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.