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.

“Initially, the system documented about 50,000 records per year. We have recently upgraded the system to the 21st century, and we are now able to record over 20 million data points per year,” explained André Chiaradia, penguin biologist with the Phillip Island Nature Parks.

“We now know that penguins go on honeymoon, fledglings return to the island in less than one year after hatching and some individuals are super achievers – they work harder, feeding more than their partners, year after year,” said Andre.

Apart from providing some amusing facts, the weighbridge data tells us how hard penguins are working to find their food and ultimately gives us hints on the health of the marine system of the Bass Strait. With help from a team of national and international scientists and a grant from the Australian Research Council, scientists are now using this information further to determine how much fish penguins caught and ways to provide food security for  future generations of penguins.

The penguin monitoring system was upgraded thanks to a generous donation from AAT Kings.

Source
Weigh better for penguins [media release], 5 November 2015, Phillip Island Nature Parks

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