” Mr Bagnat said.

Researchers find that Australian and New Zealand little penguins are distinct species

Is this little penguin a Kiwi or an Aussie?
Photo credit: Otago University
AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND – A team of researchers from the University of Otago and University of Tasmania has discovered that Australian and New Zealand little penguins represent two distinct species, rather than one.

Scientists had previously wondered about the relationships between populations of the penguin (popularly known as little blue penguins or fairy penguins) found on either side of the Tasman. The trans-Tasman team used genetic techniques to compare populations from both countries, and surprisingly found that they are not the same species.

“We found a very strong pattern, where New Zealand has its own distinctive genetic group that is clearly very different from the Australian penguin populations,” said Dr Stefanie Grosser, who carried out the study as part of her Otago PhD project.

Sweltering heat further impacts yellow-eyed penguins

NEW ZEALAND - High temperatures throughout November have been unkind to Otago's yellow-eyed penguins, and nest numbers have hit rock bottom.

Despite the efforts of local conservation groups working hard to keep chicks alive, fewer than 190 breeding pairs have been counted on the Otago coast this season. In 2012, there were an estimated 491 breeding pairs.

Egg hatching success had remained around 85% in North Otago and on the Otago Peninsula, with avian diphtheria infection rates being up to 100% at some breeding sites. Some chicks had perished on hot days as they were still under full protection of their parent's body.

12 December 2015

Record-breaking African penguin dies

Pat the penguin. Photo credit: Living Coasts
UK - Living Coasts’ champion penguin has died. Pat, the oldest known female African penguin in the UK, celebrated her 37th birthday on 20 January this year. She was thought to have been the second-oldest penguin in Europe.

Pat, also known as number 1389, was euthanased by zoo vets due to advanced arthritis.

Living Coasts spokesperson Phil Knowling said, “Her quality of life had declined because of arthritis – the only thing to do was to put her to sleep.

03 December 2015

Antarctic Centre celebrates world's oldest little blue penguin

Danny and Toto
NEW ZEALAND - A sweet natured little blue penguin called Toto, who likes to wiggle and dance on her feet, will reach the grand age of 25 this weekend. She is believed to be the oldest little penguin in the world.

Hatched in captivity at Napier’s Marineland, Toto and several other penguins that were deemed unable to survive in the wild were brought to the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch in 2007 when Marineland was closing down.

26 November 2015

The anti-icing tricks of penguins

Pirouz Kavehpour, a professor at UCLA, poses with
a penguin. He and his colleagues studied the
feathers of penguins to learn their anti-icing tricks.
Credit: Pirouz Kavehpour/UCLA
ANTARCTICA - Antarctic penguins live in a bitterly cold place, where the air temperature can drop to -40°C and the winds can hurtle at speeds of 40 metres per second. Although these birds routinely hop in and out of the water in sub-freezing temperatures, they manage to keep ice from coating their feathers.

Now researchers have examined penguin feathers in extreme detail and think they know the penguins' anti-icing trick: a combination of nanostructures and a special oil make Antarctic penguin feathers superhydropobic (ultra-water-repelling). Droplets of water on the feathers bead up so much that it's difficult for heat to flow out of the droplet, and the water will roll off before it has time to freeze.

The researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics, held this month in Boston.

20 November 2015

Wellington Zoo releases endangered Fiordland crested penguin into the wild

NEW ZEALAND - Wellington Zoo's veterinary team were able to release a nationally endangered Fiordland crested penguin back into its wild West Coast habitat, after successful treatment at The Nest Te Kōhanga.

The female Fiordland crested penguin (Tawaki in Maori) arrived at Wellington Zoo in September with an infected wound from a predator bite, but recovered well after receiving treatment from the expert veterinary team.

“This Tawaki has responded really well to treatment during its stay at The Nest Te Kōhanga,” said Dr Lisa Argilla, Veterinary Sciences Manager.

“We cleaned and stitched up the wound, which due to the infection and pain meant she was unable to swim and hunt in the wild. After treatment, she has steadily gained weight, been eating well, and displayed excellent physical fitness and waterproofing after spending time in the salt water pool.”

The bird flew south on Monday along with Wellington Zoo Vet Nurse Angelina Martelli, who provided care along the journey. The penguin was released in the evening near the site she had been found in Hokitika, with support from Department of Conservation (DOC) and local rehabilitation volunteers who had found and cared for her initially.

“This Tawaki was found in need of the specialist veterinary treatment and pre-release care that the team at Wellington Zoo is able to provide,” said Antje Wahlberg, DOC Ranger.

“We’re delighted to help this endangered bird, whose story helps people connect to Tawaki, and support conservation work as a result.”

“Caring for these precious endemic birds is a special opportunity, and a great example of the collaborative nature of conservation agencies,” said Dr Argilla.

“Wellington Zoo has strong relationships with DOC and the local rehabilitation volunteers as well as with the West Coast Penguin Trust, which highlights the importance of conservation organisations working together to save animals in the wild.”

Wellington Zoo releases endangered Tawaki into the wild [press release], 19 November 2015, Wellington Zoo

Adelie penguin numbers may expand as glaciers retreat

ANTARCTICA - Shrinking glaciers could lead to increasing numbers of Adélie penguins in East Antarctica, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

The study shows that in the last 14,000 years the population of Adélie penguins has seen a 135-fold increase, as additional breeding sites become exposed by retreating glaciers. This population explosion suggests that current environmental conditions are more favourable for Adélie penguins than they were at the end of the last ice age.

16 November 2015

Yellow-eyed penguin numbers hit rock bottom

Yellow-eyed penguin at Penguin Place
Photo © The Pertinent Penguin
NEW ZEALAND - The yellow-eyed penguin (hōiho) breeding season is looking bleak again this year, with nest numbers reaching their lowest since 1990.

Department of Conservation (DOC), the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust (YEPT) and key groups involved with penguin monitoring have been counting nests for the past month. The results of this indicate nest numbers across Otago-Southland have dropped from 491 pairs in 2012 to just 160 counted so far this season. Some sites are still to be searched but numbers will probably not exceed 190 pairs.

14 November 2015

Little penguin mercury levels reflect health of Port Phillip Bay

AUSTRALIA - The cute little penguins that call the St Kilda breakwater home have more than fluffy good looks – they also carry valuable information about the health of Port Phillip Bay.

Victoria University research has found that the St Kilda penguins have higher loads of arsenic, mercury and lead in their blood compared to their cousins on Phillip Island and the remote Notch Island colony in Bass Strait.

10 November 2015

20 years of weighing penguins

AUSTRALIA – The human obsession with weight watching also transcends to the penguin world. When little penguins cross the beach at Phillip Island every night, they are closely monitored by a weighbridge system. For penguins, being heavy is better – it is a sign of good health.

The penguin monitoring system or weighbridge, is celebrating its 20 year anniversary this month. The system has revolutionised the way researchers collect weight and attendance data on penguins. During this period, the weighbridge information has helped to inform more than 30 students at honours, PhD and post doc level and is also responsible for over 50 scientific publications.

06 November 2015

For some Fiordland crested penguins, there's no place like home

Fiordland crested penguin in Milford Sound © Thomas Mattern
NEW ZEALAND – When it comes to exploration and endurance swimming, Fiordland crested penguins at Milford Sound would rather stay at home.

Preliminary results from an investigation of the penguins' behaviour have shown, while West Coast penguins travel up to 100 km from their breeding colonies in search of food, those from Harrison Cove in Milford Sound seldom moved further than 1 km. Only one adventurous bird travelled 9 km to the outer reaches of Milford Sound.

17 October 2015

Wellington Zoo takes the lead to help wild little blue penguins

NEW ZEALAND - Wellington Zoo and Forest & Bird’s Wellington Branch have joined forces on a targeted campaign to help protect the shy native birds that share our coastline – little blue penguins (also known as Kororā).

“Hundreds of Kororā call Wellington home, but lots of people don’t actually know about them or see them,” said Daniela Biaggio, Wellington Zoo Conservation Manager.

Dogs, however, can easily sniff out these strong smelling little birds – which can be bad news for little blue penguins, as research has shown that dogs off leash are one of the major threats to their survival.

21 September 2015

Support for world’s smallest penguin

NEW ZEALAND  – The little blue penguin – the world’s smallest – is one of several West Coast seabirds that will receive support as part of the Community Conservation Partnership Fund’s support for West Coast conservation projects, said Associate Conservation Minister Nicky Wagner.

“The $98,000 investment will help the West Coast Penguin Trust conduct research and carry out practical projects to protect blue penguins and other West Coast seabirds,” Ms Wagner said.

“As well as the blue penguin, the investment will help to conserve the Fiordland crested penguins and other threatened seabirds and habitat on the West Coast.

“Projects include roadside fences to protect penguins from traffic, GPS logging of penguin feeding expeditions, education programmes, and studying seabirds and predator species in new locations for potential pest eradication and habitat restoration.”

Other West Coast conservation projects that will receive funding are the Mokihinui Biodiversity Enhancement Project, the Kawatiri River Trail Boardwalks, the Paparoa Wildlife Trust and the Okarito Community Nursery.

“Together, these projects will be a welcome boost for conservation on the West Coast,” Ms Wagner said.

Support for the world's smallest penguin [press release], New Zealand Government, 18 September 2015, Scoop.co.nz

02 September 2015

Over $15,000 raised for yellow-eyed penguins

NEW ZEALAND - The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust will employ a researcher to find out why yellow-eyed penguin numbers are decreasing near Stewart Island, following a $15,335 funding boost from Real Journeys ‘Cruise-for-a-Cause’ initiative.

In the last twelve years, the number of penguin breeding pairs has almost halved on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou near Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust (YEPT) needed external funding to help find out why this was occurring on a predator-free island.

28 August 2015

New fossil skulls reveal insights about penguin brain evolution

ANTARCTICA - When they're not being the stars of various animated movies, penguins are playing an important role in evolutionary studies. Penguins are unique among modern birds in that they 'fly' through the water. Although flightless in air, penguins have a number of adaptations which allow them glide effortlessly through the water. And some of these adaptations are in an unlikely part of their anatomy - their brains. Recent finds of fossil penguins from 35 million year old sediments in Antarctica have begun to shed light on the changes in penguin brains that accompanied their transition to water.

11 August 2015

Shifting winds and ocean currents double endangered Galapagos penguin population

Galápagos penguins. Credit: Snowmanradio on Flickr
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS – Shifts in trade winds and ocean currents powered a resurgence of Galápagos penguins over the past 30 years, according to a new study. These changes enlarged a cold pool of water the penguins rely on for food and breeding – an expansion that could continue as the climate changes over the coming decades, the study’s authors said.

The Galápagos Islands, a chain of islands 1000km west of mainland Ecuador, are home to the only penguins in the Northern Hemisphere. The 48-cm tall black and white Galápagos penguins landed on the endangered species list in 2000 after the population plummeted to only a few hundred individuals and are now considered the rarest penguins in the world.

21 May 2015

When two penguins clans become one

AUSTRALIA - A new research project has found that two different groups of little penguins have met up to live in a colony together, despite a history of isolation.

Dr Chris Burridge, University of Tasmania Zoology lecturer, said the motivation of the research was to understand rates of movements of penguins between colonies.

The research was conducted in partnership with the University of Tasmania, Peter Dann (Phillip Island Nature Park), Amanda Peucker (Deakin University) and Craig Styan (University College London).

"The research wanted to find out things like, are individuals from this colony going to another colony to breed?  If a colony was wiped out by a predator, would penguins from other colonies come to help replenish it?" Dr Burridge said.

21 March 2015

Seeking fish for injured yellow-eyed penguins in rehab

Julia Reid feeding yellow-eyed penguins
NEW ZEALAND - Limited fish stock remains to feed threatened yellow-eyed penguins in penguin rehabilitation centres in Otago.

The penguins have been hospitalised after suffering lacerations to their feet, legs and abdomen following attacks by barracouta, a predatory fish on the Otago coast.

A shortage of salmon smolt, which are the optimal food for hospitalised penguins, has lead to Penguin Place on Otago Peninsula and the Penguin Rescue Trust in North Otago to look for alternative fish to feed their patients.

07 March 2015

Two very important little penguins released back into the wild

Libby Hall and Commanding Officer HMAS Penguin,
Commander Paul Gall, releasing penguins off Fairlight Beach.
Credit: Madeleine Smitham
AUSTRALIA - Two little penguins from the famous Manly colony in New South Wales were released back into the wild this week after being looked after at the Taronga Wildlife Hospital while they underwent their yearly moult.

One penguin, Bernie, was found at Dee Why Point in December weighing just 500 grams, half the normal body weight for a little penguin.

After spending quite a while in the intensive care, she finally put on enough weight to go into her yearly moult. She now has a brand new set of feathers, weighs a kilogram and is ready to rejoin her colony.

02 March 2015

Genetics reveals where emperor penguins survived the last ice age

A group of emperor penguins is resting and preening
 next to a tide crack in the ice near the Gould Bay colony.
Credit: Dr Tom Hart
ANTARCTICA - A study of how climate change has affected emperor penguins over the last 30,000 years found that only three populations may have survived during the last ice age, and that the Ross Sea in Antarctica was likely the refuge for one of these populations.

The Ross Sea is likely to have been a shelter for emperor penguins for thousands of years during the last ice age, when much of the rest of Antarctica was uninhabitable due to the amount of ice.

The findings, published on 1 March in the journal Global Change Biology, suggest that while current climate conditions may be optimal for emperor penguins, conditions in the past were too extreme for large populations to survive.

21 February 2015

Little penguin Flipper's sad death has positive outcomes for conservation

NEW ZEALAND – Flipper, the paralysed little penguin who appeared in the media in early January, has had to be euthanised despite weeks of care and rehabilitation.

“Unfortunately upon release it became apparent that this individual wasn’t going to survive in his natural environment," said Mauao Area Wildlife Trust director Julia Graham.

"Despite excellent vet treatment and rehabilitation care not all sick and injured wildlife can be saved.”

The Department of Conservation is working in partnership with the Mauao Area Wildlife Trust and other volunteer organisations to grow the conservation of penguins and other seabirds around the Mount area.

17 February 2015

Genetic evidence leaves sour and salty taste in penguins' mouths

King penguin.
Credit: Jianzhi "George" Zhang
Penguins apparently can't enjoy or even detect the savoury taste of the fish they eat or the sweet taste of fruit. 

A new analysis of genetic evidence reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology this week suggests that penguins have lost three of the five basic tastes over evolutionary time. For them, it appears, food comes in only two flavours: salty and sour.

Many other birds can't taste sweet things either. But they do have receptors for detecting bitter and umami (or meaty) flavours.

"Penguins eat fish, so you would guess that they need the umami receptor genes, but for some reason they don't have them," said Jianzhi "George" Zhang of the University of Michigan, one of the authors of the study.

"These findings are surprising and puzzling, and we do not have a good explanation for them. But we have a few ideas." 

11 February 2015

Scientists reveal rapid biological transition event for New Zealand penguins

NEW ZEALAND - An international research team led by scientists from the University of Otago’s Department of Zoology has documented one of the most rapid biological transition events ever found.

The team used carbon dating and ancient DNA analysis of archaeological penguin remains from coastal New Zealand to establish the timing of penguin extinction and colonisation events.

“Previous research has shown that at the time of human arrival, New Zealand was inhabited by the waitaha penguin,"said Dr Nic Rawlence, who carried out the study.

"Hunting and habitat change apparently caused the extinction of this unique mainland penguin, before the yellow-eyed penguin later arrived here from the subantarctic. Until now, we really had no idea when one species went extinct and the other colonised.”

The new dating study has shown that waitaha penguin went extinct around the same time as the giant flightless moa, within 200 years of Polynesian settlement of New Zealand, before 1500 AD.

Intriguingly, the yellow-eyed penguin then replaced the extinct penguin within just a few decades, in the early 1500s.

07 February 2015

Oldest known African penguin dies at Pueblo Zoo

Tess at Pueblo Zoo. Credit: Colorado State University.
USA - Pueblo Zoo in Colorado announced today that Tess, the oldest known living African penguin in captivity and the oldest female on record, has died at age 40.

This is an amazing feat, considering that in the wild the average life expectancy of African penguins is 15 to 20 years.

She is survived by her mate, Mongo.

“She was truly a special animal,” her primary keeper, Melanie Pococke, said in the zoo's announcement.

05 February 2015

Podgy penguins make better breeders

AUSTRALIA - Putting on a little weight over winter increases a little penguin’s sexual success according to new research published in Royal Society Open Science last month.  

Researchers at Phillip Island Nature Parks, Australia, in collaboration with scientists from the French Research Council, discovered the winter body mass of little penguins has a carry-over effect on timing of breeding and reproductive success during spring and summer.

“Little penguin parents that put on weight in winter, and were heavier than their mass before or after July, were more likely to lay their eggs early, and males were more likely to successfully breed,” André Chiaradia, research scientist at Phillip Island Nature Parks said.

25 January 2015

Climate change does not bode well for picky penguins

A gentoo penguin and a chinstrap penguin
Credit: Rachael Herman, Louisiana State University
ANTARCTICA – In a part of the world that is experiencing the most dramatic increase in temperature and climate change, two very similar penguin species – chinstraps and gentoos – are responding very differently.

Chinstrap penguin numbers at Antarctic Peninsula breeding colonies are decreasing while gentoo penguin numbers are increasing.

New research published this month in Marine Ecology Progress Series suggests that the ways in which these species have adapted to co-exist with one another might be to blame.